Coming Home: Malawi

Malawi | Danny Herres

Home: Tryon, North Carolina


Danny Herres found out about the evacuation at 4:30 a.m., via group chat on WhatsApp. Malawi is a landlocked nation split by the Great Rift Valley and the massive Lake Malawi, which nearly runs the length of the entire country. Herres had been serving as a community health specialist in a village of about 1,000 people near Lilongwe since June 2019. He was the first Volunteer in the area.

“No one had ever come in as a foreigner, built relationships, been a community member,” he says, “and then found other motivated individuals and help them grow.”

He had three hours to prepare before a car arrived to take him to the capital.

 

“No one had ever come in as a foreigner, built relationships, been a community member,” he says, “and then found other motivated individuals and help them grow.”

He had graduated from college a decade before and had already earned a master’s, had taught in Japan and Hong Kong. He was still stunned when, attending his first funeral in Malawi, he was invited into a separate hut to sit with local chiefs — an incredible honor. Much of his work involved HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

 

 

There was the Grassroot Soccer program with dozens of youth, using soccer drills as metaphors to teach about safe sex; his counterpart, Mekelani Nkhoma, graduated 53 students from the program after Herres left. There was a project in the works with a local secondary school regarding HIV stigma and bullying. An HIV support group focused on nutrition and gardening vegetables.

Of countries grappling with HIV/AIDS on a massive scale, Malawi has made remarkable strides in reducing infections — from an estimated 30 percent of the population with HIV in the mid-1980s to under 9 percent today. “It’s one of the first countries poised to meet the 90-90-90 UNAIDS goal,” Herres says. That would mean 90 percent of the population have been tested and know their HIV status; 90 percent of people with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy; and 90 percent of those on retroviral therapy are virally suppressed. 

 

 

Herres was working on a project involving malaria prevention strategies as well. “And the day before the evacuation, I ran a training with 65 female students on how to make reusable sanitary pads,” he says. “It was just heartbreaking to leave.”

He’s now volunteering at a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece.

—Steven Boyd Saum

 


This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

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