By January Watchman Mvula, January 2012
SURCOD has achieved a lot in the past three months; the first achievement is we partnered with the Birthing Kit Foundation of Australia in the implementation of the Birthing Kit Project, where we are engaged in the distribution of the Birthing kits in various hospitals in Malawi.
So far 3,500 Birthing Kits have already been dispatched to us and distribution is still in process. The initiative is aimed at reducing the high maternal death rate in this country, and this has led us to also develop a partnership with the Safe Motherhood Initiative in the country, which has already benefited 1,500 birthing kits from the partnership.
Our hope is to reach every district in Malawi. Our main targets are the rural health centers, which lack most of the facilities in terms of maternal health.
The project has improved service delivery in the area of maternal health; in some cases, women were travelling 30 kilometers to access these services, but with this partnership, we are able to reduce the distance the women used to walk to a reasonable distance. The initiative has also improved the women's welfare – especially in those families where the woman is expectant, as it has reduced the waiting time spent by women. Previously, the situation was that they were advised to wait in the hospital when they were close to two months before the expected birth.
Secondly, the Safe Motherhood Initiative is now training Community Midwives, who will be our main target in the distribution of the Birthing Kits.
The other achievement is seeing the women getting skills on empowerment. The coming in of the first female president in the country has really motivated the women to feel that they have potential to lead.
As SURCOD,we are taking this as one of the way of encouraging the women to have higher expectations in all the businesses they are undertaking. This has really improved our service delivery as the women have the real life experience of leading – and they have confidence in themselves that they can succeed in everything.
As Malawians are undergoing tough times pertaining to economic hardship, SURCOD is busy spreading the message of savings as the only way the community can bail out themselves from this hardship.
In the past 10 months, the economic status of Malawi has not been good, in that most of the rural masses are finding it very hard to sustain their various businesses as well as livelihoods. This has been accompanied by the devaluation of kwacha, and the raising of prices of basic commodities such as salt, and many other things.
The scarcity of fuel is making things worse as well, and that is the main factor which is contributing to high prices, but with the 50 saving groups with whom SURCOD, the news is different: the women are able to accumulate small resources through the savings they are periodically putting away.
“Before these groups, I had completely nothing in my family and for me to get money it was news, but now I have MK10,000 ($35.00) which I am saving in the group. My vision is to build my own house by the year 2015 and open a very big garden”
Our Chididi Women Savings and Capital Building project is the true answer of the economic hardship in Malawi since the group members are equipped with the knowledge and skills on how they can mobilize for scarce resources during difficult times.
The savings concept has existed in the community for so long, even during the times of our forefathers when some people were storing their resources in pots and some were hiding their resources in the bush; as a result, the wealth was lost in the case an emergency death occurred, since it was done in secret.
However, with SURCOD's Chididi Women Savings and Capital Building project, women are empowered to have a formal way of accumulating the resources. The women through SURCOD field facilitators are taught the secret of the power of VSLA (Village Saving and Loan Association) and this is proving to be the best approach in mitigating the economic hardships faced in Malawi.
Most of the women in the past 10 months have been empowered with the knowledge and skills on how they can run their VSLA groups, how to solve the problem they are facing as VSLA groups, how to mobilize the savings during the economic crisis and how to manage the savings effectively.
During the past 15 months, the groups have accumulated MK 1175079.00 ($4196.71) in savings only. With this initiative we are reaching out to 500 women.
The main issue which has affected our operation is the political changes which happened in this country in May, whereby our President Munthalika died and Joyce Banda took over power.
Most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were happy about the change and many people in Malawi had expectations that things would change, but unfortunately our currency was devalued at 49%, and this really affected our operation as a local organisation, as well as the savings groups we are working with, since the money they were saving lost the value it had overnight.
This development contributed to the suffering of the poor people, as there isn't any mechanism set aside to cushion the poor Malawians from this.
The Sustainable Rural Community Development Organisation (SURCOD) works at the forefront of advancing empowerment of women and girls through various development projects in Malawi.
Projects include helping disdvantaged children access secondary education and developing women's community enterprises.
January Watchman Mvula, Exec Director
Sustainable Rural Community Development Organisation (Surcod)
P.O. Box 45
"We believe that by reaching a woman we are reaching a nation because we know the big role the women are playing in the society.
If we are reaching the woman we are reaching the husband and all the children in the family"
For most of these women even to raise 1 dollar is a very big challenge.
With tools such as sewing machines, the women can learn a skill which can provide them with a steady income and contribute to their ability to save.
Such skills and tools would have a very big impact on their lives. They would be able to easily pass on such skills to their children.
The programme could be rolled out into other areas where we are in the process of establishing our organisation..
And it will create a bond between donors and the communities."January Watchman, Executive Director, SURCOD.