Fountain of Life

Africa has a unique blend of issues and challenges. HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, maternal mortality, malaria, and lack of education mixed with traditional cultures, extreme poverty, and an enormous amount of NGO’s, CBO’s, governments and donors all suggesting ways to address these problems. But once you scratch the surface of the issues and challenges that are constantly in the media and on the agenda of most NGO’s and donors, you come to the issues of critical importance to a country and it’s people. Issues and challenges that are so entwined with every element of daily life that once you become aware of them, you wonder how they have been kept quiet for so long.

Fountain of Life Centre, Lilongwe, Malawi

Fountain of Life Centre, Lilongwe, Malawi

Child trafficking, mental illness, rape, and sexual assault. The buy products of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, desperation, and a complex web of social, economical, and cultural factors. According to a 2011 report, 3% of sexually abused children aged 12-18 years reported the abuse, while 55% of cases go unreported. Trying to find a figure on rape and sexual abuse cases in Malawi is impossible. The Malawi Police, Victim Support Unit, acknowledged yesterday that in most cases a victim does not report a case of rape or sexual assault for three main reasons. One: they are afraid of going to the police; two: the victim’s family convinces them not to report the incident; or three: the victim is fearful for their life and the repercussions in their village, among their peers and family, if they report the incident. But the police are working with local schools and communities across Malawi to try to change the perceptions of Malawians when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Victims Support Unit Officer explaining the current rape and sexual assault reporting procedures

Victims Support Unit Officer explaining the current rape and sexual assault reporting procedures

Yesterday marked the official opening of the Fountain of Life Resource Centre in Lilongwe. The centre is a partnership between the Police Victim Support Unit, Malawi government, hospitals, and other donors that provides resources and culturally appropriate care, support and protection to victims of rape and sexual abuse. The centre is part of an ongoing chain of support for victims. Even though it is the first 48-72 hours that are crucial in terms of trauma counselling for a victim, the ongoing counselling and support is just as vital. The ongoing support is something that Malawi’s Director of Social Welfare acknowledged as an area that the government and all involved parties needed to work together to improve.

The Director also acknowledged the Police Victims Support Unit’s (VSU) lack of resources to implement current programs to change the Malawi people’s perceptions of the country’s police officers. The Police VSU over the past 12 months had gone into schools, church congregations and rural communities to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault issues in Malawi and how the Police unit is able to help victims. This engagement with Malawians is something that the Fountain of Life centre will join forces with the police to extend on, with a series of DVD’s, books and brochures under development to inform Malawians of ways to deal with sexual abuse, support people who have suffered sexual abuse, and to promote positive and safe interactions between people. The VSU has been separated from the general police stations in Malawi to provide victims with an environment that feels less threatening. Police have also undergone customer services training and trauma training to improve their skills in supporting victims of rape and sexual assault. But after a victim has completed the report of an incident with police and undergone a medical they can now access continued support from the counsellors at Fountain of Life.

Trauma counselling workshops to train more Malawians to support victims of rape and sexual assault

Trauma counselling workshops to train more Malawians to support victims of rape and sexual assault

This partnership between government, Police, and follow-up trauma care and counselling is a step in the right direction for addressing one of the largest, and also quietest, issues in Malawi. The country is still a long way off having solutions to the challenging nature of the issue, but at least now victims will have further support to help them in moving on after such horrific experiences. And hopefully, with the growth of the awareness campaign, their will be a decrease in cases of rape, sexual assault, gender based violence or incest, or at least an increase in reporting, so that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

For more information on Fountain of Life visit their website:

Note: Rape and sexual assault are complex issues that I am not an expert on. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of either of these, but am merely reporting on an open forum held between government, police, locals, and Fountain of Life founders and psychologists to continue the conversation on the issue and to raise awareness of what is happening to address a major challenge faced by Malawians.



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