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Women leading way in Malawian communities

Sarah Kayaza (39) and Sophilet Phiri (30) have seen the firsthand effects of childhood malnutrition in their community. Feeling compelled to help change this situation in 2002 they joined Chikwangula Club, a Concern-supported organisation.

At the time, malnutrition rates in their community were high, with over 50 children suffering from malnutrition. Most households used to feed on maize husks and other non-nutritious food just for survival.

The Chikwangula Club tried to remedy this situation by promoting nutrition and sustainable livelihoods in the community. Sarah and Sophilet took part in various training sessions facilitated by Concern. These included farming and small business management.

“We benefited from the coaching and mentoring that was offered,” says Sarah. The community planted kitchen gardens to supplement their food. “We now have enough nutritious food such as maize, soya, cassava and potatoes which we farm at communal gardens and share for family consumption.”

Local government encouraged

When some local government departments saw how these activities were progressing, they decided to get involved and support the community. “The Ministry of agriculture and food security supported us with cassava cuttings”, explains Sophilet.

This support from local government, as well as Concern, has encouraged the club to work even harder in eliminating the problems facing them. “Through our community based organisation we have managed to contribute towards the lowering of the number of malnourished cases to only three in a village of 289 households” says Sarah.

“Our group has since opened up a savings account with the Malawi Savings Bank and the current book balance is 4,000 Malawian Kwacha (MK) which was realised from sales of farm produce,” she explains.

The group also got a treadle pump (a manual small scale irrigation pump) on loan at the price of MK 15, 000 (about 73 Euro), of which they have managed to service MK 1,500 (about 7.3 Euro).

Sharing their knowledge

Both Sarah and Sophilet are now very experienced and are seen by their community as consulting experts in gardening, livelihoods and leadership. Many neighboring villages have visited the two women to learn more from them and are currently in the process of organising their own community initiatives.

Addressing gender inequality

Sarah and Sophilet have also encouraged their community to look differently at issues of gender inequality in Malawi. Men are traditionally seen as the main earners and as the heads of the household. Despite this, Chikwangula village is becoming used to women such as Sarah and Sophilet taking a more proactive position in the community. There are now 19 women in the 29-strong community group, and these women are leading the way in improving the lives of their fellow neighbours and families.

Story compiled by Ephraim Munyala of Concern.