From a Whatsapp conversation to a friend’s living room and now to the world, Loving Arms a youth-founded and youth-led non-profit organisation, was born out of the need to raise awareness on sexual and physical abuse.
At the time it was birthed in 2014, co-founder Sunga Kufeyani was going through a tough time and needed a place to heal and have hope.
“I told my friends that I wanted to create a place where people can come and just get a hug when they felt like it; just like someone giving them open arms for a hug because hugs are so comforting. We wanted to call it open arms, but that name was already taken. So, that’s how Loving Arms was born,” she explains.
Loving Arms raises awareness on sexual and physical abuse by conducting school and community outreach; and creating a platform for different groups of people to have conversations on abuse.
“We bring survivors of sexual violence to talk and share their stories; and to encourage young people going through abuse to speak up and know they are not alone.
“We also teach young people how to support others in preventing or reporting abuse. Mainly, we are teaching our young people the ‘good touch, bad touch’ and that ‘NO means NO” as well as to be kind to those that have been abused,” says Sunga, the last born of five children in her family.
Apart from that, Loving Arms also connects trauma counselling service providers and access to resources for individuals who need support.
The organisation also works with groups of young women in communities, which end up becoming support groups and work together in empowering and supporting each other, as well as having a safe space to experience healing and hope.
Although they talk about all kinds of abuse, Sunga says sexual abuse takes centre stage in their discussions because of the shame associated with it in most cultures.
Born and raised in Lilongwe, the young woman observes that families and communities often do not want to acknowledge that sexual abuse happens in their homes and to their loved ones.
She says: “When a girl is being abused, we usually ask her not to talk about it outside the home because we want to save the family face. When a boy is being abused, we vehemently deny that something like that can happen to boys and we joke about it.”
She adds: “Communities do not know how to support or deal with young people that have been abused and so we end up labelling them ogwiriridwa uja or saying things like; ‘she must have wanted it. How could she be raped at that age?’”
Sunga cites the need to end stigma and change people’s attitudes towards sexual violence— realising that sexual abuse is traumatic and that those who experience it need a lot of assistance getting through the pain, the blame and the trauma.
With sexual violence still rampant in the country, she says the biggest challenge is to get these conversations going.
“As explained, it is still hard for people to talk about sexual violence. We have to be patient with the pace the conversations take to a point where people can address these issues without squirming.
“We also need to create a safe space for people to come when they need help or just talk to someone without fear of being judged. We still have to keep showing up for these conversations to continue, change mindsets, for empowerment and healing,” she said.
Looking ahead, the young activist plans to partner different organisations and entities next year in conducting different campaigns, workshops and outreaches on sexual abuse awareness.
“We hope these interventions will not only promote conversations on sexual violence among different groups, but also ensure there are proper channels and easy access for support to those that are abused. We hope to encourage survivors that they are not alone and they can get the help they need. We also plan to scale up our support groups to serve more people,” she explains.
Loving Arms plans to have a little sister big sister programme for girls in marginalised communities— to allow young women in cities to form a lasting relationship with these girls who need mentoring, encouragement and support to stay in school.
Sunga went to Lilongwe Girls Secondary School and later proceeded to the African Bible College for her Bachelors Degree.
She is a programme and project management professional with most of her experience concentrated on working in start-ups.
Her career has evolved from a librarian, public relations officer, communications consultant to chief of operations.
For three years, she worked as country director for 2nd Milk Inc, a non-profit organisation committed to providing healthy nutrition to malnourished and orphaned babies in developing countries.
Now she is the co-founder and chief of operations for Loving Arms.
Apart from that, which is her side job done out of passion, she is also working with Philanthropy University, an organisation that provides capacity building resources for social impact organisations in under-resourced communities through free online training.
There, she works as a programme coordinator as part of the Atlas Corps Fellowship, a prestigious fellowship for Social Change leaders from developing countries.