>>Authored by Alex Dalitso Kaomba, development consultant and freelance writer
At 39 years of age, Sarah Chikuse’s health is visibly better than the other women in her village. A single mother of two, she lives in Kang’oma village on the outskirts of Lilongwe’s Area 23 in Malawi. Her day starts at 4:00 AM when she usually wakes up to the din of her neighbors’ jerry cans and water tins at the only borehole in the village.
Sarah starts by lighting up her charcoal burner so that it gathers heat while she fetches water at the borehole. Next on the routine (if it’s during school term) is preparing her daughters for school. Once she bids her daughters goodbye, she tends to her newly acquired livestock.
Owning livestock is not only a symbol of status for the privileged but also an envied source of income in Malawi, which has one of the lowest livestock herds per family in Southern Africa. Sarah is proud to be one of the few women encroaching into this previously male dominated agricultural territory.
Acquiring a pig is one highlight on her growing list of achievements. Sarah counts herself a success in being able to afford three meals a day for her family and providing her children with a basic education. She has paid their school fees and provides their books, uniforms, and lighting for evening homework.
Two months ago, her daughter contracted malaria, and for the first time, Sarah managed to hire a car and take her to a private clinic where she got rapid, quality care. The hospital bill was US $12, and she managed to pay it in full.
Life before inclusion
Life has not always been so comfortable for Sarah and her family. After a bruising divorce, she was left with less than $4 tied up in her wrapped skirt, and she struggled to make ends meet. She could hardly afford a single meal for her children. She started selling vegetables at a local market, but her family’s daily expenses were much higher than her profits and the business did not grow.
Sarah desperately wanted to get a loan but did not possess any tangible property except the roofing sheets on her two bedroom house. One institution agreed to use the roofing sheets as collateral for a micro business loan, but after careful consideration, she could not accept the offer. She had seen people in her village having roofing sheets confiscated after defaulting on payments, and she was not ready to risk such humiliating consequences.
In January 2015, she joined a self-help group (SHG), a concept championed by a local NGO, Global Hope Mobilization (GHM), which is supported by a $150,000 two-year grant from Vibrant Village Foundation. The doors of opportunity for Sarah started opening then. (GHM’s self-help groups are basically savings groups.)
As a vegetables vendor, Sarah could make $2 a day from which she would have to provide for her family daily needs. However, the SHG she joined required that she contribute $0.20 a week into the pooled funds. She struggled to keep up for two months until her turn to borrow the funds came up. She used all the money she borrowed to buy a variety of vegetables for her fresh produce business.
Life after inclusion
Sarah showed me a tiny pigsty with one mother pig and eleven piglets, the first time in her whole life that she has owned livestock. In a few months, she expects to sell and collect over $500. This was possible because she joined an SHG from where she accessed loans totaling a little under $100 over a 3-month period. She pumped this money into her fresh farm produce business by ordering a wide variety of vegetables and fruits which her customers had always asked her to stock. Her business revenues increased rapidly.
I asked her what her most outstanding benefit from the SHG was. With a very wide smile and beaming face, Sarah had this to say:
“I was a pauper with no hope, but the SHGs taught me the importance of saving from the little I get and how to access low interest loans. Today I can feed my family good meals every day, I have a piggery project that will soon start bringing me revenues. I intend to diversify into selling kitchenware which brings me higher profits than vegetables and even if I stock more kitchenware it is not perishable.”
Anne Chiudza from Global Hope Mobilization says, “We are aware that the marginalized, poor, and unbanked population has its own means of survival, and from the little they get they can change their lot in life by using their numbers to pool funds together. Our organization believes in facilitating improvement of livelihoods through community owned strategies and the self-help group concept is one such strategy.”
A measure of how these groups can advance community development is a borehole which the women are planning to have drilled in a year’s time at a cost of $4,000 without any donor funding.
Sarah’s story is just one among many in her 20-member group. They have managed to improve the lot of their families by building or improving their homes, by improving their families’ nutrition, and by consolidating their economic independence through self-help groups. There are 15 more groups in surrounding villages, and evidence is clear that the women’s hard work and commitment is bearing fruit for the betterment of Kang’oma community’s standard of living.
More about Global Hope Mobilization’s self-help group model
Global Hope Mobilization’s (GHM’s) self-help groups are savings groups whose sole aim is to provide a low-interest pool fund from which members (and only members) of the group can borrow to inject into their businesses. Members can save through loaning out the savings over a period of four weeks.
The groups loan out the money from the very first meeting. No funds are kept in a box of any sort because soon after contributions have been made, a borrower must take the money immediately. The funds are only deposited in the bank when they have multiplied and no members are ready to borrow that week.
Question: How does GHM create the groups?
Answer: At the beginning of the project last year, Global Hope Mobilization trained four Community Facilitators who were all drawn from the catchment community. Their role is to spearhead the formation of the groups and act as resource persons for the groups on behalf of Global Hope Mobilization.
The SHGs are self-replicating because the roof limit for each group membership is 20 members only. To date GHM, is supporting 100 groups with a total of 2000 members, all of whom are women. There is, however, an emerging demand from men in some villages to join the groups.
Q: Are the SHGs self-sustaining or are they reliant on GHM for ongoing support / hand-holding?
A: The SHGs are self-reliant. GHM only facilitates their financial literacy training and monitors their early growth stages, providing guidance and advisory [services] where needed.
Q: What training does GHM provide to the SHG members? Do they offer other sorts of capacity building like financial literacy, health, women’s empowerment, etc.? Do they try to link SHGs to other services like government social protection services?
A: The flip side of [GHM’s] concept is to provide women with a platform and confidence to identify and demand social services from government departments like water, health, etc. Every group meeting ends with a social discussions segment. All issues are recorded for future reference and actioning. Using the SHG as a nucleus for change, GHM facilitates health talks and [sexual and reproductive health] SRH awareness campaigns.
Q: Do all SHG members take out a loan? Or, do some just use the SHG to save? What is the interest rate on loans (if there is interest) and what is the savings interest rate (if there is one)?
A: Around 75 percent of members take out loans at an average interest rate of 10 percent per month. The loans period is 4 weeks maximum, depending on the loan size and specific group by-laws. Interest [on] savings is 10 percent.
About the author
Alex Dalitso Kaomba is a 35 year old Malawian rural development consultant and freelance writer. He lives in a village on the outskirts of Lilongwe the capital city of Malawi. He works with International and local NGO’s in Malawian villages in the areas of access to energy for maternal health and education, HIV and Aids, education and environmental interventions. Alex has a passion for development work and the African stories of self-sufficiency and sustainable rural development. His favorite pastime is reading, watching sport and playing cricket.