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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Aid scheme tackles African witch myth
Sukumaland Older Women's Programme in Magu
The scheme is operating in 70 villages in Tanzania
Aid workers in Tanzania are trying to dispel the myth that old women are witches as part of efforts to improve their health.

In many African villages, old women living on their own or in isolation are often accused of being witches with local people holding them responsible for tragic events or even general hardship.

The women are victimised and intimidated and in many cases they are killed.

Life is difficult in the village because health services are very distant and in most cases drugs aren't available

Elizabeth Kulola
But a UK-sponsored programme is educating people in one area of Tanzania to end the practise.

HelpAge International, a global network of not-for profit organisations, has started schemes in 70 villages in Sukumaland in the north-west of the country.

Sixbert Mbaya, who manages one of the programmes in Magu, said: "We use traditional drama groups, dances, choirs to pass educational messages to the entire community that older people are not witches."

Quality of life

The scheme, funded by Comic Relief and the Department for International Development, also aims to improve older women's quality of life by improving their housing and agricultural practices to help them make money.

Sixberth Mbaya
Mr Mbaya said the scheme was having an impact
One villager, 80-year-old Elizabeth Kulola, who is taking part in the programme, said life in Magu was difficult.

"Life is difficult in the village because health services are very distant and in most cases drugs aren't available.

"We have no sources of income, we don't have enough money to buy cloth, we have poor shelter, those things are making life difficult in the villages."

The efforts of aid workers are making a difference.

Before the programme began, they discovered many older women were being called witches because they had red eyes.

This was due to the fact that they were cooking with low quality fuel in smoky areas.

Under the scheme, their kitchens have been transformed so that smoke is now emitted outside - reducing red eyes and hopefully allegations of witchcraft.

Boost health

The programme is also hoping to boost the health of older women by improving eating habits and making them aware of medical services.

"We kind of tried to establish a strategy where we'll see that older people access medical services more and more," said Mr Mbaya.

Elizabeth Kulola
Elizabeth Kulola is involved in the project
"The government had put in place a circular stating that older people will get free medical services but the problem was the older people didn't know what they were entitled to."

Under the programme, they now receive that information.

Overall the scheme is working well. Mr Mbaya said: "We are actually doing very, very fine. We are getting all of the support we need."

Elizabeth Kulola is hoping the project will make a difference.

She said: "We would like to live in a society that is caring to the older people in Sukumaland."

This story is featured in the radio programme Health Matters on the BBC World Service.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | Africa
Ghana 'witch' sues village elders
11 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Tanzania baby malaria halved
20 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Radar sale threatens aid to Tanzania
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