A nurse who used her retirement benefits to support people living with HIV and AIDS has been named the 2011 winner of an international prize awarded by women of the Swiss Reformed Churches.

Agnes Lisulo Mulemwa from Zambia received the Sylvia Michel Prize, granted by the women presidents of the Reformed Churches in Switzerland in cooperation with the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

The award honors Mulemwa’s work as founder and coordinator of the Liyoyelo Batik Centre, a training center in western Zambia that teaches women about the leadership functions of a traditional leader — or “anamoio” — in their churches and villages to support people living with HIV and AIDS. Mulemwa is a member of the United Church of Zambia and serves as an elder for her congregation in the city of Senanga.

The prize, created to give recognition to women who initiate projects that train women for leadership in churches or church-related functions, is named for the first woman president of any church executive in Europe. Michel was elected president of the Cantonal Church of Aargau in 1980.

In a telephone interview with Reformed Communiqué, Mulemwa explained the Liyoyelo project, founded in 1995, focuses on offering psycho-social counseling and skills training for people living with HIV and AIDS.

“We are teaching them to understand HIV so that they can bear with it,” Mulemwa said.

Participants are encouraged to do everything they can to improve their living standards. Life skills courses and training in income-generation activities such as making batiks (cloth painting with wax) and sewing are offered. The program also aims to sensitize communities to the danger of the spread of HIV.

A healthy diet is essential if anti-retroviral (ARV) medication is to be effective, Mulemwa said, so an important aspect of the project is to raise fruit and vegetables. Produce such as mangoes and guava are distributed to people who are taking ARVs. Any remaining food is sold to support other aspects of the program.

The Liyoyelo Batik Centre receives no government funding and relies on occasional assistance from Switzerland and the sale of fresh produce for income. 

Mulemwa will travel to the Swiss city of Fribourg to receive her award on March 20. The prize awards the winner $5,000.