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Malawi faith communities responding to HIV/AIDS: preliminary findings of a knowledge translation and participatory-action research (PAR) project

Dennis G Willms
Maria-Ines Arratia
Patrick Makondesa


This paper reports on the preliminary findings (year one) of a four-year intervention and participatory-action research (PAR) project in Malawi. Project goals are to enhance the response capacity and effectiveness of faith community (FC) leaders to the problem of HIV/AIDS. Ethnographic interviews with FC leaders were conducted. Intercultural training sessions and theological events were also held using a participatory method called conceptual events. Preliminary results indicate a commitment on the part of faith community leaders to enter into a dialogue with other sectors and faith traditions in addressing the common, critical concern of HIV/AIDS. All FC leaders share a common feeling that they are a small moral voice in this fight against HIV/AIDS, drowned out by a ‘big voice' promoting condom use by donors and government. FC leaders are expected to present themselves as having an authoritative voice with respect to protecting the soul, but at the same time are sincerely searching for ways to speak about HIV/AIDS in more practical ways. Condoms become a metaphor for resistance. For example, FC leaders wish to know how the message of condom promotion (a behavioural and technical argument) might be grafted onto what they would posit as a moral message of care, prevention and support. This challenge is made even more complex by the quiet assumption to incorporate the truths of African traditional religion (ATR) in the construction of an ecumenical theology of faith, hope and compassion.

Keywords: compassion, conceptual events, condoms, constructions of God, theology

African Journal of AIDS Research 2004, 3(1): 23–32

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eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445