In 2018, Sikenela Pondamali, from Kasaza Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Kabudula in Lilongwe, was going through a tough time. One of his children required a surgical operation. What was initially thought to be a single operation turned into three.
Frequent visits to the hospital financially drained him.
He started selling household items as a way of raising funds to help in making visits to the hospital possible. But, soon, he had nothing more to sell. He was in a fix. His five children, his wife and his aging mother had to endure the tough phase of their lives, as they unsuccessfully tried to find a way out of their predicament.
In the same year, the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) was enrolling people into the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP). Luckily, the 40-year-old became one of the people who got enrolled into the programme. He started receiving K8,000 per month.
“At first, I did not have any vision with the money but, later, I was given some training in how to run small-scale businesses. Since that time, things have been going on smoothly for me,” Pondamali says.
He has become one of the most well-known businessmen at Kalonga Trading Centre. Through the dry-fish business he operates, he has been able to improve the living standards of his family members.
“I use the money I get from SCTP to boost my capital. From the profits I get in this business, I have been able to buy chickens. I have 18 of them at the moment. I also have four pigs and some pigeons. I have been able replace household property I sold,” Pondamali says.
SCTP, popularly known as ‘Mtukula Pakhomo’, is one of the initiatives the government has employed to tackle effects of poverty and malnutrition among the ultra-poor and labour-constrained households. It aims at achieving better nutrition, health, education and shelter for the poorest in Malawi.
SCTP is the anchor programme in the Social Support for Resilient Livelihoods Project (SSRLP), a project initiated by the Government of Malawi using funds from the World Bank.
Under the SCTP, a one-member household gets K4,000 while a two-member household gets K5,000. Three-member and four-member households get K6,500 and K8,000, respectively. The households also get an education bonus of K1,000.
In Lilongwe, stories of people having their lives turned around because of the social cash transfer are many.
Ellen Kaipa from Bodzalibwera Village, also in TA Kabudula, says, since her husband dumped her, SCTP has eased the burden of fending for her family.
The mother of three says she used the money she received from the programme to buy a pig. That marked the beginning of her journey to self-reliance. Through rearing pigs, the single mother has been able to build a big house for her family.
In T/A Khongoni in the same district, Ruttia Dawe of Madzonga Village says the money she gets through SCTP has transformed her life.
A member of Saleka Village Savings Loan (VSL) group, Dawe says she is able to pay school fees for her four children, who are doing secondary education, and four orphans she looks after, who are in primary school.
Arnold Mndolo, Lilongwe District Council Social Welfare Officer, who is responsible for social cash transfer programme, says the programme has transformed people’s lives.
He says it is pleasing that, using the money they have been receiving, they have established small-scale businesses within their area and some have bought livestock.
“During the enrolment of the beneficiaries we target the ultra-poor, those who do not have the basic needs. But, as of today, people have the basic needs and some of them have more than what they had before 2018,” he says.
Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) is actively engaging the beneficiaries to get maximum benefits from the money they are receiving.
Comsip Community Development Assistant (CDA) in T/A Khongoni in the same district, Gladys Kalumbi, says she is happy that the beneficiaries are able to save and engage small-scale businesses.
“I help them with advice on what they can do with the money. For instance, I tell them to get engaged in small-scale businesses. I encourage them to join Comsip groups, which they can use to save the money and, later, share it. Currently, some people have bought motorcycles and some have built better houses,” Kalumbi says.
She is confident that the people will be able to sustain their lives, even after the programme is phased out.
“At least 80 percent of the beneficiaries are able to sustain themselves through businesses they are doing now and through the savings they are making. This will become part of their lives. They will continue living comfortable lives even if the programme phases out, because they have benefitted from such initiatives,” Kalumbi says.
The SCTP component of the SSRLP is supporting about 147,000 households in the 11 district councils of Karonga, Rumphi, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Kasungu, Ntchisi, Dowa, Lilongwe, Dedza, Blantyre and Chiradzulu. Overall, the SCTP has about 290,000 beneficiaries in all the 28 district councils in Malawi.