Hello again from boiling hot Nkhotakota!

It’s been a busy few weeks here and the team has been working hard to try and make the most of the placement as time continues to fly by.

Following on from our last entry, we continued to visit support groups around the district, hearing about how women living with HIV and AIDS are adapting to life and what they are doing to empower themselves. The national ICS volunteers have been busy translating the Chichewa sessions for their UK counterparts and Field Officer Annie has also been instrumental in interpreting. As always, the groups have welcomed us all with open arms, encouraging us to get involved in their singing and dancing. They’ve always been happy to answer our questions too, which has been really useful for us in identifying areas we might be able to make some changes in, such as youth involvement.

Developing a 'special project'

As a team we also had to start thinking about our ‘Special Project’. We were able to apply for some additional funding from Progressio to put towards something we felt would really benefit the communities we have been visiting. The project has to be sustainable and must also remain in line with the aims of our partner organisation, COWLHA.

During our support group meetings, we gathered plenty of ideas, from profit-making fish ponds to a juicing business. All the groups we met with had lots of suggestions for businesses they would like to start, or build upon, if they already existed. However, it was one particular group of ladies, from local community based organisation Chanzi, who really inspired us.

Chanzi women's support group

Chanzi is a network of support groups, comprising of over 70 women. They already have a very small scale business between them, knitting bags and baby clothes. The work is laborious as the women don’t have much money to buy yarn so instead they unpick existing garments and begin from scratch. Just a single item can take a very long time and only a few women know how to knit properly. So far, Chanzi have only been able to sell their products on one occasion and the small profit they made was distributed among all the women for soap for their families.

When we visited, we asked the ladies how they would ideally like to develop that business and they responded that they would love to start sewing too. If they could begin to produce school uniforms, they anticipate they could make a much better income.

Supporting their business idea

The volunteers thought this sounded like an exciting project and one which could really make a difference to these people. After going back again to dig a little deeper about the logistics of the potential business expansion, we decided to submit our proposal and we’ve just found out that we were successful!

So, soon we will be presenting the women of Chanzi with a sewing machine, a starter pack of fabric and threads and also a month of professional training from a local tailor. The idea is that seven nominated women will receive the initial training and this will gradually be passed on to the entire network so the business can keep growing and growing. We’ll let you know how the handover ceremony goes but we’re already really looking forward to it.

Helping with community activities

We also paid a visit to the Timasukisane support group who were planning to start running their own maize mill the next day, as a way of economically empowering themselves. We helped the group members to drill water from a borehole and to carry it a short distance to the hall where the mill is kept, to fill it up. The group was happy to see us getting stuck in and carrying the buckets on our heads, although there may have been a few minor spillages en route. From this experience we found that helping with other community activities is an effective way to gain a group’s trust before the meeting starts and hope to join in with more things like this as we move forward.

In other news, we’ve been busy networking with some other organisations in our area. COWLHA are actually partners with the Nkhotakota Community Radio Station and our office even shares the same building. They just celebrated their tenth anniversary and the ICS volunteers were asked to help out at the celebratory ceremony. There were a lot of important figures there, including the Minister of Information, various Traditional Leaders and even some well-known performers. We assumed the roles of ushers and usherettes, handing out drinks, serving meals and generally assisting the audience. At one point, when the Fanta ran out, we feared a backlash but luckily everything ran pretty smoothly and we were happy to be involved in such an important day for our town.

Additionally we have met with the District Youth Officer who is helping us to plan some sexual and reproductive health awareness events at the four local secondary schools. Planning is in its early stages at the moment but we’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading and look out for another update very soon.

By Progressio ICS national volunteer Esther from Team Nkotakota