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Rescuing rural communities from the pangs of poverty

Any hope of supporting his family was but lost for 32-year-old Peter Ngwira from Vulakaini Village in the area of Traditional Authority M’mbelwa V in Mzimba when he could not get formal job opportunities.

Just like many other young people, growing up, Ngwira had dreams. His dream was to one day join the Malawi Defense Force so that he can be able to bail out his family from poverty.

However, things did not go as expected for Ngwira, as he could not get the chance to join the army due to limited opportunities and his future looked bleak.

Agriculture, piece works and migrating to South Africa which is common among many youths in Mzimba were his remaining options for him to secure his future.

“When I was young, I wanted to become a soldier but after finishing my secondary education, I could not get the opportunity to join the army, so I just turned on doing piece jobs to support my family,” Ngwira told Capital FM.

Despite managing to support his family, the perks from piece works were not enough to bail his family out of poverty and he desired to do more.

While pondering on the next move, Word Alive Commission for Relief and Development-WACRAD came to his rescue. Not with a salaried job offer but with something different.

WACRAD through the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education Training Authority-TEVETA Informal Sector Program initiated vocational skills trainings to interested youths with little or no education background in Ngwira’s village and surrounding areas.

Ngwira and 74 other youths underwent vocational skills training depending on one’s choice which included bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, hairdressing and electrical installation.

He was just an ordinary student as the others in 2015 when he went to Mzimba Boma from Edingeni to undergo a four months vocational skills development training in carpentry and joinery. But after the training, his life has changed.

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The 32-year-old has become one of the sought after carpenters in Edingeni and surrounding areas. He is not an ordinary carpenter, but one with vision and who is using his skills in eliminating poverty from his family.

Peter Ngwira standing next to some of his finished products.

“I have constructed a modern house for my parents, I support my family with farm inputs as well as supporting the education of my siblings and I am confident I will be able to support them until they finish their education,” he added.

Some few kilometres from Ngwira’s village, close to the Zambian border in Chiweku village, 64-year-old Ethel Matupi leads a group of six women who own and run Limbani Bakery.

They started as a village bank in 2014 with 12 members, who by then depended solely on agriculture for their survival.

With time, the women in the group decided to diversify by venturing into piggery and later on opened a bakery after they were trained in baking through the TEVETA Informal Sector Program with help from WACRAD.

Apart from the groups’ businesses, every member owns individual businesses as well.

Before joining the group, Matupi was living in extreme poverty and was struggling to fulfill the most basic needs as money realized from agriculture was not enough.

“I was facing a lot of problems, I am a widow and money made through farming came once in a year which could not sustain me for the whole year, but since I joined this group, that is now history,” Matupi explained.

Earnings from these businesses are enabling women from this group as they now boost savings of over two million kwacha to support their families, something they could not manage 10 years ago.

“Since I joined this group, I have benefited a lot. I lost my husband but if you go to my house, the kind of developments that I am doing, you will think that I have a husband who is supporting me,” Matupi explained with a wide smile on her face.

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Owners of Limbani Bakery

According to the United Nations, more than 700 million people in the world still live in extreme poverty and are struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation, to name a few.

The overwhelming poor majority of people living on less than two United States dollars live in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and they account for about 70 percent of the global total of extremely poor people.

According to the World Bank, in Malawi latest poverty figures show that the national poverty rate increased from 50.7 percent in 2010 to 51.5 percent in 2016 despite the extreme national poverty decreasing from 24.5 percent in 2010 to 20.1 percent in 2016/17.

Poverty has many dimensions, but its causes include unemployment, social exclusion, and high vulnerability of certain population to disasters, and other phenomena which prevent them from being productive.

In Malawi, poverty is driven by low productivity in the agriculture sector, limited opportunities in non-farm activities, volatile economic growth, rapid population growth and limited coverage of safety net programs and targeting challenges.

According to WACRAD Programs Manager Harvey Munthali, this is one of the reasons they initiated the trainings so as to empower youths and women in the area considering the limited opportunities they had when it comes to access to income.

He said they wanted to help create an enabling environment to generate productive employment and job opportunities for the poor and marginalized, of which these women and youths are part of.

“As a program we believe in empowerment and having conducted a situation analysis we discovered that women and youths in the area were facing financial challenges.

“So as one way of empowering them financially, we thought of empowering them with skills for them to be able to do businesses and generate income so that they can support themselves as well as their dependents including their children,” Munthali added.

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According to Munthali, it is satisfying that the initiative is a success as women and youths are now able to generate income while support themselves and living a good life. He further hopes the initiatives will be replicated across the country.

“The future of Malawi depends on empowering communities financially through skills development and all that is needed is to scale up uptake of skills development so that a lot of women and youths can engage in various businesses or other entrepreneurial endeavors,” Munthali said.

By the year 2063, Malawi is desiring to become an inclusively wealth and self-reliant nation, and according to the Director General of the National Planning Commission-NPC Thomas Chataghalala Munthali, empowering rural communities is also very crucial in achieving this and it is the center of what the vision is about.

“Our vision is about creating an inclusive wealth and self-reliant nation, so all interventions that both the state and non-state actors put in place should be helping the country to be self-reliant.

“So I would like to upload 100 percent organizations that are really focusing on putting in place transformative programs that enable people stand on their own,” Munthali added.

It is possible to have an inclusive wealthy and self-reliant nation in the shortest period of time before 2063. To achieve this, empowering youths and women in rural areas should be prioritized.

If rural communities are financially empowered, funds allocated to subsidies can be directed to other development projects in the country.

This will help Malawi achieve several 2030 UN SDGs among them the goal on poverty, hunger, gender equality, health, education, water and sanitation, and economic growth.

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