Under a relentless sun in the middle of a dirt road connecting one remote village to another, six men sit with their pickaxes abandoned beside them. They are breathing heavily and dabbing at their brows, but all of them are listening intently as one of their number speaks.
“We all agree that you need good health to work, and we all agree that if you are a man you must work. So why, then, are men so unlikely to go to the clinic for help when something is wrong?” he asks, and the rest of them scratch their heads in thought.
One suggests that it is because men are stubborn. When men have problems, they swallow them inside. Another suggests it could be the fear of knowing.
“But what is the consequence of not knowing?” a listening MDT staff member asks.
In unison, they all answer simply, “Death.”
The conversation advances to HIV, and later, to the abuse of women.
These men are herd boys, meaning they spend a good part of every day tending to their animals. Each left school at a very young age, as most herd boys must, and each also married extremely young after accidental pregnancies. While their flocks are grazing, they are working together on an anti-erosion project for the soil, and during their breaks, MDT staff members Tsoteng and James lead discussions with them about gender roles and life skills, supplementing the education they were never afforded.
The stakes for these conversations are high. Men are dying when they avoid the clinic out of pride. HIV is spread and severe emotional trauma is inflicted every time a man sexually assaults a woman. And men are suffering emotionally as well, when they swallow their problems and turn them into secrets.
This Men’s Group encapsulates our holistic community development philosophy. We support projects that increase the productivity of our people, while also developing their emotional and critical thinking capabilities and encouraging openness of ideas.
This group is relatively new, but progressing quickly. One of the men, Maroke Sekoboto, says that he feels as though the men of Malealea are living in the dark. They fear knowing the truth. He longs for men to break down the binds of stubbornness. But he has hope now that they will soon come out of this darkness if they continue to work together to learn more about themselves and their world.
As the sun continues to shine and they pick up their pick-axes to continue their work conserving Malealea’s land for all, hope feels like the most important thing in the world.