March 2007: Microfinance Progress in Malawi

odilia kachoka_web.jpg

I spent all of last week working closely with the THP-Malawi AWFFI Project Officer and Credit Officer, Ms. Edina Chikulo and Mr. Joseph Chigwale. Together we visited Jali, Nchalo, Mpingo, Nsondole, and Ligowe Epicenters.

At each epicenter, we held both a general assembly meeting with loan group members (women and men) and a work session with the AWFFI and SPIA loan committees. I also visited partners in the marketplace and at their homes so that I could see their income-generating activities and the impact that the microfinance program has had on their lives. At Nsondole Rural Bank, I had the opportunity to exchange with the Board of Directors, and we talked about their objectives for the future, including increasing membership and the size of the loan portfolio.

The highlight of the week was my visit to Ligowe Epicenter, where both the AWFFI and SPIA microfinance programs have a 100 percent repayment rate. The partners, very mobilized and dynamic, filled the newly constructed epicenter’s meeting hall and performed numerous comedic skits about the benefits of participating in the AWFFI program. In one skit, a household with a husband that was supportive of his wife’s participation was juxtaposed next to a household where the husband did not want his wife to participate. It was clear which household was eliminating poverty, and in the end, the non-supportive husband recognized the positive impacts of the program and urged his wife to join the program.

I was especially impressed with Ligowe’s Epicenter-level AWFFI loan committee president, who is an effective leader and a model program participant. Mrs. Odilia Kachoka began the program with the entry-size loan of 5,000 Kwacha (~$36). After mobilizing 5,000 Kwacha in savings by the end of the first 6-month loan cycle, she qualified for a 15,000 Kwacha ($108) loan, which she will finish repaying in April. She hopes that her next loan will be 30,000 Kwacha ($216). With her profits from her trading activities (she sells water drums in the market and also collects and sells worn-out plastic shoes to a recycling factory, she is constructing a house that she proudly showed me. In the above photo, you will see her standing in front of this new house, still under construction.

The only epicenter which I did not visit is the newest one in the Ntcheu district in the Central Region. This is because the epicenter is just in the mobilization phase. While I was visiting the 5 other epicenters, Country Director Rowlands Kaotcha and Project Officer Felix Minjale were conducting intensive VCA workshops with village chiefs, the newly elected Epicenter Committee, and government officials and employees in the new epicenter. During the workshops, the epicenter was named "Mwaiwagwa," meaning luck has fallen on us. The epicenter committee and chiefs decided on this name because they said that they never imagined that such a positive development could come to their villages and so they believe this to be their good luck. I’m looking forward to visiting Mwaiwagya epicenter during my next trip.