But progress is slow with a limited budget, small staff and a conservative government. They are rejected people and if they have sex with other men they are rejected twice despite the high rate of infection,” explained Stoney.
(Read more: Malawi News & Reports) He continued, “however, over the course of three years the NAC has become more willing to listen and is warming up to CEDEP’s presence even though CEDEP proposals and requests get delayed in the shuffle.” One important goal for the near future includes a Volunteer Testing and Counseling (VCT), a program well recognized across Africa for testing and educating people about HIV and AIDS.
For their work CEDEP receives financial support from international funders such as the Dutch HIVOS, Am Far in America and the Open Society (founded by George Soros).
At first we didn’t think it was possible, but come and see our office,” said Stoney, a thoughtful and articulate gay activist with the Center for Development of People (CEDEP) in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital in the south.
(The political capital is Lilongwe 200 miles north.) Stoney’s point was that grass roots determination brings results over time.
For gay organizers in Blantyre (population one million) the victory of CEDEP is its continued existence in a homophobic country of mighty heterosexism and Christian traditions that few dare to challenge.
Center for Development of People (CEDEP) Under the leadership of its program director, Gift Trapence, a tall soft-spoken man in his thirties from Blantyre, CEDEP came to life through his and other CEDEP founders’ efforts in 2005 with a vision of health education and social support for the Malawi gay community.
Their mission from the beginning also included sex workers and prisoners–disenfranchised groups where HIV is notoriously high.
Three years later CEDEP now has its own offices in a modest 6-room house in the outskirts of downtown Blantyre.
“Our target population is the LGBT community and sex workers and prisoners because they are left out of the government’s AIDS services and health education, which aims only at the larger hetero society.
They think MSM do not exist so we try to educate them about gay issues and human rights as well as educate our community about safe sex and being proud of who they are,” said Gift. To that end, CEDEP’s leaders (three and a half paid staff) and some of its few hundred members across the country, mostly from urban areas, conduct outreach workshops focusing on health and human rights (the constitution offers equality to all citizens, but rights are much abused) and make lobbying efforts to the National AIDS Commission (NAC).
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