A community-based organization in Malawi is helping wives of prisoners through an initiative known as the Women With Husbands In Prison project. It provides the women with basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Lameck Masina says “Ali Moyo” means “while still alive,” and the project working on behalf of prisoners’ wives is being run by the Ali Moyo Interaction, Development and Support organization. It sponsors projects that help the disadvantaged and its philosophy is that Malawians should pull together now “while still alive,” and not only at funerals.
Its latest project is working to prevent the wives of prisoners from feeling they have to take part in what it considers immoral behavior in order to meet their basic needs. It’s concerned that the behavior could lead them to contracting the AIDS virus, HIV.
The founder of the organization, Martin Jussa, is an ex-prisoner himself. Jussa says he got the idea after seeing the hardships women face when their husbands are sent to prison.
He says “I was once arrested and at the end I lose my wife after problems which she faced while I was in prison. We are talking of food, shelter and clothing. It’s very hard for someone who is not working to find those things since most of the women (in Malawi) wait for the husbands to be breadwinners. From there, you will find that the woman otherwise start selling her body or exchange her body with money of which it lead to HIV/AIDS.”
When women join the organization, they receive counseling on how best to cope with their problems. Then they are taught vocational skills like tailoring, gardening and soap-making to help them stand on their own two feet.
Volunteers help repair decaying houses and prepare fields for women who are not able to do so. They also join hands to contribute food and anything else a woman needs to care for her family.
The project is currently helping just over 100 women. Jussa says once the husband is released, the wife may choose to continue receiving help from the organization,
She says “When someone comes from prison doesn’t necessarily mean that he will get employed. The sustainability of membership will always be there. We are looking at two issues -- the other issue is poverty. Those people need to be empowered so if they are dormant they not doing anything definitely the problem of contracting HIV/AIDS will keep on rising. So we make sure that if the woman is in our organizations it’s all up to her that (if) her husband is out (and) she has got something to do, she can leave the group.”
Michael Kumwembe is the executive director of the Ali Moyo organization and also works as a counselor for the Malawi Prison Service. He says another problem women encounter in their communities is stigmatization. He says the women are shunned because their husbands are in prison. Some people refuse to help them because they are regarded as associates of criminals.
He says even the children of prisoners are affected. In school they’re insulted by other students, sometimes even by teachers. In one case, he says a woman complained that her son was refusing to go back to school because a teacher called him “Mwana wa Mkaidi” (son of a prisoner) in class.
Kumwembe says to reduce stigma the organization has a drama group. It performs during the group’s criminal awareness campaigns to help make the community aware of the innocence of people who have relatives in prison.
Among the women benefiting from the project is Pamela Kapalamula. A mother of two, she recounts the problems facing her since the arrest of her husband, “My husband was arrested in 2004 and is expected to be released in 2009. Ever since I have been approached by a lot of men who were telling me that since your husband is in prison, how would you assist your children. So let’s have sex in exchange of money. And another problem -- my husband’s relatives chased me from my husband’s house (where) we were living.”
She says she can now see changes because one of her basic needs has been met – she now has food. She says before she joined the organization she had a lot of worries about how she could take care of her children.
Despite success stories, the organization is facing a lack of funding because the membership fees don’t cover all the women’s needs. Jussa says the vocational skills training is not fully operational because the group cannot afford to buy equipment. The group is seeking funding from outside sources, but so far has not had any success. Jussa says they’re hoping for more funding after appeals made on radio and television shows.