September 28, 2002 - Lorain Morning Journal: PCV Heather Pavlich returning to Malawi to teach about HIV/AIDS

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 09 September 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: September 28, 2002 - Lorain Morning Journal: PCV Heather Pavlich returning to Malawi to teach about HIV/AIDS

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, September 29, 2002 - 9:38 am: Edit Post

PCV Heather Pavlich returning to Malawi to teach about HIV/AIDS

Read and comment on this story from the Lorain Morning Journal on PCV Heather Pavlich who is returning to Zomba, Malawi, in southern Africa, in October as a member of the Peace Corps, working with villagers in an effort to educate them about HIV/AIDS at:

Peace Corps volunteer returning to Africa*

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Peace Corps volunteer returning to Africa
RON VIDIKA, Morning Journal Writer September 29, 2002
Heather Pavlich sits on the patio of her Lorain home. (ROSS WEITZNER)
LORAIN -- It was last year at this time when Lorainite Heather Pavlich boarded a plane and flew 8,300 miles in 27 hours to pursue her humanitarian dream.
Now, the 1996 Lorain Admiral King graduate is back home for a respite before returning to Zomba, Malawi, in southern Africa, in October as a member of the Peace Corps, working with villagers in an effort to educate them about HIV/AIDS.

''In 1985, the first case of AIDS was reported from Malawi,'' said Pavlich, 24, daughter of Sherrill and William Pavlich, and a 2000 graduate of Kent State University with a degree in international relations and economics.

''I was always interested in humanitarian work. So, the Peace Corps was the best option for me,'' said Pavlich.

What she found in Malawi was an absence of vital education, not just about AIDS but about the essentials of nutrition as well.

''It's very difficult in Malawi,'' said Pavlich. ''Maybe in urban areas you might see AIDS patients being treated, but in the rural areas there is no such (clinic). Most of the funding goes to urban areas. There is very little outreach in rural areas. One of the major problems is that the funding is not going where it's supposed to go. Maybe it's because of corruption; I don't know.''

One hard-to-eliminate problem concerns a belief in superstition and witchcraft, she said.

''In Malawi, they believe in witchcraft and thought AIDS was a curse put on them by ancestors for past wrongdoings. If they know someone who is sickly, they won't talk to you about it because of witchcraft and the fear they might be cursed if they tell you,'' said Pavlich.

Misinformation about AIDS grows by leaps and bounds in rural areas of southern Africa, said Pavlich.

''Some people thought the lubricant inside condoms caused AIDS,'' said Pavlich.

''Word of HIV/AIDS is spread through radio messages and newspapers. But only 11 percent of the population have radios and the majority of people can't read or write. They've heard of AIDS but not in detail,'' said Pavlich.

Pavlich said she thinks about contracting the deadly disease. ''I thought about it. No matter how careful you are, there might be some instance where I could catch it in a fight on the street or from a needle on the floor at the hospital.''

She stressed, though, that the people of Malawi are ''extremely friendly.''

''There's not much violence unless you go into the city,'' she said.

The problem of hunger, Pavlich said, is equally disturbing and frustrating.

''Their staple is something called Ônsima' which is a flour made from maize that's cooked and made into patties. It's like grits. Thick grits. It's mainly what they eat every day. They eat nothing else, really. Sometimes, they'll eat nsima with vegetables or fish or meat or beans. But, because of the lack of money, they usually eat nsima alone.

''They harvest their food and sell it to get nsima. Non-governmental agencies like C.A.R.E. International supply free handouts of nsima. But very few people are being taught nutrition or agricultural skills,'' said Pavlich.

''People in the villages have a hard time thinking about the future. For villagers, it's very difficult. They just try to survive each day. The average mom has seven children. And you have to pay for schooling and they can't afford it,'' she said.

She offered her own assessment of the critical food situation.

''Behavior changes take a long time. But we need to educate people and give them agricultural skills, nutrition information and even give them water pumps to irrigate their gardens,'' said Pavlich.

She has made a difference by being there, Pavlich said. ''From the individuals I've talked to, yes. I could see a major difference from the time I came to now. They've set up their own gardens and I helped teach them how to plant and how to use garlic.''

She explained the rationale behind planting garlic.

''Garlic is good for treating sexually transmitted skin infections. You crush the garlic cloves and mix it with Vaseline and run it over your skin. Eating garlic is good for fungi and bacteria and abdominal problems. It's an immune booster'' said Pavlich.

For her part, she has trained 30 home-based volunteers in Malawi to help others to cultivate their own gardens.

Pavlich, who lives at the medical clinic in Zomba, said when she walks from one village to the other, she must greet each person she encounters or risk offending people.

''You have to stop at each person and greet them. A half-hour trip sometimes takes two hours,'' said Pavlich.

''During my training there, I was told that ÔHeather' was too difficult to pronounce. So they gave me the name ÔVictoria' after the Victoria Falls in Africa,'' said Pavlich.

Although the environment was what one would expect, namely, thatched huts, the jungle, and African women in beautifully-colored tribal wraps, Pavlich said the night sky in Africa swept her off her feet.

''It's beautiful,'' said Pavlich. ''The stars are incredible; there are so many of them. It's cooler in the higher areas and you see a lot of pine trees. So, it's like home in some areas.''

''Time doesn't exist for us there. It stands still,'' said Pavlich.

The advice she would give to other people insofar as pursuing their dreams would be, ''You just have to follow your heart. The path may be difficult, but you have to do what your heart tells you.''

©The Morning Journal 2002

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