The Umunthu programme uses the arts to catalyse reflection and discussion, providing a platform to address issues of stigma and discrimination through the lens of “Umunthu,” a pan-African philosophical concept of humanity.

Where there is no Umunthu, people’s actions are informed by the question, “What’s in it for me,” as opposed to “What’s in it for us?”
— Student at The University of Malawi, Polytechnic

Umunthu: Health Workers

Before Umunthu, I would prioritise helping those who had more money and looked to be more prominent than other, but now I understand that all people deserve equal treatment regardless of their background, sexual orientation, work and appearance.
— Healthcare worker; Phalombe

Following the success of the Umunthu: Higher Education project, we turned our attention the discrimination minority groups face when it comes to accessing health care.

In 2017, we began conducting workshops in collaboration with the district health offices and training schools. These workshops, conducted over three days, using a variety of participatory arts and activities to encourage the participants to critically explore the umunthu concept and how it applies to providing health services. A particular focus of the workshops is the discrimination that LGBTI people and other minority groups experience when seeking care.

On the final day, community leaders join the workshop to help create a community action plan to address the discrimination. In addition, each person makes a personal pledge to support equal care for minority groups.

About four months after the initial workshop, a follow-up session is conducted. Our initial impressions during these follow-up sessions show a positive trend of behavior and attitude changes towards minority groups. We're looking forward to a full report once the project concludes.

Umunthu: Higher Education

Thank you for creating this environment that we could speak freely. I am a gender non-conformist but I am not a lesbian. I feel stigmatised and I am often abused verbally... I wish more students on campus could be reached with this messaging.
— Student, Polytechnic

After the success of the Umunthu film, initial research showed that minority groups, particularly LGBTI people, face discrimination and stigma at higher education institutions.

In 2016, we conducted a series of workshops for students, faculty, administration, and leaders of community organisations in the surrounding areas. These workshops were designed to address the underlying attitudes and behaviours that undermine the health, welfare and rights of marginalised people. Using Process Theatre, storytelling and role playing, participants critically explored the concept of umunthu, reflected on their own experiences with discrimination, and examined which groups face discrimination in society. Each workshop culminated in action planning, with participants collaborating on strategies to create a more inclusive environment in their community, educational or professional setting.

We reached 435 people through 15 workshops, and saw significant changes in beliefs and attitudes, including:

  • A 27% increase in the proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that they would be comfortable with a homosexual neighbor (27% pre-workshop - 46% post-workshop - 54% at follow-up)

  • A 21% increase in the proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that universities should not discriminate against LGBTI people (36% pre-workshop - 48% post-workshop - 57% at follow-up)

  • A 14% increase in the proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that they would be comfortable being friends with an LGBTI person (37% pre-workshop - 43% post-workshop - 51% at follow-up)

  • An 18% increase in the proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that they would sign their name to a petition asking the government to protect the employments rights of LGBTI people (26% pre-workshop - 36% post-workshop - 44% at follow-up)

Umunthu Film

Watch the trailer

The documentary is extremely pivotal because if it is shown out in the streets people will talk, whether they agree or disagree… For me, new knowledge is born where we differ.
— Dr. Jessie Kabwila, Academic and Human Rights Activist

In 2013, Students with Dreams participant Mwizalero Nyirenda released the short, first-person documentary Umunthu: An African Response to Homosexuality. The film follows three young Malawians, the filmmaker and two friends who hold opposing views on gay rights, as they cross the nation to discuss the controversial subject with a psychologist, pastor, secular humanist, journalist, human right activists, and the general public of Malawi.

The film won the Sembene Ousmane prize at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and was screened at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Boston International Film Festival, Harvard University, and Boston University. It also won 4 awards at Lilongwe Shorts, Malawi’s first international film festival, in May 2015.

Following the film’s success, ArtGlo created the Umunthu programme, originally consisting of screenings of the film and facilitated discussions on stigma and discrimination against LGBTI individuals. In recent years, the Umunthu programme has expanded to include workshops and research projects partnering with institutions across southern Africa.  

If you would like to organise a screening of the film, please fill out the contact form below, and we'll get in touch with you.

Project Reports


Umunthu Stories