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Development the community empowerment way

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CONCERNED— People who stay closer to Domasi River

In Zomba and Machinga districts, residents seem to have realised that, if they do nothing about their problems, no one will be interested in addressing them.

This is the sense one gets after visiting Mizinga Village, Traditional Authority Kawinga, in Machinga District, where, from July 6 1964 to January 2019, people used to cover long distances to fetch water from an open source without doing anything about the problem.

According to Lukia Kauma, who is the chairperson for the committee that manages a borehole that opened to people’s use in 2019, community members used to be docile.

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“That is why, even when we were sharing water with goats, cattle and other domesticated animals, we saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, we did nothing about the problem.

“I blame the situation on lack of knowledge, though. There was no one to enlighten us on our role in national development, let alone how to hold duty bearers accountable,” she said.

Margaret Mpoole, who is the deputy general secretary, concurred.

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“Looking back, I cannot believe it that we used to share the same source of water with animals. In the end, waterborne diseases used to be the main cause of hospital visits to Kawinga Health Centre.

“Not just that, cases of absenteeism became an everyday occurrence at Nanyumbu Primary School. I cannot say anything about the absenteeism rate in secondary school because the one we depend on is far away— at Ntaja,” Mpoole said.

Not that their problems have been addressed; partially so. As things stand, people from seven group heads and one group village head— making it eight villages— fetch water from one borehole.

This means break-downs cannot be prevented, such that community members contribute K200 per month, an amount that is still on the higher side for some people— who have to brace for the two kilometre-plus distance to the open source.

Fortunately, the borehole has, since 2019, broken down only once, and community members had to folk out K7,000 as payment to the one who fixed it.

“The truth is that we still need more boreholes for water-related challenges to be alleviated,” said Jaba Akimu, secretary for the Citizenship Forum in the area.

When we visited the area, thanks to Tiritonse, in the company of National Initiative for Civic Education ((Nice) Trust officials such as spokesperson Grace Hara and Area Civic Education Coordinator (Acec) Jane Gunde, the borehole committee had K24,000 in its kitty; barely enough to finance the construction of another borehole.

Of course, organisations such as Amref Health Africa (Aha) have, every now and then, come to community members’ rescue; but there is just so much one can do.

This is also the case at Kawinga Health Centre nearby, where WaterAid, the Scottish Government, Scottish Water and Aha provided facilities such as toilets through the ‘Deliver Life to Mothers, Girls and Children in the Southern Region of Malawi Project’.

As a result, said Health Advisory Committee (Hac) Chairperson Lawrence Major, five major problems community members were facing in the past have been addressed.

“We had five main problems, namely delays to connect the facility to the national electricity grid, lack of potable water, the problem of inadequate toilets, lack of beds and inadequate staff such as nurses. Most of these problems have been addressed, apart from that of electricity connection.

“We have been mobilising resources and have, so far, mobilised K550,000 because we want our women to be delivering here [at Kawinga Health Centre]. We thank National Initiative for Civic Education for sensitising us to the importance of taking action and holding office bearers accountable,” he said, before rushing to the mango tree nearby, where service seekers at the health centre are allowed to keep their bicycles at a fee— K100.

The money is then put in the Hac kitty, where it is used for addressing some of the challenges the health facility faces.

“As for beds, we have four delivery beds now but district health officials say women cannot deliver here because we have no electricity. As such, we are intent on addressing that problem,” he said.

Kawinga Health Centre Clinician-in-Charge Francis Nthonga said the facility serves 40,000 people, who are in its catchment area.

“This means we serve 6,600 households. Because we are surrounded by mission hospitals, our OPD [out-patient department] utilisation is a bit high,” he said.

Nthonga hailed partners for helping the government address problems such as those related to the provision of water.

However, without getting the okay to start serving women in labour, community members have a mountain to climb in their quest to have pregnant women deliver at Kawinga Health Centre.

In Zomba District, where Nice Trust has been implementing a transparency and accountability project in Zomba Msondole Constituency, some community members are riled that a community day secondary school project which was being implemented without their involvement died a natural death.

“The problem here is that development projects are party other than people-oriented,” said Village Development Committee member Kingsley Kasitolo.

“Members of Parliament and councillors take us for granted,” he added.

His sentiments are echoed by Anderson Kachika, who cites a secondary school project that started in 2016 but stopped at floor level.

“Msongole Secondary School is 11 kilometres away; as such, we were banking on the Kumtumanje Secondary School Project,” he said, almost jadedly.

Masautso Labana, a Citizenship Forum member, and Memory Milanzi share in his Agony. So does Group Village Head Namwera.

Nice Trust Zomba Acec Macson Ndalema said the community members have started holding service providers to account.

“We have been building the capacity of these people and, now, they seem to be following development issues with keen interest,” he said.

But, perhaps, Namwera and his subjects are not facing a life-threatening situation; close to Domasi Scheme, the situation is dire.

There, according to Village Civil Protection Committee Chairperson Frackson Chimkango, Domasi River abandoned its course and now flows closer to where people stay.

“As a result, when Tropical Storm Ana struck this year, water was overflowing on the river bank, which is closer to the village, and we were forced to put dykes. But no sooner did we put the dykes than the water overflew. We are afraid here because, should water rise like earlier this year again, it will overflow to the village and destroy people and property,” he said.

The dyke was made 16 years ago but, every year, water in the river has been rising higher and higher. Eleven rivers feed into Domasi River.

Save the Children once engaged community members, who were working for 20 days a month, as part of a community empowerment initiative. People received over K4 million they used it to uplift their lives.

However, the organisation has moved on to another project site, leaving people stranded.

“We just want well-wishers, both the government and non-governmental organisations, to come to our rescue because our lives and properties are in danger,” said Chinsisi Charlie, a Citizenship Forum member.

The problem is; this is the summer season and no policy maker may remember how devastating floods can be in the wet season. Call it fatal forgetfulness.

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