Malawi is a nation of around 12 million that resides at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley in southeast Africa. It's about the size of Pennsylvania, which makes it one of the most densely populated countries on the continent. Known as the Nyasaland Protectorate while under British colonial rule, today Malawi is one of the world's poorest nations and its government struggles to provide its citizens with a proper education, essential resources like potable water, and any sort of developed infrastructure. As much as 70 percent of the population is subsistence farmers, living primarily on homegrown maize, but also cassava, potatoes, and beans. Fishing communities thrive along the shores of Lake Malawi, a massive body of water that runs down the eastern side of the nation and provides a tourist destination, as do a few game parks scattered throughout the country. Tobacco accounts for a majority of export earnings, and tea is also a major product, particularly in the Southern region. Because nearly all of Malawi's population thrives through agriculture, a single poor harvest can potentially lead to famine and economic ruin.
Considering Malawi's tenuous situation, it's not surprising that the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been tremendous. The Joing United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that Malawi's HIV infection rate at 14.2 percent, but many health professionals working in the nation report rates among prenatal mothers at 20 percent or higher. Even by UNAIDS' account, there are over million Malawians living with the virus. Access to effective medical care has always been scarce, and now with HIV prevalent in both urban and rural areas, Malawi's life expectancy has plummeted to 37 years, down from over 50 just a decade ago. Fields are going untended and orphaned children are being left behind as HIV continues to spread.
"Singing in the Shadow of AIDS" focuses on stories and songs from northern Malawi, a region inhabited mostly by the Tumbuka people and known as "the dead North" for its lack of economic development and infrastructure. Grassroots musical health education is one of the few ways that health messages reach this rural area. Students throughout the region write original songs that they teach to their younger siblings and their parents, providing the entire community with a way to talk about an otherwise taboo and secretive subject. In these remote hillside villages, music is powerful force for change.
Malawi - An Impoverished Nation
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Tanzania stretches across the eastern side of the African continent from tropical jungles to Indian Ocean archipelagos, covering an area roughly twice the size of California. Although its 36 million people represent over 120 distinct ethnic groups, most of its citizens speak Swahili, a lyrical, flowing language that finds its roots in Bantu dialects, as well as Arabic and Hindi. Swahili is the official language of the African Union and has become an important diplomatic language in Africa. Tanzania claims a number of natural wonders, including Africa's tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, and a share of Lake Victoria, the continent's largest body of water and the source of the Nile River. Perhaps Tanzania is best known for its wildlife, which draws thousands of tourists each year to UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Ngorogoro Crater and the Serengeti. Tanzania hosts the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled the 1994 genocide along with continued conflicts in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Between 4 and 5 million Tanzanians are estimated to be living with HIV, although official UNAIDS statistics are much lower. UNAIDS estimates an 8 percent rate of infection, but local estimates tend to double that number. Either way, the impact of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania is enormous. In some areas, long-standing customs and rituals contribute to the spread of the virus. Polygamy, widow inheritance, and group adolescent circumcision for both males and females - at times an extremely brutal practice performed using a shared blade - present major obstacles to HIV prevention. Rather than suppression or condemnation, local and international health educators are finding transformation of these practices to be a viable alternative; for instance, some groups have adopted a "cutting of words" that replaces the female circumcision or female genital mutilation with a coming of age ritual that eliminates any physical incision.
"Singing in the Shadow of AIDS" focuses on the role of hip-hop in Tanzanian HIV prevention. While American hip-hop is popular, African MCs are superstars and their poetry is a major cultural force, particularly in urban areas. Health educators have seized the Tanzanian love of hip-hop as an extraordinarily effective tool for mass education, and their Ishi (Live!) Campaign has increased awareness and brought the language of safer sex to the streets.
Tanzania - Hip Hop Warriors
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A fertile and lucrative agricultural region makes Kenya one of the continent's more affluent nations, although like many of its neighbors, unemployment is above 50 percent and disease and poverty are widespread. Its status as one of the most corrupt nations in the world certainly contributes to its hardships, although billions in international debt repayments play a major part as well. One of only 12 nations in the world bisected by the Equator, Kenya's rural areas are vast, and the country maintains beautiful game parks that are among the world's best. Nairobi, the nation's capital, houses nearly 10 percent of the country's population, and over 1 million live in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. The capital is plagued by afflictions common in many African cities - crime, drugs and prostitution.
HIV in Kenya is actually in decline, and efforts by both government and non-governmental organizations have proven successful. With an infection rate just under 7 percent, Kenya is one of the more promising stories in the region. As the 2004 conviction of the National AIDS Control Center Director on charges of defrauding the agency out of hundreds of thousands of dollars attests, corruption is disruptive in every sector. Overall, though, the situation with HIV/AIDS in Kenya is cautiously positive.
The Nyumbani Institute is the focus of the Kenya section of Singing in the Shadow of AIDS. Nyumbani, whose name means "home" in Swahili, provides direct care for orphans living with HIV, with nearly 100 orphans living on-site and an outreach program supporting another 1,000 families living throughout the slums of Nairobi. A choir from Nyumbani has achieved stunning commercial success, and Kenya has learned from these children how to live positively with the virus.
Kenya - Songs of Forgotten Children
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Uganda is the western-most member of the East African Community, a trade group that includes Kenya and Tanzania. Many know of Uganda because of the dictator Idi Amin, who brutally cowed the nation into submission throughout the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans disappeared during Amin's rule, and thousands more perished under the rule of Milton Obote, his successor. Today, the nation is struggling with the Lord's Resistance Army, a guerilla force that has displaced millions in northern Uganda and is known for its atrocious use of kidnapped children as soldiers and slaves. Uganda, though, has managed relative stability in recent years. Its 27 million residents live in an area about the size of Oregon in climates that range from lush, thick tropical forests that house some of the last remaining great apes to rolling red hills around the shores of Lake Victoria and the capital city of Kampala.
Uganda is one of the world's greatest success stories in fighting HIV and AIDS. The country is thought to be the original source of the virus due to human-primate contact in southwestern rural areas. By the early 1990s, Uganda was dealing with infection rates of near 30 percent in some areas, unheard of at the time, but sadly common in sub-Saharan Africa today. Incredibly, through effective government response, dedicated health educators and real behavior change, Ugandans have turned the virus back and as of 2004 face an HIV infection rate of 4.1 percent. Unfortunately, one of the reasons for the sharp decline is the millions of deaths due to AIDS - an entire generation of Ugandans fell to AIDS, and the country must now provide for an estimated 2 million orphans - the equivalent of almost 10 percent of the country's entire population. Nonetheless, Uganda still stands as a beacon in the fight against HIV/AIDS and as a successful implementation of the ABC model of prevention - a controversial method that emphasizes not only A for abstinence, but also B for being faithful and C for condoms.
The Uganda section of "Singing in the Shadow of AIDS" takes a deeper look into how the nation was able to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS. Music in Uganda has played an important role in education, community mobilization and even therapy in responding to the epidemic. Outreach groups use music to attract their audience, and honest, emotional stories in song have played a major part in breaking down stigma and discrimination against those living with the virus. In some parts of Uganda, discussions around HIV and sexuality are as candid as anywhere in the world, and Ugandans themselves credit music for helping them achieve this openness and honesty.
Uganda - A National Transformation
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