In the village of Kalimbala, Lilongwe students aged eight and older gather. They do so once a week to work with Auntie Stella.
Auntie Stella is a popular lady around this part of Africa.
She allows her students to speak openly and freely about sex, love, and relationships. In fact, she encourages it.
This can be extremely rare in Africa. But not with Auntie Stella.
She’s compact, travels easily and can even be in more than one place at one time.
Auntie Stella is revolutionary.
“Auntie Stella,” is a blue binder filled with 40 playing cards. On each of her cards reads a specific “what if” scenario. These scenarios range in topics from prostitution to safe sex, for example.
A young yet brave woman stood in the middle of the circle. She was asked by her friends to read their favourite scenario to the group.
Card seventeen, the blue one.
She pulled the card from the binder and read the scenario aloud to everyone:
Dear Auntie Stella
I am a 19 year-old girl, wanting to do O Levels this year. My parents are late and I stay with my grandmother. My uncle used to send money for my school fees but last year he also died and no one else can help me. I really want to complete school and do my exams so I can get a job, but I cannot find the money for the fees. Also the exams are too expensive. Is it right to have sex for money because I can’t think of any other way to complete my education? In this place there are many men who will pay for sex, but I am afraid of this work. My friend who does it told me that sometimes the men refuse to pay enough and one man also beat her up. Please, Auntie, help me to solve this problem.
The group listened attentively. They pondered. They discussed. They related.
But most importantly, they created a safe-zone to discuss matters that are otherwise taboo.
After many expressed their opinions and views on card 17’s scenario, the brave young woman leading the discussion reached for another card. It was also card 17, but this time it was pink.
But Auntie Stella is a smart woman.
She refrains from telling those in the group one specific answer to the scenario. Instead, she sympathizes. She acknowledges the complexity of each matter and provides more than one answer to the scenario’s question.
And Auntie Stella isn’t just loved in Kalimbala.
Young adults in Kudooko, another village just about 30 minutes from Kalimbala, also gather once a week to play the Auntie Stella game.
Gibson, the village’s farmer and primary organizer of Auntie Stella meetings, says he has seen firsthand the affects Auntie Stella discussion has had on his community.
“The women are more empowered now,” says Gibson.
The women are more comfortable now, says Gibson, with waiting to get married. They are also more open to discuss sex and relationships with their friends.
What is truly ironic between the Kalimbala and Kudooko Auntie Stella groups is their favourite card. Both admit that card 17 is read aloud and discussed most.
This is likely because prostitution is common in Lilongwe.
But, thankfully, Auntie Stella has made an impact. Her nieces and nephews in Kalimbala and Kudooko now know the dangers associated with prostitution.
Sincerest thanks are in order to this woman, who comes in the form of a simple card game played amongst both children and adults in eastern and southern Africa.
The Auntie Stella game was created by the Training and Research Support Centre in Zimbabwe.
The Training and Research Support Centre in Zimbabwe
Box CY2720, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe