[Above: A video snippet of Canaan’s speech; with Winkly Mahowe interpreting into the local language.]
It was exactly a year ago that I was in Malawi and witnessing the amazing change happening in Manyamula Village. When I was there, Canaan Gondwe, who has been an honest and dedicated leader in his community, gave a wonderful welcome address to us and the gathered SIA friends. Imagine you are in a crowded, cinder block meeting room, the smell of dust outside, the music from the band and the clapping and singing are dying down. Over 100 of us settle ourselves in the plastic chairs and give our attention to Canaan:
Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members sing a song of welcome to Tanya. (Malawi, 2014)
“On behalf of Traditional leaders, Area Development Committee, Government Staff present here, all Cooperative and Small Business Fund members and all people gathering in this room and on my own behalf, I feel greatly honored and excited to sincerely welcome Tanya Cothran (SIA Administrator) and Dr. Boyd Cothran (SIA Board Member) in Malawi and in particular here in Manyamula COMSIP (Community Savings and Investments Promotion) Cooperative, “where together we grow.” Feel free and feel at home in the warm heart of Africa (Malawi) to interact with each of us and hear remarkable stories of positive change in our lives.
The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative Society, formerly known as MAVISALO, and the Small Business Fund project, supported by Spirit in Action, have played a critical social and economic role in enabling members to escape poverty and marginalization. I am saddened to recall and report the situation of our members before these institutions were established in this area:
About 80% had never used a bank
About 90% had poor housing infrastructure (houses that are grass thatched, houses that leak during rainy season, houses built of mud and with poor ventilation
Members of the cooperative had to travel 44km each direction to access commercial lending institutions with high interest rates, high demand of unaffordable collaterals, coupled by short period of loan repayments
About 60% of our people were food insecure; members could not afford fertilizer
I am extremely excited and pleased as a leader of the Cooperative and the Small Business Fund (SBF) that these programs can and have begun to reverse the above mentioned trend. Both the cooperative and SBF project have continued to post continued economic growth on its members from year to year.
Our members of the Cooperative and SBF project are entrepreneurs. The mobilized savings (shares), which currently are 4.8 million Malawian Kwacha [about $10,000 USD], form the capital base from which members borrow and engage in various forms of business: such as poultry, retail shops, irrigation farming, livestock production, baking, bicycle repair, shoe repairing, carpentry, tomato sales, fish marketing, transport, music shows, restaurants, pre-school, barber shops, photography, and winery sales among others.
COMSIP and Small Business Fund members in their meeting hall.
I am extremely excited to openly expound the positive change and better life that members of the project enjoy:
All 167 members (with 47% women) have embraced a culture of savings and investment.
Members of the cooperatives and SBF have created self-employment
There is increased income and general economic empowerment at household level because of improved skills and experience in entrepreneurship
Better housing for 95% of cooperative and SBF members (Houses with burnt bricks and iron sheets)
Increased asset acquisition by members (eg. Motorcycles, bicycles, band equipment)
Improved health at household level (good nutrition); our members afford to go to private clinics and pay medical bills.
Members of the cooperative support their school-going children well (uniforms, fees, transport)
Improved food security amongst members.
A total of 20 members have either done electrical wiring of their houses or are completely connected to the power grid.
Increased cooperation among members
Reduced marital violations (including income abuse)
Support from Spirit in Action
Through and over the years of our operation in the Cooperative and Small Business Fund, Spirit in Action has been a true and faithful partner; a partner who has walked with us side by side on our growing of the institution. SIA has assisted the Cooperative with grants that have moved the organization to acquire relevant assets and projects like the maize mills, motorcycle, poultry project, camera, and a laptop.
Through its Small Business Fund project from 2004 to date, SIA has supported 102 families with business training and skills with $150 paid in two installments. Over and above, all traditional leaders, SBF and Cooperative members are grateful to SIA for these landmark projects.
The Manyamula COMSIP cooperative, as a rural-based economic vehicle, embarked on the journey to economic empowerment of its members. With the assistance of Spirit in Action, our true and faithful partner, the cooperative and SBF project want to achieve positive change in our members. Finally, I am pleased to report that the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, in a recent supervision missions by government officials and COMSIP Cooperative Union national leaders, has been rated a national model and a success story amongst all rural economic cooperative in the country. I believe SIA is very proud to be associated with such remarks. We believe that this partnership will grow even to greater heights in the future.
COMSIP sharp! [Cutting through poverty!]
The band (who had also received a low-interest loan from the cooperative) played before the presentations.