Widows weave their dreams in baskets


In the Ndevu Village in Lilongwe, a dozen women have gathered to weave their dreams in flower baskets.

And as they work, under the thatched Ndevu CBCC shelter, the women share stories of comfort and hope and inspiration.

Their faces, once worn with despair and grief due to widowhood, are all smiles and full of expectation.


Tellingly, the women, drawn from villages in the area of Traditional Authority Kalolo, sing a celebration song as they pretty know that they are no longer faced with desperate circumstances.

One of these women, 42-year-old Ailesi Makala, looks up from a pile of wires that will shortly become a wonderful basket. And she believes that the basket, woven out of her own ordinary hands, will find itself in the lavish home of some elite in the suburb of the capital.

That gives Makala a sense of pride and importance.


“I’m proud to have acquired new skills in weaving flower baskets, not ordinary baskets but hanging and wired ones. I can now put food on the table for my seven children and get by,” says Makala, who comes from the neighbouring Gomola Village.

“I’m happy that I joined the group,” she says.

The group, known as Chiyambi 1, was set up in 2015 to unite women who lost their husbands. Women in Development (Wide), a local non-governmental organisation, established the support group in 2015. The aim was clear: to improve widows and other marginalised women’s lives in Lilongwe rural.

Women who have been widowed, admits the group’s chairperson, Etta Kaposa, confront huge challenges. Many rely on piecework to earn a living.

“But these days, piecework is hard to get, and the future is always uncertain,” says Kaposa.

Ridicule, in fact, is part of the widows’ daily life.

“Even when you walk around the village, and happen to chat or joke with a married man, his wife sneers at you, thinking that you might snatch away her husband,” she says.

Worse still, widows can be targeted for any misfortunes that occur in the village. Often they are seen to be witches.

“We are subjected to all sorts of ridicule and harassment. Our only crime is that we are widows or the aged,” laments Kaposa, whose husband, Bendro Boloma, died in 2009.

“Some shamelessly say we bewitched our own husbands so that we could inherit gardens. How can one do that? How can you bite a finger that feeds you?”She asks.

But how does all this come about?

Sitting idle and relying on well-wishers for survival is all a fertile ground for idle talk and speculation, believes Kaposa.

“I believe those accusations will disappear since those village gossipers will see us shining and dazzling, thanks to the intervention of Women in Development. Or their talk will now centre on envy and hate; something that will not bother us,” she says.

Weaving baskets aside, Chiyambi 1 also engages in village-savings and loans (VSL). The aim of VSL is to sustain their business and also helping the women to address their immediate, household needs.

“Very soon, possibly end March, we’re going to share our dividends and that will keep us going further,” Kaposa says.

According to her, when the group was formed, many widows and other vulnerable individuals got attracted and joined.

“But many left, abandoning a few of us after seeing that there was no visible benefit in the group. They thought Wide would then come with pots of money to splash around, forgetting about our core values which is hard work and self-reliance,” says Kaposa who is also member of Farmers Union of Malawi.

The task of weaving the baskets however is one tiresome, involving and risky. Fingers often get hurt, bruised and burnt.

“It’s wirework,” admits Arthur Kalilombe, the group’s trainer. “All the same I encourage them to bear it all.”

A closer look at the members’ fingers reveals lacerations and in some cases bleeding. But the women are undaunted.

“We are going to master the craft of making these wonderful products. We have to taste bitterness before enjoying prosperity,” says Makala.

And their perseverance captures Slyvia Hartshorn, a Canadian volunteer working for Disabled Women in Africa (Diwa).

“I’m really inspired by these women who work hard despite their conditions,” she said.

And all this hard work for this fledgling business relies on their out-of-pocket support. Ruth Mkutumula, Wide Project Officer, admits there is no funding from any donor to bankroll the group’s activities.

It’s bloody business. But every time a wire pierces their finger, their determination to make this business grow heightens. For them, they are weaving their good future and that of their children.

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