Monday 13 July 2009

Byte recently caught up with Jo Hook, the co-founder of charity Temwa, which has provided much-needed aid and support for the country of Malawi. Malawi is a landlocked country south of the equator in sub-Saharan Africa bordering Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Life expectancy in Malawi dropped from 45 years in 1990 to 38 years in 2005 (UNDP, 2004) and is expected to drop rapidly in the future due to HIV/AIDS pandemic. Exact figures for the HIV infection rate are difficult to substantiate, but the 2004 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS) indicate that 12% of women and men age 15-49 in Malawi are currently infected with HIV. Temwa operates in the Northern district of Nkhata Bay in an isolated rural area called Usisya, and has helped the local community there build a better lives for themselves through a variety of projects.

Bristolians may be more familiar with Temwa through the fundraising events arm of their operation, otherwise known as Monsterpiece. They've been responsible for some memorable parties in recent years around the city, all in the name of a great cause. Jo took the time to take Byte through some of the highlights and good work Temwa has accomplished.

B: Take us through the evolution of Temwa and your involvement in the organisation.

JH: Temwa was started by myself and Sophie Elson, we both lived and worked in Malawi in 1999-2000. Whilst there, we came face to face with the many hardships that the people of Malawi deal with on a daily basis. We saw someone we work with slowly die because of AIDS - Lotti - a member of staff where we worked.

We watched Lotti loose his fight against AIDS: a disease that had already claimed the lives of his wife and many of his close family. His death left his sister to look after and provide for all of his six children, plus her other brother's and sister's offspring, who were all orphaned by either AIDS, cholera, malaria or typhoid. We were so moved by the desperate situation that, on our return to England, we decided to send out the equivalent of Lotti's monthly income to support his family.

It was apparent that this story was not unusual in this part of the world and the we felt empowered to do more. We spent time researching the specific problems Malawian's were facing and how to best tackle them. They began a three-year fundraising programme that would not only raise awareness, but also the targeted amount in order to start their planned projects.

The majority of the money needed to start Temwa was raised by the Monsterpiece nights, in particular by a band called Babyhead. This initial period was truly inspirational; it was amazing to see a dedicated group of people working totally for free, organising events to raise funds for a charity idea that founders Jo Hook and Sophie Elson had on returning from a trip to Africa. The aim was to start a project to help families affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi. Research was undertaken, whilst fundraising, to decide how best to start the project.

Now the organisation has been up & running in Malawi for 5 years and we have achieved an amazing amount of stuff! See below:

* Building & running the first Community Centre in Usisya. The Community Centre was opened in July 2004.
* Organising a variety of HIV & AIDS education programs and reaching over 10,000 members of the community in Usisya with invaluable information relating to HIV & AIDS.
* Building & running the first Library in Usisya. The Library was opened in September 2007.
* Building of 2 x Primary Schools, one in the village of Sangano (opened in February 2008) and one in the village of Nkhutu (opened in May 2009)
* Training of 15 Bricklayers & providing them with starter packs to start their own business.
* Training of 12 Tailors & providing them with starter packs to start their own business.
* Training of 6 community forestry experts.
* Distribution and planting of over 1,300 tree's around Usisya
* Organising 12 community bonding & educational events, which include; 6-a-side football tournaments, netball tournaments, community centre open days.
* Creation & running of an Agricultural Training Centre (Demonstration Garden) opened in February 2006.
* Training of over 250 farmers on sustainable agricultural techniques.
* In-depth study on the communities needs in Usisya (Community Profile Survey)
* In-depth study on food & nutrition in Usisya (Food & Nutrition Survey)
* Twinning of Marlwood, Redcliffe & Chipping Sodbury schools in Bristol with schools in Usisya.
* Providing materials & equipment for schools in Usisya, including books, pens, pencils, calculators, sports equipment & a computer.
* Creating the first ever film in the Tumbuka Language (Tumbuka is spoken by more than 1 million people) the film is called "People Like Us", completed in January 2008. This film documents the lives of 3 people from Usisya who are HIV positive, it records their experience of finding out their status, how they cope with their life HIV positive, they encourage other people to reduce stigma for HIV positive people, to become tested themselves and to do what they can to stop themselves from contracting HIV. This film has so far been shown to over 2,000 people in Usisya, its used nationwide and has been shown on national TV in Malawi.

B: What have been the highlights of your involvement so far?

JH: In the UK or Malawi? In Malawi - Meeting people whose lives we have literally saved, I have meet people who are HIV positive, they wouldn't have been tested if it wasn't for Temwa, they would have died of AIDS by now. But now they are getting ARV's (the drugs to prolong your life) and they have support groups & skills training - and they are doing really well.

In the UK? So much stuff! We had an amazing comedy gig in London on Sunday with Dave Gorman, there was a Full Cycle night in 2003 organised by Becky legs, that raised us £4,000 and we had Marky, XRS, Roni Size, Krust, Die, Bryan G and many many more. We had a breaks night in London with Plump DJ's, Krafty Kuts, Tayo, Evil Nine, Freq Nasty & more! All the amazing nights we did at the Thekla with Babyhead, all the amazing nights at Native with so many talented bands and musicians, the nights we have done with Blowpop, the nights we have done with Run & The Blast, the amazing art exhibitions that we have done! If you go here you will see all the flyers from all the events over the years. Too many good events to pick one out as a highlight!

B: How important is the Bristol community in helping Temwa achieve it's aims?

JH: I don't think the organisation would be where it is today if it were not for all the amazing people in Bristol giving us support. The Bristol community has been amazing, all of the DJ's, bands, promoters, the clubbers, we have a great turn out to all our events. The artists, the people who do the runs & the cycle rides, everyone has been amazing! I was born & brought up in Bristol, I used to go out all the time when I was younger to places like Trinity, Lakota, Thekla, so I met loads of people through the party scene. I worked at The Thekla for 9 years (on & off) and met loads of people through there, thats where I met all the babyhead guys when they first moved to Bristol, they were all instrumental in helping raise the first round of funds needed. We are now firm friends & I don't know where we would be without them!

B: Whats next for Temwa and where can we read more about the organisation's activities?

JH: We run regular Monster Piece nights. We had our last night at Native (as Native is closing) on Friday 10th July. We're working out the next venue for the Monster Piece nights, we'll keep doing nights with people like Blowpop, Run, The Blast, etc, our MP residents play at The Park, Spotted Cow, places like that... You can keep up to date here.

FFI : Temwa Website

An edited version of this interview appeared in Venue Magazine.