At first glance, Elube Mkundiza, 32, can be easily mistaken for a hopeless villager who has resigned her fate to the life of absolute and endemic poverty.
Born and raised in Mpama Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Makhwira in Chikwawa, Mkundiza did not access formal education in her childhood because her parents were too poor to meet her educational needs.
“I was told that education is key to development. But I had no opportunity to access that key in my childhood,” Mkundiza, a mother of five live children and two deceased said.
She married early as she had no option in her life. Various studies blame poverty, cultural and religious beliefs as being key drivers of child marriages in Malawi.
The impact of child marriages for girls goes beyond the obvious end to a career path.
Child marriage brings an abrupt and unnatural end to a girl’s childhood and adolescence by imposing adult roles and responsibilities before she is physically, psychologically and emotionally prepared.
Marriage imposes social isolation on girls, bringing unwanted separation from their friends and family.
“I really wanted to get education. But my parents could not meet the cost of educating me. And this spelt doom for me and all my dreams crumbled, with all the hope shattered,” Mkundiza added.
But her dream is slowly being reignited, thanks to the institutional support from Zimveke Community Savings and Investments Promotion (Comsip) Cooperative, which she joined through the Adult Literacy Programme in 2015 to turn around the economic fortunes of her family.
Mkundiza stated that through the cooperative, she is working towards building financial security by harnessing the array of resources, capabilities, and the institutional supports Comsip Cooperative Union Limited provides to the group.
“I use my savings to invest in my small scale business of buying and selling rice. I have invested in livestock and cash crop farming. I got my first dividends in December 2015, which I used to buy an ox-cart. The following year, I bought a calf for reproduction and today I have over five herds of cattle having sold two months ago,” she said.
Mkundiza explained that the new skills Comsip Cooperation Union Limited imparts on them has helped improve her business performance thereby making more savings.
Hundreds of kilometres away from Chikwawa, similar efforts are transforming lives of families in Katuli Village in the area of T/A Katuli in Mangochi, an Eastern Region district
A 54-year-old woman, Mariamu Kamuzu, said she has increased her income, the number of goats she raises, and her savings in the group.
And she has become a model mandasi (fritters) vendor at Katuli Trading Centre because of the assets she has earned and accumulated that show her family’s determination to leave poverty behind managed to borrow and increase capital for her mtonjani business.
“And from this considerable increase in capital, I now make K45,000 per week in times of good business and around K30,000 from K15,000 profit per week before. I am very happy and proud to belong to this cooperative,” she explained.
The Comsip Cooperative Union Limited Chief Executive Officer, Tenneson Gondwe, said the organisation continues to register an accelerated pace of member affiliation to 710 up from 450 affiliates in 2016, and more than trebled shares purchase to K102.7 million from K33.7 million same time last year.
“We have also scaled up interventions in nutrition and health promotion and Legumes Structured Production (Lesp) initiatives, with grant investments of K107.2 million, respectively,” he said.
Comsip evolved out of the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf)’s Public Works Programme (PWP) to create opportunities for community members to save and invest in livelihood opportunities which allow them to graduate out of safety nets.
Financed by the World Bank, the programme encourages savings and investment as a key tool for its members to withstand sudden losses of income and food insecurity in a region often hit by climate change, which impact agriculture and food production.
Comsip Information, Education and Communication Officer, Emmanuel Muwamba, stated that with the assistance of extension workers from the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, the programme has mobilised over 150,000 participants into around 6,000 savings groups across the country.
Muwamba said Comsip has helped vulnerable communities and families to improve and increase their incomes and in the process become resilient to shocks.
“The ultimate goal is to graduate most people out of food and cash transfers, reduce the risk of food insecurity and promote alternative sources of income and employment among the members of the cooperatives,” he added.
The cooperative also provides grants to its members’ savings. These grants are used towards training and small investments in a range of areas including health, nutrition and micro businesses.
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