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Banks at villagers’ doorstep

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SELF-RELIANT—Mlomba

Edina Mlomba does not remember when she was born. She is a woman of advanced years but refuses to sit back and let poverty strike her.

Mlomba, from Nkanda Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Chamba, Machinga District, took home the highest amount of money from the 21-member Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group that she belongs to when they last shared their dividends.

She invested the K60,000 in various agriculture sub-sectors including beekeeping. Her home is surrounded by a fish pond and maize and potato fields.

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The elderly woman has three children and eight grandchildren but chooses to fend for herself.

“I’m a farmer and the village bank is helping me a lot. I save money in the group and, when I get my returns, I purchase inputs for my farms,” Mlomba brags.

She says the VSL group has made a huge impact in her life which heavily relies on subsistence farming.

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“I harvested four times more maize this year than I did last year,” Mlomba adds.

Elsewhere, in Chibwana Village, T/A Nsamala in Balaka, a 55-year-old Muslim man, Adaki Timamu, makes ends by producing rosaries which he offers for sale to Catholics in his neighbourhood.

He says he learnt the trade from a Catholic priest he had lived with from when he was a little boy.

“I’m making a living from this trade; selling items for a religion that I don’t belong to,” Timamu says while raising a bunch of the strings of beads ready for wearing.

When his business slows down, he rushes to a VSL group that he belongs to and obtains a loan to keep things moving.

Timamu is also among hundreds of locals in VSL groups whose businesses are being supported by Eagles Relief and Development, an anti-poverty charity.

“Eagles Relief gave me K112,000 late last year and the money significantly boosted my business. I increased my output almost fourfold,” Timamu says.

The programme is being funded by the Financial Access for Rural Markets, Smallholders and Enterprise (Farmse) through Oxfam Malawi and Christian Aid and targets at least 3,300 households in the two Eastern Region districts.

In Balaka, Oxfam and Christian Aid have partnered Eagles Relief to implement the project while in Machinga, they are working with Churches Action in Relief and Development.

Oxfam Media and Communications Coordinator, Daudi Kayisi, is contented that the project is achieving its objectives “of changing people’s lives”.

“Our target is to graduate those in extreme poverty to better levels. People are being taught about different activities which can improve their lives.

“For instance, there is climate-smart agriculture which ensures households harvest enough from small portions of land amid erratic rainfall patterns,” Kayisi says.

He adds that the culture of savings and loans that the targeted households are being taught is uplifting their socio-economic statuses.

“When people save, they are more resilient to various shocks. They can go back to what they have accumulated and get something with which to reboot their lives when things go bad,” Kayisi states.

A recent Integrated Household Survey conducted by the National Statistical Office revealed that about 42.1 percent of households borrow from village banks while 15.1 percent borrow from relatives.

Further, 12.7 percent borrow from neighbours; nine percent rely on loan sharks while the remaining 6.1 percent use other means.

This means village banks are among those driving forward rural economies and, therefore, need to be supported.

Mlomba hails the support from Farmse which includes trainings on how to make the most from the savings.

“Money issues are very sensitive but, through the support, we are able to follow every tambala that goes into our group. There is also transparency in how we share what we sow,” she says.

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