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Empowering women through saving groups

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Forty-one-year-old Jessie Chikhonje of Group Village Head Kamsonga in Ntcheu has finally come to terms with her shattered marriage.

Chikhonje’s husband divorced her in 2006 while she was carrying her sixth child.

The estranged husband left without making any commitment to provide care, support or love to his offspring after the fall of the marriage.

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On the other hand, Stella Kamphata got divorced in 2007. The family had two children, when they decided to part ways.

“I t was shocking and devastating. I never thought he could divorce me at a time his care and support was most needed in raising our six children,” Chikhonje says.

Chikhonje and Kamphata’s struggle and fear to come to terms with divorce and stay economically self-reliant mirrors that of many women in the country, who fail to withstand the aftermath of marriage breakdowns.

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But as one African proverb states, “the dance steps must change, when the rhythm changes”.

Thus, the deserted ladies had no choice, but to develop new strategies to deal with emerging complex challenges such as financial exclusion that could threaten their families’ food, nutrition and income security, which are key elements at the core of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1 and 2, aimed at ending poverty and hunger.

While other women choose to live in denial after divorce, leaving their innocent children vulnerable to poverty and deprivation of their right to education, Chikhonje vowed to take the bull by its horns.

And thanks to Tazindikira Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) Cooperative in Group Village Head Kamsonga in Ntchisi, Chikhonje is now part of the growing financial inclusion crusade, bringing some fresh air to the functionality of the village economy.

She joined the group in 2009 and since then, the woman has realised steady economic improvement in her family.

“I am determined to turn around my economic situation with or without the help of a man. Singlehandedly, I have been paying school fees for my three secondary school children. One is at Dzenza Secondary School where fees is K52,000 per term, I pay K18,000 for the second one and K15,000 for the third one. Additionally, I provide all their needs without seeking financial help from anyone except our cooperative,” Chikhonje said.

She says she has not been in communication with her estranged husband and thus would not know, if he still cares about the children.

However, with her savings at the cooperative, which are in turn used for intermediation among the members, Chikhonje has managed to build herself a decent and modern house in which she lives with the children.

“I don’t know what he thinks about the children he fathered with me. But that doesn’t stop me from going ahead with my plans. I am determined to educate all the children. I don’t want our failed marriage to drag me behind,” she said.

Up to 65 members came together and formed Tazindikira Comsip Cooperative in 2008 from small groups, which later became a cluster and now a cooperative. Out of these, 50 are women and the rest are men.

The group meets once a month to save and buy shares at an initial stipulated price. Their initial share price was K300 before it was adjusted to K600 the following year and then K1,000 in 2011.

Chikhonje joined the group solely to find solace to her financial problems.

“And I have really found peace of mind,” she said.

On the other hand, Kamphata joined Mlanda Comsip Cooperative in Ntcheu with savings from her participation in the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf IV) Public Works Programme in the area.

Kamphata, too, has educated her two children and has managed to build two iron-sheet houses in Jingapasi Village, where she lives happily with her children too.

And with support from the Comsip Nutrition and Health Micro Project, she has also built a modern kitchen and a latrine with cement floor.

“And having educated my children, my vision now is to buy modern furniture for my newly built house, install solar power and purchase entertainment equipment,” Kamphata said with a grin written all over her face.

There are three categories of savings for members in Comsip savings and investment groups. The first is voluntary, which can be withdrawn at will.

The second one is mandatory, which can only be withdrawn on maturity of the term; and, in the third category, shares that are purchased by a member and form part of the capital for the group.

These savings are intermediated (lending or borrowing) within the group in form of loans for investment and excess is deposited in the group’s bank account.

Comsip Cooperative Union Limited then facilitates formal financial literacy and business management trainings for its members during which savings first approach is emphasised.

This approach has cultivated a habit of savings-first-before-spending among Comsip members.

The trainings also emphasise the difference between village savings and loans and Comsip concepts.

Under village savings, members share out everything at the end of the financial year while under Comsip, members only share profit and interests while the rest is carried forward to the next financial year.

Primary cooperatives are also encouraged to buy shares as one way of saving and investing.

After the formation of the group, the Comsip Cooperative Union Limited then came in with a training grant as a facilitation fund. The union recommends that these funds be multiplied through lending to members.

The residual after training forms part of initial capital for the group. Comsip also undertakes a due diligence assessment to assess readiness of the group to be trained in financial literacy, business management and environmental and social safeguards in accordance with the Comsip graduation model.

After Tazindikira and Mlanda Comsip Cooperatives passed the tests, the union provided it with financial assistance to enable the members undergo formal trainings.

The union continues to capacitate the members with various trainings, including group dynamics, financial literacy, business management, environmental and social safeguards, nutrition and health and legume production.

Comsip Cooperative Union Limited Chief Executive Officer, Tenneson Gondwe, said in the 2016/17 Financial Year, the union accelerated the pace of member affiliation to 710 from 450.

The union also more than trebled shares purchased to K102.7 million from K33.7 million.

Gondwe also disclosed that in 2017, they scaled up interventions in Nutrition and Health Promotion and Legume Enterprise Structured Production (LESP) initiatives, with grant investments of K107.2 million and K97.7 million, respectively.

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