The Chronicle (Lilongwe)

23 June 2005

Malawi: Retired Peace Corps Fights HIV/Aids Through Culture

Dr. E. Jackson Allison, who worked in Malawi as an American Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 1960s, and who was very famous for his songs "Chiwewe" and "Ufa wa Mtedza" returned to the country two weeks ago to join in Malawi's fight against HIV/AIDS through the use of culture.

Allison, a singer and song writer who also visited the country in 1994, arrived in the country on June 3 under a United States Embassy and the National AIDS Commission programme.

The programme under the theme 'Using Culture to Combat HIV/AIDS' saw Allison visit a number of districts in the country.

During the visit to the districts of Nkhata-Bay, Mchinji and Mangochi, Allison performed and worked with local bands, drama/dance troops, youth groups and Peace Corp volunteers.

Allison, well known for his health education songs which he produced in the 60s, held his first performance at Nkhata-Bay community centre ground with Health Education, Paka Town and Zabweka bands.

On June 10 Allison in the company of Peace Corps volunteers was entertained to traditional dances at Nkanda and Tembwe villages in Mchinji where he also performed some of his well known songs.

Speaking during the Mchinji function, US Embassy Public Relations Officer Mitchell Moss said Allison's visit was to help teach HIV/AIDS messages through cultural means such as traditional dances and song.

"The message of his visit is 'behavioural change' and 'keeping girls in school'," he said.

Moss said there are over 100 Peace Corps Volunteers in the country working in villages.

Speaking earlier Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) Country Director, Pamela Martin said at least one out of every five Malawians is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus while up to 70,000 children are infected.

"There are 500,000 orphans in the country due to HIV/AIDS. Since 1990 the infection rate has tripled," she said.

In an interview, Allison said he believes the best way to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country is to encourage preventative means such as abstinence and condom use.

He also said the country should address cultural issues such as wife cleansing, encourage faithfulness among partners and take care of orphans.

Allison said during the short period that he has been in the country he has managed to compose three songs that talk about condom use, respecting cultural values and tree conservation.

Apart from performing in Nkhata-Bay and Mchinji, Allison also performed at the Malawi Children's village in Mangochi with local bands.

Allison's "Ufa wa Mtedza" song became very popular in Malawi and was played regularly on the national broadcaster, MBC Radio I between 1996 and 1998 when he served in the country as a PCV.

At the end of his duty as a PSV Allison left for the United States where he studied medicine and public health before returning to the country in 1994 to spearhead an AIDS education prevention programme supported by USAID, Peace Corps and other partners. He is currently Associate Dean and professor of Emergency Medicine at the Sunny Upstate Medical University and also Chief of Staff, Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Centre in New York, USA.

During his latest visit Allison, who leaves tomorrow, (Tuesday 21 June) was accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law.

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