Once timid and dependent on men, women from Kutewesa Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Chikumbu in Mulanje District, have started holding the bull of poverty by the horn.
The women, who are beneficiaries of the government-initiated social cash transfer programme— popularly called ‘Ntukula pa Khomo’ in Chichewa— are doing so through a bakery business they are running.
The women come together every Wednesday to bake buns and bread, which they sell to community members.
“We generate up to K70,000 every week after selling products. We sell a bun at K250 while a loaf of bread goes at K1,200. We, then, channel part of the money back into our village loan and savings group and invest the rest back into the business,” says 45-year-old Anne Dabwa from Mphupira Village, TA Nkanda, in Mulanje District.
She is one of the 30 members of Chambe Bakery.
So good are their products that demand has been surging.
“I, and group members, are now able to fend for ourselves,” Dabwa indicates.
The bakery was established in 2019, thanks to United Purpose.
Eight of the women in the group are social cash transfer programme beneficiaries who are eager to utilise the money they get while the opportunity lasts.
Apart from running the business, they formed a savings and loan group known as ‘Chitsanzo Banki Nkhonde’.
“We did not want to put all eggs in one basket. By and by, other women who are not benefiting from the social cash transfer programme joined the group.
“We started with a contribution of K100 minimum and K500 maximum every week as shares. Through sharing and lending, the funds have increased. Gradually, we have been able to address some of the challenges we face,” says the single mother of five.
Before joining the ‘banki nkhonde’ group and bakery enterprise, she could struggle to source money for buying school uniforms for her five children, not to mention putting food on the table.
“This is because, back then, I was solely depending on small-scale farming, where I was producing maize and pigeon peas. The money I was making after selling some of the produce was barely enough to support my children,” Dabwa laments.
Another woman who has undergone transformation is 35-year-old Anne Weston, a married mother of four.
Weston joined the group on behalf of her ailing, elderly mother who is 79 years old and can no longer walk due to medical complications.
“My mother, who is a participant in the ‘Ntukula pa Khomo’ programme, did not have a good house but, from the money she received, she invested in the loan and savings group and we are able to address socio-economic challenges we face in life,” Weston says.
Weston says she has now built a good house for her mother and her buying power has increased, such that she manages to buy household items.
“By the way, I recently bought a goat for my mother, which tells you about the positive effects of the things we are doing.
“I am now happy that my mother is comfortable and I no longer worry too much about her,” she says.
Amos Chandilanga, the social welfare officer who is responsible for social cash transfer programme implementation in Mulanje District, says they are working with other organisations to promote quality life among beneficiaries.
“There are 13,085 participants who are benefitting from the social cash transfer programme in Mulanje District. We work with various organisations to increase resilience so that beneficiaries increase capacity to withstand pressure that comes with poverty, thereby reducing poverty levels, improving school enrollment and nutrition,” Chandilanga explains.
Rosemary Harawa Kabanga, who is the programme manager for the Social Support for Resilience Programme which United Purpose is implementing, says the organisation is supporting beneficiaries of the social cash transfer programme by building their capacity through training and the provision of resources.
“We realise that the money participants receive is just too little; so, we have come in to support the initiative by supporting the women to form village banks. We train them and encourage them to use part of the money for consumption and invest the rest into village savings groups,” she points out.