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Why Are We Dying?

ADRA Malawi recently won Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s “Radio Play of the Year” award at the 2008 annual Entertainers of the Year Awards held in the city of Blantyre. Michael Usi, Project Manager for ADRA Malawi, produces and directs ADRA’s winning radio and television program, Tikuferanji. Tikuferanji, which is Chichewa for “why are we dying?,” promotes open discussion about the spread of STDs and encourages Malawians to be proactive in the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Usi also won MBC’s “Actor of the Year” award for his contribution to the program. Spectrum asked Usi how Tikuferanji started and what has made it so popular.
Question: How serious is Malawi’s HIV/AIDS problem relative to the rest of Africa?
Answer: About 14% of Malawians live with AIDS, which is one of the highest incident rates of the disease in the world. Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi’s HIV/AIDS situation has been aggravated by extreme poverty.
Question: What was the original concept for Tikuferanji?
Answer: The original idea was for Tikuferanji to raise awareness about the existence of AIDS and to communicate real facts about the disease. There were a lot of misconceptions about the HIV virus in the 1990s, when the program was originally aired. I initiated Tikuferanji through ADRA Malawi with funds from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).
Question: How often and for how long has Tikuferanji been airing? How did it gain such popularity?
Answer: Currently Tikuferanji is aired once weekly on the radio and twice each week on local television. The radio program has been running for over ten years, but the television program was created only about seven years ago. Its popularity is due to a number of factors:
1. The issues tackled in the program are extremely relevant to average Malawians.
2. The caliber of acting is high and the program engages with real people who have been directly affected by HIV/AIDS.
3. The program is multicultural in its coverage of the issues. It accommodates Malawians of all people groups. It is estimated that about 8,000,000 people tune into the radio program each week, and a little over 1,000,000 watch the televised version.
Question: Can you explain what happens during a typical program?
Answer: The program is typically carried out in drama format, interspersed with music appropriate to the issue being discussed. There are times when we have done candid interviews as well, or a combination of both drama and interview. We spotlight real people for whom the issue of a given episode is of particular concern: police, prostitutes, teachers, students, prisoners, women, etc.
Question: MBC’s “Entertainer of the Year” award has quite a prestigious history. How did it start and what categories does is support?
Answer: It was started to recognize outstanding personalities, groups, and media programs in Malawi. It supports categories in athletics, television and radio, programming, and live entertainment. Winners are selected through a country-wide voting process. The fact that Tikuferanji was selected for the Radio Play of the Year Award simply means that ADRA is tackling issues that are relevant and important to the general public.
Question: Some Malawian clergy members preach against the use of condoms because they fear that such preventative measures open the door to promiscuity. Where to Adventist pastors in Malawi stand on this issue? Is ADRA doing anything to address their concerns?
Answer: Amazingly, the Seventh-day Adventist church in Malawi has stayed mostly silent on this issue. ADRA provides condoms without any help from local church administration, but the issue is hotly debated whenever it is brought up among Malawian Adventists.
Question: Media has had an enormous impact on HIV/AIDS awareness all over urban Africa. How is ADRA reaching rural areas of Malawi that have little access to media outlets?
Answer: ADRA Malawi has supported community dialogue and development sessions through its partnership with Training of Trainers (TOT). TOT trains local people to become HIV/AIDS counselors who will then go back to their rural target communities and teach others about HIV/AIDS prevention. We also train individuals in orphan care and home-based health and food security.
Question: What future plans does ADRA have for radio and TV production in Malawi?
Answer: Our hope is to train and involve the younger generation in Tikuferanji’s production, directing, and acting roles. We would also like to begin conducting formal research projects to gather information for use in future episodes of Tikuferanji.
Michael Usi is Project Manager for ADRA Malawi.

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