The Oxford dictionary defines a hero as someone who is admired for their courage and outstanding achievements. Let me introduce to you one of the heroes of Mkwachi; my host mother, who is spearheading the introduction and establishment of Village Savings and Loans (VSL) groups in Mkwachi.
She was first introduced to the VSL concept in the year 2010 when her husband was teaching at one of the secondary schools in Nkhatabay district. Having seen the benefits of VSLs, when she came home to Mkwachi she mobilized and trained 20 community members to start a VSL group. Most of these members were doing small-scale businesses but struggling to get loans from micro-financing institutions to boost their businesses because they could not afford to produce the required collaterals. At the end of the first year, the group managed to save a total of MK 2,400,000 (about US$3,240.00), which encouraged other community members to join.
As of today, she has established a total of 9 VSL groups on a voluntary basis in three Group Village Heads. She was also at one time engaged for two weeks by the Member of Parliament to train fellow women who had started VSL groups in Mzimba district. She boasts having contributed to poverty alleviation in the community, as the knowledge she shared has benefited almost every household in Mkwachi. People now have easy access to loans and have developed an attitude of saving money, enabling them to do projects that were otherwise impossible. My host mother strongly believes that one ought to be self-reliant rather than just waiting for outside support.
One outstanding example is of a carpenter whose business was going down because of lack of capital and financial management skills. Most of his proceeds were being used for beer drinking. After joining VSL, he is now a such successful carpenter that he built his own modern house with modern household assets like television. He now supplies furniture to the community, including my host mother’s display cabinet.
“A few years down the line, last year our group managed to save MK 6,000,000 by the end of the year. There are numerous benefits and one cannot afford not to be a member”, she argued. She says that personally, she is so much more economically empowered that she has helped her husband do some major projects, including constructing a modern house and paying school fees for their children. Currently, one of their children is at Natural Resources College. She also added that CorpsAfrica Volunteers are of great importance as they are bridging the business management knowledge gap that existed among the VSL members.
She envisions a future where community members will be collaborating to conduct one business, as a way out to poverty, arguing that most Malawian companies are built on collaboration.