At over 90 years old, Heather Ngalande’s grandmother barely walks to any place beyond the perimeter of her home.
But within the household, sited on a sprawling expanse in Phalombe’s Bwanaisa Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkhumba, the elderly woman has found hope.
Her granddaughter sufficiently takes care of her using the K12,000 social cash transfer (SCT) programme money that she gets every two months.
“From that money, which I do receive on my grandmother’s behalf, I am setting aside a little and saving it,” says Heather, 22.
The K12,000 SCT support is supposed to benefit four members of her family headed by her grandmother who has also allowed the young girl to join a group of likeminded locals striving to sustain their livelihoods through savings and investments.
On November 2, the group was born, buoyed by instructions from Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) which seeks to substantially reduce the number of ultra-poor labour-constrained Malawians.
In Phalombe and Mulanje, the organisation is implementing a projected dubbed ‘Building sustainable livelihoods for ultra-poor (Bslup)’ which is being financed by the International Fund for Agriculture Development through the Ministry Finance.
Heather waxes lyrical about the activities of the savings and investments group whose 32 members are among over 3,700 other SCT beneficiaries targeted in the ultra-poor graduation initiative of the Financial Access for Rural Markets, Smallholders and Enterprises (Farmse) programme.
“From our Kachere Savings Group, I am able to borrow money for small businesses so that we sustain our income. So even during the month that we don’t get the SCT money, there still is a little something to keep us going,” she says.
Heather, who lost both parents some time back, also hopes that after saving enough and earning other returns from exploits in her group, she will return to school having paused after writing her Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations three years ago.
The multibillion kwacha nationwide seven-year Farmse programme largely aims to reduce poverty, improve livelihoods and enhance resilience of rural households on a sustainable basis.
At the end, the targeted SCT programme beneficiaries who are labour-constrained should graduate from poverty to sustainable livelihoods.
Heather sees this being realised soon.
“Many people in our group are eager to save and borrow for business, knowing that the support we are receiving might not be there forever,” she says.
Every week, they gather at a chosen spot to bring together their contributions in the form of shares and lend each other what is available to raise their portfolio.
“We were taught that just putting together our money is not enough and it will not increase its value. Thus, we encourage each other to borrow from our savings so that the interest will result into profits at the end,” Heather says.
Beyond the savings and investments initiative, beneficiaries in the Bslup project are also targeted with messages on mind-set change and nutrition and health, among other areas.
After three years, Comsip expects improvements in food security status, economic resilience, nutrition and health status and housing structures of the over 3,700 ultra-poor households.
Bslup Project Manager, Fred Kazombo, says the intervention is action-oriented where beneficiaries are expected to undertake particular actions that will lead to reductions in terms of their poverty levels.
Thus, according to Kazombo, sustainability is guaranteed.
“Most of the beneficiaries of the [SCT] programme that we have interacted with want to get something free. That is the mind-set we are fighting to change,” he says.
On the other hand, Kazombo states that not everyone benefiting from the SCT programme has the potential of graduating.
“So what is important is identifying those with the potential to graduate. There are parameters used in the identification process because it would be useless to put into a graduation programme households that cannot achieve that,” he says.
During a media orientation workshop that took place in Mulanje recently, Kazombo indicated that the graduation model that Comsip is employing has been tested and proven effective.
He added that each targeted household will be injected with a cash grant to enable them engage in livelihood activities such as livestock production, horticulture and running grocery shops.
And Heather’s family might soon be engaging in any of these activities.
Each time she thinks about her family’s poverty raises hope in her that with proper support and her own dedication, such poverty will be a thing of the past.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje