Malawi workshops – an update

Sharon KalimaSharon Kalima is the Make Art/Stop AIDS programme officer at ArtGlo Africa, and the Culture and Bodies arts facilitator for the project.

In May, she helped run three workshops in Lilongwe, Malawi. Here, she talks about those workshops and what she found inspiring about them.

Malawi workshops – an update

Sharon Kalima is the Make Art/Stop AIDS programme officer at ArtGlo Africa, and the Culture and Bodies arts facilitator for the project.

In May, she helped run three workshops in Lilongwe, Malawi. Here, she talks about those workshops and what she found inspiring about them.

“The conventional workshops are usually mainly talks—where we sit people down and talk to them about non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, and how to prevent them.

“People find them boring, and do not pay attention. When we use art to communicate, we use a universal language. We hoped the workshops would allow us to use art to explore participants’ experiences of non-communicable diseases and to work with them to develop interventions that would really resonate with local residents.”

Focus on hypertension

The workshops took place in February and May  2019. Two were creative workshops where women and men separately used arts-methods to portray non-communicable diseases and their risk factors. The third workshop brought the men and women together to design interventions aiming to encourage local people to improve their own risk factors.

“At our workshops,” Sharon continued, “there was a feeling that we should definitely be using the arts. The participants told us that drama was the arts-based method most people understood. There was also a suggestion that we use poetry.

“A poster was also one of the art forms that the participants chose to do as part of their intervention; participants will create posters from scratch and add in their own messaging around non-communicable diseases.

“During the creative workshop, we asked our participants to use their bodies and senses to express diseases like hypertension and cancer. What did they look like? Sound like? From there, we developed performances.

Arts ‘really powerful’

“Arts-based methods help us explore what people know about conditions such as hypertension and cancer, and they told us they had never thought about those conditions in this way. Arts-based methods can be really powerful.

“What I found fascinating was people’s understanding of what causes non-communicable diseases. Participants came up with many different reasons, which allowed us to think about how we could put across preventative messages such as the importance of exercising and eating a low-salt diet.

When Sharon and the other workshop organiser asked where the best place would be to perform their intervention activities, the participants suggested the market. This event will happen at the beginning of July, and Sharon is confident it will attract a big crowd.

What had Sharon enjoyed the most from running the workshops?

“Traditionally, art isn’t something people in Malawi take seriously, so I enjoyed seeing how much value our participants took from the workshops.

“One of the groups created a poem together—writing one stanza then and there. They created such a powerful poem and it was really fun watching them come up with it. It was so exciting! I wanted to hear more.

“It’s an exciting project to be part of—and I can’t wait to see the next developments.”




Project analysis – our different takes on the information we read

women performing at a creative workshop

 At the start of the year, the Culture and Bodies project ran a creative workshop in Bagamoyo, Tanzania facilitated by Dr Sally Mtenga.

In the workshop, nine local women used community arts to display their perceptions of and lived experiences of type 2 diabetes and diabetes risk.

Participants were asked to use the five senses (sight, taste, sound, touch and smell) to describe diabetes. Then, they worked in pairs to use their bodies to create images that represented the causes of the disease.

Collective performances

In the third part of the workshop, the pairs joined together to create collective performances of how people’s lifestyles led to them getting diabetes. Finally, Dr Mtenga asked them what they learned from the exercises.

The Culture and Bodies team – social and biomedical scientists, arts researchers and arts practitioners  – read the workshop transcript and viewed photos and videos taken on the day. They then met to discuss what they had taken from the various data sources. The different points made by the team members gave a fascinating insight into the different approaches people bring to analysis.

Potential for unintended (negative) consequences

Many of the team had concentrated on the workshop participants’ perceptions of diabetes in the transcripts, and it was noted that there seemed to be a number of misconceptions around diabetes.

This raised the point—would the workshops result in the participants then being seen as ‘experts’ in diabetes by their communities? The workshops are not intended to be a health intervention, but there is a risk that this is how the project is seen by the local communities.

The team agreed that in future workshops additional steps would be needed to address these misconceptions and ensure the workshops did not produce any unintended negative consequences.

Verbal versus visual data

Many of the team had found the verbal data easier to interpret that the visual data. The creative researchers found themselves reading “between the lines” as they analysed the transcript and seeing if the photos communicated something that was not intended. Another point made was the extent to which participants respond to the facilitator in the way they think the facilitator wants or expects them to respond. How far did the exercises, creating images and performances, allow them to respond more in their own way?

Perceptions of disease

One of the biomedical researchers commented that the transcript made him think about how diabetes was perceived  across different populations. What did knowledge of diabetes look like in Tanzania compared to the UK, and why?

To date, four workshops have taken place with women and men in Tanzania and Malawi. Further analysis of the transcripts will take place and be used to inform development of intervention activities to prevent diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. The activities will then be presented to local residents in community dissemination events.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work in this area, please email us at or follow us on Twitter, @Culture_Bodies


Sciencing the arts – a poem by John Lwanda

John Lwanda Culture and BodiesWe gathered at Sol Farm, most from different parts

A motley crew of scientists social and those from the arts

Experienced steady hands discoursing with young upstarts

And the usual suspects of greying and aged old farts


Were we here to solve the problem of science in the arts

Or the arts in medicine, a debate that stops and starts

Ideas thrown into the stew like tentative pub darts

Suddenly blown off in the wind like vulnerable hats


Exploding and exploring ideas, concepts, methods and crafts

Uncertainty holds supreme,

The social scientist, transient, data and theory laden departs

Leaving the dancers, singers, dramatists, locals to their arts


©John Lwanda

Culture and Bodies Workshop: Participatory Methods in Action

Otiyela Mtema, MEIRU

Day 1:  Monday June 18th,  8:40am, Sol Farm, in the outskirts of the city of Lilongwe. Nineteen people sit in a round-table setting in the conference hall, as formal as they come, with well learned, mostly serious looking individuals, from A person sits at a table delivering a talkdifferent disciplines: artists, epidemiologists, social scientists etc. Quite a few have recently flown in from the UK, a couple from Tanzania, and the rest from Malawi. It’s June, it’s freezing, the atmosphere is daunting, I can’t wait for this week to end!

Day 5:  Friday June 23rd,  2pm, Sol Farm. There’s over 30 people, a cheerful looking group of colleagues, friends, are on the lawn, watching a hilarious drama performance. It’s all reminiscent of the fun, informative, learning experience we’ve all had these past couple of days. I don’t want this week to end!

The Culture and Bodies workshop was such a memorable journey. It was my first experience with participatory methods in research, and right from the beginning, when we received our community hosts at Sol Farm, I felt a strong affiliation towards the thinking around it. The community hosts – members from the Area 25 community with a level of disposition around community arts – have known me for a while now, but were very unfamiliar with the rest of the project team, except for Chris and Cindy whom they had met the previous Sunday for a brief introduction.

The five hosts Klement, Susan, Grace, Angel and Kondwani, arrived at Sol Farm on Tuesday morning, as the rest of us were in the conference room about to finish up the early morning’s agenda. We had agreed to have a fun introduction exercise when welcoming them, but I was personally unsure about how that would happen, and was admittedly anxious about how our two groups would merge. Sharifa went out to welcome our Hosts. After about 15 minutes we had finished our discussions inside and came out of the hall to welcome our guests over coffee and some snacks.

As we walked out to welcome our guests, we were met with a reverberation of songs and hand clapping, in a twist of events, our group was the one being welcomed, Malawian style. The Glasgow team then responded with introducing everybody to a Scottish dance, the curiously named “Strip the Willow”. It was truly beautiful as I witnessed first-hand, for the first time, how within a few minutes the two groups had virtually become one, every-one seemed more loosened up, and we had all become more comfortable around each other, surely the perfect atmosphere for knowledge exchange.

The whole week would progress beautifully, and at most times seamlessly from thereon. With the hosts as guides, on the Tuesday afternoon, we visited a number of locations of interest in Area 25. The team were shown markets, small farms, and an informal Kachasu (local beer) distillery.

At the beginning of every day, and most so on the morning of the final day, we would have reflection exercises and discussions around the activities and experiences of the previous day, and one of the things that stood out the most for me was the complexity of being in an interdisciplinary team. There was a challenge some times to get everybody on the same page, and at times a discussion around a disagreement would have to be cut short, even before commonality was found. Nonetheless, the discussions were truly riveting, and I left every time, feeling that harnessing the expertise and experience of the different team members, would position us on an extraordinary platform, to combat NCDs, and create the positive impact in Area 25, and ultimately beyond.

We started the workshop without any clear idea of how our pilot project would look, we finished the workshop with a complete set of research questions, and a methodology.