Helping to Lift Women Out of Poverty
Women's Education, Savings & Capital Building help to alleviate poverty
By January Watchman Mvula, SURCOD Founder/Executive Director - Nov 2011
SURCOD gains the respect of the Malawi Government
SURCOD, in November 2011, has become a member of Council for Non Governmental Organisation in Malawi (CONGOMA).
The organisation will now be able to raise and discuss issues with government because of our membership with the council.
Among other duties, CONGOMA supports NGOs to become institutionally strong, to further the standing of NGOs as competent, professional, and suitable agents of development, to enhance and improve the operational environment within which NGOs function, and to promote and facilitate coordination, collaboration, and cooperation between the NGO community, the government, the donor community, and the commercial sector in Malawi.
As an organisation, we are obliged to adhere to existing national policies, one of which is to pay taxes like Pay As You Earn. The authorized body to collect revenues from taxes is Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA).
Without a recommendation letter from the Council for Non-Governmental organisation in Malawi, Malawi Revenue Authority doesn’t accept remittance of tax.
SURCOD is now proudly able to pay tax to government showing its support to the nation.
Membership to the council is a clear indication that the organisation is transparent and accountable enough.
As a change agency working in a rural region, we advocate for the fulfillment of a right to development to the community. Before being accepted as a member of CONGOMA, it was almost impossible to be widely accepted by all arms of government.
The government regards NGOs that are not CONGOMA members as ghost representatives.
Education: a critical tool to eradicate poverty
Besides implementing our savings and capital building project, SURCOD also looks at education as a critical tool to gradually eradicate poverty – both at household and national levels.
The savings and capital building project is currently entirely for women. The idea is instilling a spirit of savings providing cushion economically amongst themselves without leaning on their spouses.
The loan fund helps women borrow funds and use them in the most advantageous way to enable them repay. SURCOD is there to develop the capacities of the women in development where development starts at household level with a woman. The organization has made strides awakening women since the inception of the project in January this year of 2011.
As typical of rural places in developing nations, most people in Chididi neither write nor read.
The larger percentage, unfortunately, are women who are illiterate. Among other things, their illiteracy is exacerbated by traditional beliefs where early marriages and cultural rites promote the system.
Going through signature forms during workshops, only six people (on average) are able to write their names out of a group of 15 or 17 people.
The rest use finger prints. It is also observed that it is only half of the low literate six women who can write and read well.
One woman from Ndakanabodza women group, Neria Jebesi, laughed at herself and said,
“If the days could be reversed, I would have loved to spend most of my youthful time in school than to anything else.”
She wondered how she is able to see scribes, but not able to interpret the writings.
SURCOD, looking at the burning interests of many like Mrs. Neria Jebesi, approached the District Education Office to look at ways to start study circles in Chididi.
The District Education Manager has since welcomed the initiative and promised to help.
The project awaits the Ministry of Gender to finalise handing over the adult literacy programme to the Ministry of Education.
However, the officer said setting up adult literacy classes is driven by the interest of the community; therefore, handing over ceremony cannot deter the office from implementing the project in the said areas.
In using education as a tool to eradicate poverty, SURCOD has 12 youths across different secondary schools on its education bursary scheme. This project looks beyond enabling individuals to read and write. SURCOD looks at building the next role model.
In Chididi, the scheme pays school fees for two students, a girl and a boy. These students almost dropped out of school due to lack of school fees.
Both of them live under a single parent household.
According to the World Bank, many people in developing countries live below poverty line. Poverty tends to be most extreme in one-parent families.
SURCOD wishes to support as many students as possible with scholastic needs. The organisation proposes to embark on school link initiative. One of the objectives will be sharing resources and experiences in order to raise the interest of school for the learners.
In as much as the students will enjoy the relationship, teachers, too, will be motivated in making themselves more dedicated to their noble job.
Manesi Kapidigula, a Form 2 girl student, explained, “I feel much safer in school than being at home all the time, falling prey to unprepared marriage just as many like those in similar situation like mine inevitably do.” She promises never to indulge in immoral practices that will jeopardize her right to an education and a happy life in future.
Her male counterpart, Willick Chiwambala, asks for life skills training to support and fortify his developing self-esteem that will help him cope with peer pressure.
Life skills training to a girl child works even greater miracles in transforming and shaping her life.
Women provide most of the labour in rural areas
SURCOD works with women in the rural Chididi under our Savings and Capital Building Project. Women provide most of the labor in the rural set up. The rural masses depend on agriculture, fishing, forestry and related small scale industries and services.
Chididi is mountainous land that entirely relies on rain-fed subsistence farming.
A small percentage of the rural population plies domestic business and provides services to others (artisans and unskilled labor). SURCOD is striving to effect alternatives to subsistence farming, hence, implementing economic empowerment to the women.
The farming calendar starts between September and November in most parts in Malawi. Chididi is no exception. Most families struggle between attending to social groups and cultivating. Obviously, people prefer farming to attending to other community groups’ interventions.
While farming takes the lead in the rural Chididi, most families are food insecure during this period of the year until the next growing season. Families enter into deliberate division of labor in situation like this.
Most men are forced to provide labor to other, better local farmers to get a little something to feed their families.
Some choose to migrate to major towns promising to return within the period with food items or money. This is the toughest period for Chididi women, just as with many other women in many parts in the developing world.
As if this is not enough, women in Chididi wake up as early as 3:00 am to draw water in streams and some queue more than necessary to get a pail of water.
Lack of water causes more work for women
Activities of man have led to a low water table due to careless cutting down of trees and poor farming practices. The woman sitting behind the borehole (photo below) is waiting for the water to swell up as the water had stopped coming out.
Such situations in water points are the order of the day during dry period in Chididi. Women have more work to do than time allows, at their disposal.
Attending to organised meetings is becoming a problem.
Many opt to send their contributions through friends or children to physically showing themselves up to a groups’ call. This impedes on decision making during meetings.
Field Facilitators have more distances to walk than before to monitor groups and collect data because groups no longer converge at designated places. To make sure that work goes on well, field facilitators reach each household to check performance. Field facilitators only manage to monitor five groups in a month instead of ten.
Some of the open water points (rivers/streams) have less or no water at all. Water swells up in the morning, forcing women to leave bed early to get the water. Those that wake up late walk longer distances to get water.
One of the surviving water sources has almost eight villages that it supplies water to. The most worrisome issue is the sanitation part at such places. People bring food for their siblings, and there is no place where all of them can help themselves.
Chididi: A Portait of Climate Change
SURCOD presumes that the situation in Chididi just portrays the effect of climate change.
People cannot yield much to last them for enough periods due to erratic rainfall patterns, global warming, and many more.
The situation is a persistent food shortage presumably emanating from the effects of climate change, among other causes.
SURCOD does savings and capital building solely involving women. Women are busy in the farms hoping that rains may come sooner than expected. They go to one farm in the morning and to another piece of land in the afternoon. Children that had gone to school in the morning join them in the afternoon.
The Field Facilitators, mostly, find under quorum in meetings causing postponements of meetings. Most women find it not an option to make savings during this time. Conversely, people who loaned cannot service their debt on time. Likewise, groups can hardly lend to others while this is the time that loans are greatly needed.
The organisation is currently trying to persuade groups to still lend out to their members even at a much lower interest rate. SURCOD thinks that the debtor can afford to purchase much needed farm inputs using the loan so that food shortage should not exist the next growing season.
The situation has affected our work very much and will continue doing so until May, when people have enough food in their households.
SURCOD would like to propose providing cushions to the women that will ultimately lead to the economic well being of the entire area of Chididi. The situation of food insecurity occurs and repeats itself within three years.
The water problem, if not well taken care of sooner, will heavily exert unseen violence on women. These women own pieces of land, big enough to give them adequate food year round. Among other methods, provision of farm input subsidies (seed and fertilizer) and engaging competent agricultural extension workers to facilitate for good farming practices are necessary.
People need to know how best to use their pieces of lands and small assets they have for most advantageous production.
Women will have to be trained in agricultural extension methods by competent institutions for sustainability of the project. A similar project produced commendable results in Asian countries that also engaged low literate women. Savings and capital building has a component of market research in the next phase. This component will advocate for fair trade under cooperative initiative.
The Savings and Capital Building Project is working with 265 women that are members of the 20 women groups in Chididi. SURCOD sees great potential in the women in the development aspect of the area.
Rain-fed agriculture is unpredictable, generally. People in the rural areas are supposed to have safety nets to enable them live a standard life during lean period.
SURCOD suggests buying and distributing domesticated animals to poor families to tame that during lean times they can sell and buy food items or farm inputs. The system will have to be developed to have a multiplier effect so that many families benefit from the concept.
Insufficient Foreign Currency hits Malawi hard
The organisation is also hit hard by escalation of prices due to insufficient supply of fuel country wide.
This problem is assumed to have been triggered by insufficient foreign currency hitting the country. The issue of foreign currency has lingered for well over eight months now, as many bilateral and multilateral donors withheld their financial assistance to Malawi.
Britain is at the lead shooting down budgetary support to Malawi.
60% of Malawi’s national budget is provided for by international financial institutions and developed countries.
Malawi announced zero deficit budget that sees the populace paying for it. The business management trainings offered to savings groups will not spread to all groups as planned, likely.
It was estimated that all 20 groups were to be trained. It is apparent that six groups will not be trained due to financial constraints precipitated by high inflation leading to price escalations.
During trainings, participants are provided with lunch and refreshments. Management uses fuel to conduct trainings. All these commodities have their prices gone up by on average 60%.
Although the price for fuel has gone up, the commodity is hardly available in authorized fuel pumps. Fuel is found with unscrupulous vendors at exorbitant prices different from each other-- depending on law of demand and supply of the day.