By Alick Ponje:
On the eastern banks of the Shire River in Chikwawa District lies Mapelera Village which, like several others on this stretch, is home to hundreds of households affected by the Thabwa-Chitseko-Seveni Road Project.
Margret Benesi, 56, is among those who were affected by the project.
She is yet to receive compensation but that has not prevented her from joining a group of men and women with a vision to improve their livelihoods through savings and loans.
“Together, it is easy to carry each other and reduce our burdens in life,” says Benesi, sitting on the veranda of her house planted a few yards from the road.
The licence, that allows her to borrow money from the group, has seen her engage in various businesses to sustain her life and those of three others that she stays with.
“I am a widow and life has not been easy. However, things have improved for my family as I am able to easily access loans from the group,” Benesi says.
She engages in some small-scale businesses that ensure that she has food on the table in her house.
From the business, Benesi has also been able to acquire modern kitchen utensils which she had only dreamed about not long ago.
“That is what happens when you belong to a group where you save and borrow money. The opportunities that I have were not possible in the past. Unlike the situation with big financial institutions, accessing loans from a local group is so easy,” she says.
In March this year, after being approached by Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) Cooperative Union, 20 women and 41 men came together to form Mapelera Cluster which has proved to be significant in their lives.
The group’s secretary, Christopher Banda, says the money that they got as compensation after being affected by the road project would not have lasted long if they had spent it right away, as individuals.
“I know of some colleagues who received the compensation but spent it on things that do not matter. Those of us who pooled together a little something in our group are seeing the fruits of that initiative.
“In my case, I am constructing a house using the money that I got from the group as a loan. The beauty of the arrangement is that we pay an interest which means our profile if growing,” Banda says.
Comsip Cooperative Union Development Communications Officer, Emmanuel Muwamba, says the organisation recognises that low saving and investment among rural and peri-urban communities perpetuate poverty and other social and economic development challenges.
“We understand the importance of embracing knowledge of local communities in utilisation of funds received from compensations through engaging, sensitising and training them in group organisation, financial literacy and financial management,” Muwamba says.
He adds that from another road restoration project which Comsip undertook in Karonga District, it was clear that when people have sufficient information on how to utilise their money, they significantly improve their lives.
The Government of Malawi, through the Roads Authority, is rehabilitating and upgrading the drainage structures on the Thabwa-Chitseko-Seveni Road with financial support from the World Bank and Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project.
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