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E.4.An Inter-sectoral Partnership with Faith Communities and their Leaders: Lessons Learned in Implementing the Declaration called Our Faiths and HIV: Expressions of Hope and Compassion for the People of Malawi  

Dennis Willms, Joseph Chakanza, Patrick Makondesa, Marie-Ines Arratia

Objectives:

To advance a partnership with faith community leaders (at all levels), NGOs, and theological scholars in the construction of an ecumenical theology of HIV/AIDS in Malawi. More importantly, to create a process mechanism and strategy  – through this co-ordinated initiative – whereby a shared theological perspective is translated into effective preventive and supportive care programmes within faith communities.

Methods:Conceptual events were implemented as the HIV intervention and methodology of choice.  Conceptual events are characterized as a participatory intervention process where partnerships are facilitated with a variety of committed stakeholders – in this instance, the partnerships constructed are with groups who represent different perspectives and theological understandings on HIV/AIDS (eg., varieties of Christian, Muslim, Independent).  A four-day conceptual event was held in June 2004 at Nantipwiri Pastoral Centre (Limbe) with 60 grassroots faith community leaders (funded by NAC).  Commissioned papers were presented, augmented by drama and faith stories communicated in a context of critical inquiry.

A subsequent two-day colloquium was held in September 2004 at the Ryalls Hotel (Blantyre) with 25 heads of Christian and Muslim faith-based organizations.

Popular education teams subsequently met with 18 faith-based community groups with the goal of translating the results of these colloquia into effective programmes and practices (funded by NAC).

Results:A Declaration called Our Faiths and HIV was written by grassroots leaders at Nantipwiri and later ratified by Heads of faith-based organizations at the Ryalls Colloquium.  Highlights included a commitment to re-consider and re-construct notions of gender relations, re-evaluation of cultural practices which enhance HIV risk, and to sustain inter-faith dialogue with faith community leaders.  Follow-up conceptual events are planned to address the contentious issues that divide them.  The shared theology that emerged through these events was relational and experiential in nature.

Application:These conceptual events were evaluated to be successful and were viewed by FBOs to characterize a much-needed process in partnership building between faith communities and with other sectors (NGOs and government).  The application of this method over time shows promise, as FBOs struggle with the thorny issues of condom use/non-use, relations with government, advocacy, leadership within the church and mosque, and importantly, how to graft technical and scientific truths onto moral, faith-related arguments and truths.

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