Lisa Gunnery, NZ CEO The Hunger Project.
Imagine a village in one of the most remote areas in Malawi. People in this village have very little and struggle to feed themselves. Most live in mud huts and have no education. History is passed down through word of mouth and is often built around a belief in powerful spirits which can both give and take away in equal measure.
Part of the work in ending hunger is addressing the surrounding and complicating issues that are happening in a community. This can be infrastructure related, like access to fresh water and sanitation, and it can be health related – as in the case of HIV education in Africa which is incredibly important given the remote nature of the rural villages where The Hunger Project works.
A few years ago, when an educator from The Hunger Project was teaching people about HIV in this village he came across a potential stumbling block called “The Spirit of Death”. This spirit came into play whenever a husband died suddenly in the village. The wife had to appease the spirit by performing a ritual which was out of line with the practices for HIV prevention. If the spirit was not appeased, the belief was that a member of the woman’s family would die each day until it was.
For the first time these people understood the impact of HIV and how to prevent it, but they found themselves in a difficult position – they remained afraid of the Spirit. In order to get more information the trainer gently questioned the story behind the Spirit. Was theirs the only village the Spirit came to? Yes. Were there other ways to appease the Spirit? No.
After the questioning process, the villagers met and discussed the situation and much to the surprise and delight of the trainer, came up with a solution which both continued to honour the Spirit but also invoked sense in terms of safe sex practices.
It’s easy to scoff at the idea but the truth is that we let our own “Spirits of Death” stop us from doing what we want to do every day. Whether it’s a cultural or a personal limitation our “Spirits of Death” are always present. We can learn a lesson from the villagers in Malawi. They found a way to honour their tradition but in a way that supported the group rather than hindered them.
Take time to explore your Spirits of Death – what are the self-limiting beliefs that you have and which stop you from achieving what you want? Are they real – or are they a story you have conformed to? Can you rethink the limitation and come up with a way to remove the block? If you aren’t able to let go of the belief – is there another way of honouring it that will bring about a similar outcome but in a more positive way?