Themicroloanfoundation's Blog

Earthquake Victims could be living in Tents for a while.
June 24, 2010, 4:19 pm
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Hundreds of people affected by the series of earthquakes that shook Karonga in December and January are still living in limbo. Elvis Sukali meets some of them.

You may have forgotten about the string of earthquakes that rocked Karonga towards the end of last year and early this year, but for hundreds of Malawians who were affected life has not returned to normal and they are still living in limbo.

Six months after a major quake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale shook the foundations of Karonga on the night of 19 December, 300 families are still living in tents at Mwabulambo Camp, with little hope of returning to their villages.

According to Duncan Mwandolo, who is acting as village headman Mwakaboko at the camp, the government hasn’t told them what will happen next. They don’t know whether they will continue staying at the camp.” He says, “We don’t know about the future. We can’t go back to the village because our houses were destroyed and the government has not told us whether the earthquake will happen again. It is difficult.”

Deriko Mwanjasi, who was sitting on a wooden folding chair outside his tent at the camp said, “We don’t know whether we will go back to the village or not because the government has not told us whether it is safe to go back. Our houses were destroyed in the village and it will be quite a challenge to start again.”

There are signs that their stay at the camp could be a long one: economic activity has increased and a daily market has emerged to provide people with supplies.

The District Assembly, however, says the camp is a resettlement site and government is planning to formally allocate plots to people so that they can build homes.

“In fact, as a district we don’t want people to go back to their villages because it is prone to earthquakes and flooding,” says Gaston Macheka, Karonga District Commissioner.

He says the Assembly plans to increase the size of the plots at the camp for each household so that they will have space to build houses and other amenities. Each household currently occupies a space of 15 by 30 metres on which they have erected tents, but the Assembly plans to increase this to 30 by 60 metres.

Macheka says a structural assessment survey carried out earlier this year showed that most houses in the Ngerenge area were either destroyed or weakened by the earthquakes that hit the district.

“DfID, through the Red Cross, has pledged to build a total of 150 houses at the camp and rehabilitate 500 houses in the affected villages. CADECOM has also pledged to construct 50 houses,” says Macheka. “However, the structural report that we produced showed that we need 10,700 houses so that everyone affected by the earthquake has a good house.”

Macheka says his office is waiting for the Department of Works in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works to provide them with recommended structural designs before construction commences.

This could be the answer to Mwanjasi’s prayers. He says housing is a major need for people at the camp. “We ask the government to assist us by helping us to construct permanent houses that would be safe when an earthquake comes. We are still living in tents, which are temporary. Housing is our major need now.”

In a bid to protect the livelihoods of the people at the camp, the District Assembly is exploring ways of ensuring that the people at the camp continue to own and cultivate their land in the villages.

“We are consulting with the Ministry of Lands to see how best we can achieve this so that people at the camp have titles to the land they have left behind,” Macheka says.

This is good news for many of the families at the camp who have maintained strong ties with their village folk. During the day most people at the camp return to their villages to tend their crops or to attend social functions.

Oxfam has been working with local partner organisations to roll out a major public health programme at the camp to prevent disease outbreaks and improve the quality of life for the displaced population.

“Before any organisations came to help us we were experiencing a lot of problems. But since Oxfam came our lives have changed,” says Lemisi Mwiba, chairperson of the camp’s main committee. “At first, Oxfam brought pails and constructed toilets and this helped to stop the bad odour that was all over this place.”

Together with Water Missions International, Oxfam has erected a water tank at the camp, sunk boreholes, constructed toilet and bathing shelters, and used drama and song performances to promote good hygiene.

“Before Oxfam provided us with the bathing shelters, life was difficult. We used to go into the bush to relieve ourselves and we would wait until dark to take a bath. But now we have better toilets and can bathe anytime,” says Mwandalo.

“Oxfam also provided us with mosquito nets, condoms and soap for bathing and washing. We are now living a hygienic life because we bathe with soap and wash our clothes with soap.”

But can this be sustained? A health centre is located nearby, but there is a shortage of health personnel and the medical assistant only calls twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Mwanjasi is concerned that this could lead to the spread of diseases. “Because the doctor doesn’t stay here, it means that infectious diseases, especially coughing, easily spread because if one persons falls ill they will have to wait for Tuesday or Friday while the disease passes on from one person to another.”

“Now that the government has decided that Mwaulambo Camp is a resettlement site, it is imperative that it informs the people at the camp and surrounding villages accordingly so that they can participate effectively in the whole resettlement drive,” says Sanjay Awasthi, Oxfam Country Director.

The Karonga District Assembly could also call on its development partners to play their part in meeting the housing needs of people affected by the earthquakes.


Malawi poverty reduced by one third since 2003
June 22, 2010, 4:20 pm
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Malawi news report that the nation has managed to reduce poverty by one third since 2003, according to Newby Henry Kumwembe, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Trade, Malawi.
He was speaking at a side event organized by CUTS Geneva Resource Centre in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on during the review of Malawi trade policy “Poverty in Malawi has been reduced from 64% of the population to 40% since 2003,” said Kumwembe. According to Kumwembe this impressive reduction in poverty “has been possible due to sustained economic growth and by maintaining an open trade policy regime.”
Kumwembe also highlighted the many challenges still faced by Malawi.
“The two most important challenges facing Malawi are: very high transport costs as Malawi is a landlocked country; and the lack of supply-side capacities”, he said. He appealed to Malawi development partners for more aid-for-trade to enable Malawi to realize its full developmental potential.

David Luke of the United National Development Programme concurred with the assessment by Kumwembe.
According to Luke “Malawi presents a mixed picture in mainstreaming trade into development and inadequate human and financial resources are the main causes for under-performance”. He also mentioned that social sectors had received greater attention from donors than productive sectors. While investment in social sectors is extremely important, productive sectors too should not be ignored. Michael Roberts of the WTO Secretariat in his presentation pointed out the importance of aid for trade in helping countries like Malawi maximizing the contribution of trade to economic development and poverty reduction. He pointed out that “growth should be sustained and broad-based to ensure lasting development impacts”. Among the many constraints mentioned, he also identified the need for better coordination among donors. For example, more than twenty donors are active in Malawi without always coordinating their funding activities.

Malawians deprived of their right to watch the World Cup! Boo, Multichoice, boo!!
June 16, 2010, 3:30 pm
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Yesterday’s news reported that Malawians could not to watch first 5 World Cup games. Multichoice Malawi, a sole DStv provider, failed to connect subscribers to sport channels that are showing the global sporting event, even though they paid the fees.

There was a swamp of angry people at their Lilongwe offices who shouted and exchanged words with the DStv providers.

After long queues last week whereby customers went to buy satellite dishes, they were back as of Saturday complaining that’s they are failing to watch the games.

“This is very bad; I have missed the grand opening of the World Cup which is very special to us as Africans since it is the first to be played on our own soil. The DStv providers could have tried their best to make sure that this never happens,” said Charles Phiri, who spent almost the whole day at Multichoice Malawi offices.

“The bad thing is that instead of playing the caring parent at this time when all of us are frustrated, some of the marking officials are shouting at us for lacking knowledge in setting the dishes. This is very poor customer relations, we deserve better than this,” chipped in Alex Manda of Lilongwe

Child Trafficking in Malawi:Can MicroLoan help?
June 14, 2010, 3:56 pm
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The ministry of Labour report have shown that there are 1.4 million child workers in Malawi especially in tea plantations and domestic servitude. The report shows that the situation is worse in rural areas than in provincial towns. A village headman Gomani, agreed with the report, explaining that most of the children work to support their poverty stricken families. According to Gomani, “these are children born from very poor families whereby their parents even fail to provide them daily food. The report adds that many boys are trafficked for working in tobacco plantations and animal herding, while girls are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation or working in bars and restaurants.

People from rural Malawi usually have no knowledge of what child trafficking is all about. Parents are easily tricked by some people who promise that they will offer the children some work, but end up forcing them into prostitution and criminal gangs. Most of the parents are offered money, clothes and sometimes told lies that their children are going to be sent to schools and work in good jobs in towns and cities, not knowing that they are selling their children. In response, the government spent more than US$2 million in 2008 in effort to eliminate child labour, intensify labour inspections, raise awareness through campaigning and community action, and provide agricultural assistance and money transfers to rural families. According to the report, the government wants to sensitize poor rural families on the dangers of giving out their children without knowing exactly where they are being taken to.

I believe that MicroLoan Foundation’s a grassroots development approach to poverty alleviation is a useful way to preemptively address many human rights abuses originating from extreme poverty. Abusive child labor is an example of a human rights issue that could preemptively be addressed using a grassroots development approach because it tends to exist in the most impoverished parts of the world, as indicated in the Malawi report. With the help of MicroLoan, fewer women in rural Malawi would face the impossible choice of keeping their children at home and suffering food shortages, or sending them away with strangers, who may exploit them.

Free Education in Malawi: Throwing away the baby with the bath water.
June 11, 2010, 11:17 am
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There is only five years left before the Millennium Development Goals’ deadline rolls around. Malawi is confident that it will meet all the goals set by the UN five years ago. Malawi President Bingu was quoted as saying “I am optimistic that come 2015 we will probably implement some may be partially but definitely implement some of them fully.” Mutharika attributed this confidence to the revamped agricultural sector that according to statistics had led to a reduction in the number of people living under the poverty line from 60%, in 2004, to 40%, in 2008. Furthermore, the introduction of free primary school education in 1994 has increased enrolment and at the same time reduced the gender gap between boys and girls at school. In 2004 for the first time in the country’s history Malawi achieved an equal ratio of boys and girls at primary schools.

Critics lament that free education in Malawi has created a lot of challenges in the education system including shortage of classrooms, qualified teachers and learning materials. A primary school teacher in Malawi, Exnart Chist, says that the free primary education has compromised quality education in public schools.

While the increased rate of school attendance driven by free education, may put pressure on the school system in Malawi, it still provides a viable means towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for Education—one teacher to 40 pupils by 2015. No child should be denied primary and secondary education because the family could not afford to send them to school. The critics are right in suggesting that the Malawi government should implement a comprehensive solution to problems created by free schooling. For example, the government of Malawi can alleviate the current situation where there are 200 pupils to one teacher, by increasing the number of schools and trained teachers. This may require more time than the 2015 deadline to achieve, but Malawi should not throw away the baby with the bath water by eliminating free education as critics seem to imply. Free education does not necessarily undermine Malawi’s ability to one day achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Why Clients leave MLF
June 10, 2010, 12:59 pm
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Reposted from Daniella-Mzungu in Kasungu

art of the piloting activity we’re doing is to look at why clients exit MicroLoan Foundation. The Branch Managers have been working hard, visiting clients’ homes and carrying out questionnaires looking at the client’s business and any problems she might have had, what she thinks of MicroLoan’s procedures (interest rates, repayment frequency, savings and so on), how the group functioned and what changes she would suggest making. I went out with the Central Regional Manager, Susan Kondowe, this week to do some follow-up unstructured interviews with a selection of the ladies who’ve already done the exit questionnaire. This allows us to compare the results from the questionnaires and the more informal interviews, to see if we’re really getting to the heart of the issues clients are facing. We’re pleased by the level of similarity between the two methods of data collection, which goes to show the Branch Managers are doing a great job.

The types of reasons clients are giving for exiting are varied but include personal or family illness, having to focus on farming during the rainy season and disliking the repayment frequency of 2 weeks.

To give you more of an insight into the types of issues a client might face, here is Mary Chauma’s story. Mary runs a successful small restaurant in the centre of Kasungu, and originally joined MicroLoan a few years ago right after the death of her husband because she wanted to grow her business. After 5 loan cycles she decided she didn’t need any more loans, as she’d done what she’d set out to do with the business and it was thriving. Then last year she was keen to rejoin, wanting to further strengthen the business, but sadly her younger sister was very sick and ultimately passed away, meaning she had to spend time nursing her and then paying for her funeral costs. This meant that the funds she had set aside for her deposit to access a MicroLoan loan were diverted to the funeral costs. Despite these family tragedies the restaurant continues to flourish and is assisting her with her household financial needs, and she’s hoping to rejoining MicroLoan as planned soon.

Photo: Susan Kondowe (on the right) speaks to a client about her reasons for leaving MicroLoan Foundation

Recruiting my replacement
It’s amazing how the time flies! One minute I’m wandering around Kasungu not really knowing where I’m going or what I’m doing, and now we’re immersed in piloting the social performance management activity and it’s time to recruit my replacement. We’ve had over 50 applications for the role and interviews take place this week. I’m sure we have a gem in there!

Big business and social care in Malawi
June 7, 2010, 2:08 pm
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cartoon from

Grace Kaliati, Malawi’s Minister of Gender, Child and Community Development blasted some of the largest companies in the country for not supporting children or giving larger donations to local charities. One has to wonder why this criticism comes now after Malawi has actually stepped up privatisation of state enterprises since Bingu took power. To privatise companies, then expect them to become mechanisms of social care seems hypocritical.

Illovo sugar, one of the companies Kaliati lashed out against was privatised with the applause of the central government. While output increased dramatically, more than a quarter of staff were laid off (4,000 workers) and forced into the informal economy, where most of MicroLoan’s clients earn their livelihoods. The aim of these enterprises, like most others, is profit maximisation. Rather than expect companies to betray their shareholders and suddenly adopt a charitable mission, perhaps the central government should backtrack on some of their privatisation and deregulation measures. Ensuring steady wage employment for poor families by retaining some state-control over these enterprises will have a much greater impact on poverty reduction than waiting for these companies to become charities.

Otherwise, donors and the central government should look at micro-enterprise as a way out of poverty for those disadvantaged by privatisation. Since most of these ex wage workers are now trapped in the informal economy, it seems reasonable that they should be given an option to grow themselves out of it. Quite a few of our clients have grown their small informal enterprises into larger, regulated businesses. Many of the enterprises also employ regular wage labour (one group of clients I came across in March had grown their market stalls into businesses with over twelve employees each). The opportunities are there.

But then again, scape-goats are always a convenient option.