Irene Chaluluka – Malawi

Linked with ‘Why wait?’ (for sex).

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Funding polices shock me. Donors do not seem interested in our work because we promote abstinence, not condoms, which have proved ineffective here. Prevention is all about behavioral change”.

She says also: “I believe in going to the grassroots of our society and educating young people to adjust some things in our culture”.

Irene Chaluluka - Malawi rogne.jpg

Irene Chaluluka – Malawi

She works for the Sub-Saharan Family Enrichment program SAFE,
for the ‘Why Wait?’-program,
for ‘Blantyre Young Voices’,
and for the Children Promotion Organisation.

Irene Chaluluka is a field coordinator for the Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment program SAFE. For eleven years, Irene has been involved in implementing ‘Why Wait?’, a life skills and HIV/Aids educational program in Malawi.

Through ‘Why Wait?’ Irene has successfully promoted abstinence among the youth. She has trained thousands of trainers on the initiative. Irene has also helped to export ‘Why Wait?’ to Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. Her major challenge in promoting the initiative is inadequate funding. She has personally endured the HIV/Aids affliction.

Disillusioned with life, a teenager lies in a hospital bed, wishing she had listened to Irene Chaluluka’s message on abstinence. Irene is a household name among the youth in Malawi in the campaign against HIV and AIDS.

Irene Chaluluka, 52, was born in Dowa, a small district in Malawi. She was a primary school teacher for 22 years, rising to the position of principal. She has served on the working committee of the Save the Children Fund of Malawi and Vice Patron of Blantyre Young Voices, a national AIDS group, for more than ten years.

She is a trustee of Children Promotion Organization in Malawi.

She has carried out research for Banja La Mtsogolo on HIV/AIDS prevention and established clubs in three districts of Malawi.

She also worked as a Program Officer for Social Environment and Research on advocacy.

Irene is currently Field Coordinator for Sub-Saharan Family Enrichment Program specializing in training trainers, especially teachers, on ‘Why Wait?’, a life skills and HIV/AIDS educational program.

In 2000, Irene was honored by the international ‘Who is Who of Professional and Business Women’ for her achievements and contributions to Malawian society.

Irene is living with AIDS.

Irene’s involvement in the fight against AIDS in Malawi dates back to 1994 when attending the first ‘Why Wait?’ seminar in Malawi at Lilongwe Hotel. During one of the sessions at the seminar, a Ugandan video sparked emotions among the participants. Later that night, Irene stood in her hotel room shedding tears. The images would not escape from her mind. She had seen enough suffering due to HIV and AIDS. She had to do something.

The Ugandan video was appalling like scenes from a horror movie. It was the story of a village, where the entire adult population had died of AIDS. One of the oldest children, aged eleven, had assumed parental responsibilities from feeding her siblings to providing security.

The emotions evoked from this video made Irene decide that she would try to make a difference.

Two years later, Irene’s ex-husband was diagnosed with HIV. Her marriage had crumbled nine years earlier because of his infidelity. Irene forgave him and nursed him in her house. He died on August 9, 1998.

Soon after, Irene’s oldest daughter fell ill from HIV. Once again, Irene took her in and nursed her. On her deathbed, she impelled her mother to fight AIDS among the youth. She asked Irene to sing with her ‘Rock of Ages’, a Christian hymn written by Augustus Toplady in 1776.

  • While I draw this fleeting breath,
  • when mine shall eyes shall close in death,
  • Rock of ages cleft for me,
  • Let me hide myself in thee.

Irene had to find a rock of ages for the youth in Malawi.

She did not know where to start with her limited resources. But, determined more than ever, she gathered the courage. She decided to introduce ‘Why Wait?’ clubs in schools in the city of Blantyre, a leading commercial capital of Malawi. She also started a vegetable farm for people living with AIDS. Her persistent appeals to the farm manager for responsible behavior fell on deaf ears.

A year later, the manager died, and so did the farm.

This hit Irene hard. She decided to concentrate on the ‘Why Wait?’ program in schools through life skills training, character development and abstinence. ‘Why Wait?’ gained popularity among the youth in Malawi and beyond. Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda showed interest in the program.

With her workmates, Professor Dick Day and Professor Moira Chimombo, they quickly seized the opportunity and exported the ‘Why Wait?’ concept to these countries. By the end of 2005, ‘Why Wait?’ is expected to be part of the school curriculum in Uganda, a curriculum, which Irene has played a key role in its development.

Irene trains teachers on implementing ‘Why Wait?’. She believes in participatory learning and involvement of students as the best method, using drama, music and creative writing. Participatory learning allows children to contextualize the message within their own situations.

Apart from her active involvement in ‘Why Wait?’, Irene is a single mother of four boys and two girls and a church leader at a local Presbyterian church.

Irene also sits on the board of several youth organizations throughout Malawi. She attributes her success to her determination. With a bright smile, she says, she is also indebted to Professor Dick Day, her mentor.

Irene’s work has its fair share of challenges. “Funding polices shock me. Donors do not seem interested in our work because we promote abstinence and not condoms, which have proved ineffective here. Prevention is all about behavioral change”, she believes. “But reaching schools countrywide is difficult. Transport can be very confing”.

Besides these problems, Irene is frustrated by teachers who sleep with their students. She describes them as disgraceful and shameless leaders. “Not all days are Sundays”, Irene quips. “Uncooperative government officials and crooked abusive school teachers are a constant headache”. But she adds that she draws her comfort from her faith in the Christ. “He is my pillar of hope”, she beams.

On a personal note, doing her work while being an AIDS patient herself has not been easy. Sometimes her health takes its toll. Besides she has had to fight stigma and discrimination.

In regard to culture, Irene believes in approaching customs and traditions with respect. She however does not mince words on customs and traditions, which promote promiscuity among young people.

Her greatest dream is to see ‘Why Wait?’ in every African country. She also hopes for more support from the Malawian government for the program. (1000PeaceWomen).


Council for NGOs in Malawi;

HIV/AIDS life skills programmes in Southern Africa, Unicef ESARO.

Dick Day, A perspective on AIDS after 16 years in Malawi, by Manda Gibson;

US Abstinence Groups Target Africa, by Richard Bartholomew, April 14, 2007;

Adrian Dominican Supported Ministries 2006-2007.

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