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From grass to grace

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How government’s decent housing project is putting smiles on faces that would have been in despair for probably the rest of their lives, by SARAH MUNTHALI

For Zeria Chirwa, a divorced mother of four children, living in a decent house roofed with corrugated iron sheets and floored with cement was a mere dream.

Chirwa from Mphambuseni Village in the area of Traditional Authority Zulu in Mchinji has been living in grass-thatched mud houses since she was born decades ago.

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She says in rainy season it was leaking and was a death trap.

“During rainy season I could just wake up and sit till the rains stopped because the house was in pathetic state. I was scared for my life and my young children because I feared the house would one day collapse and kill us,” Chirwa says.

But from this rainy season, her family will sleep soundly without interruption from rains courtesy of Malawi Government’s Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy programme (DAHSP).

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Popularly known as Malata and Cement Subsidy, the programme is aimed at assisting poor people in rural areas by providing them with subsidised cement, iron sheets and other building materials to help them construct new houses or improve existing ones.

Chirwa has now built a three-bedroom house next to her old hut. She praises the programme saying when she heard about it, she never knew she would be one of the beneficiaries.

“I have been hearing about programmes targeting the poor, but this is one of the best programmes government has introduced,” she says.

“It is good that the programme allowed village housing committees to choose the beneficiaries,” she adds.

The village housing committees ensure that there is a beneficiary from every village thereby enabling people from different areas to benefit.

Under the programme, Chirwa and other beneficiaries got the construction materials on soft loan.

She says she is confident that she will repay the loan with the money she will realise from farm proceeds of this growing season.

Ganizani Solomoni, 83, from Tongozala Village in the area of TA Mkanda is also singing the ‘grass to grace’ song in praise of the DAHSP programme.

“I never dreamed I would one day stay in a decent house like this one,” he says with a smile, “When the Mkanda local housing committee chose me, I was really grateful.”

Just like Chirwa and many other villagers, Solomoni had been living in a dilapidated mud house. Apart from leakage, bed bugs were a menace due to rough and cracked walls that served as habitats for the parasites.

“Since I built this house, bed bugs no longer attack me. At my age, I am glad I’m living comfortably for the first time in many years. The rainy season, which has just started, will no longer be a nightmare,” he says.

In Mchinji district alone, 450 households are expected to benefit from the programme this year.

The District’s Rural Housing Officer Alex Saidi says about 340 houses have already been constructed or improved using the subsidised materials while the remaining 110 are still being constructed.

“We have distributed cement, iron sheets, timber and lime to beneficiaries in traditional authorities Zulu, Mkanda, Dambe, Mavwere, Kapondo, Simphasi, Kazyozyo, Mduwa and Mlonyeni, and we are in the process of distributing the remaining materials such as window frames,” he says.

Chief Director of Housing in the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development Stuart Ligomeka recently visited some of the beneficiaries in Mchinji.

“I’m impressed that some of the houses have been completed and that materials are delivered on time. Come March or April, all the beneficiaries in Mchinji will get their materials and will be staying in decent houses,” he said.

There have been media reports indicating that some stakeholders say the programme is a failure and that it has to be stopped.

But Ligomeka says, “ ‘the goodness of pudding is in the eating’, I’m, therefore, calling on civil society organisations, members of parliament and other people who are skeptical to visit the beneficiaries for them to appreciate the success of the programme.”

Launching the Programme in Lilongwe District in December last year, President Peter Mutharika warned politicians and traditional leaders against politicising the programme.

He said although it was part of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s manifesto, it remained a government programme.

“It has been my dream to see Malawians live in houses that accord them the dignity they deserve. Let’s not spoil the opportunity which will not only improve the living conditions of rural Malawians but also create employment opportunities,” he said.

About 5, 440 households across the country are expected to benefit from the K7 billion programme which was approved by parliament in 2014.— Mana

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