By Feston Malekezo:
At 1:45 am one Thursday, we drove off slowly down Changamtole Hills of Traditional Authority (TA) Zilakoma in Nkhata Bay District.
This is an area where inhabitants care less of development but rather their daily bread. Need I forget there is erratic network coverage, no hospital, impassable roads, no market, no potable water; in short; it is hilly and isolated.
Regardless, this is still a land inhabited by Malawians of Tumbuka and Chewa origin.
We visited the place to appreciate projects that an organisation–Help a Child Malawi and its partners, Nasfam and Livingstonia Synod of the CCAP– are implementing in the area. They are the first to work in the area and they started in 2016.
Despite the glaring poverty, the spirit of sharing flows abundantly among the people. As we were leaving the area, women run towards us with basins of natural fruits to eat on our way. But time, a salvage of all, failed us as we could not appreciate the women’s gesture; we hit the rugged road!
About 20 minutes into the jungle, we came across a couple with two kids in their hands; one year-old boy and a four year-old girl.
They were on their way to a health centre in Mzimba District. We remembered the gesture their counterparts showed us such that we offered the parents a lift to the hospital though we could not drop them that far as we had different destinations.
“They both have fever. And it worsened just this afternoon. We had no option but get them to the hospital,” said the man who simply said he is Manda.
Manda was not sure whether he would get back home the same day as he estimated he would be reaching the hospital at around six o’clock in the evening. The youngest child cried all the way to the place we dropped them.
Village Development Committee chairperson, Emmanuel Masango said from January 2017 to December 2018 seven people- three children, three men and a woman- have died on their way to hospital.
“We face a lot of challenges here. Of course the organisations are helping but they cannot reach out to every need. Potable water would be the first. We only have wells which is a threat to our health. We live in Nkhata Bay but the nearest hospital is in Mzimba, a four hour distance and because of the distance we have lost about seven people since last year.
There is a Medical Assistant who rarely comes but he only attends to under-five children. The Medical Assistant cannot come regularly because of the poor road network here,” he said.
Ironically, these are Malawians just like any other in the country and stand equal chance to benefit from the public purse. Most importantly and worth noting, eligible inhabitants here registered to vote in the May 21 Tripartite Elections at Changamtole Full Primary School. They will vote, hoping for a better candidate to alleviate some of their challenges.
Though hilly, this is one of the areas which still has alluvial soils and as Nasfam’s Field Officer, Tambudzayi Suhaya explains, they are promoting soya and groundnuts farming as it has proved to be doing well in the area.
Nasfam through local structures identifies farmers who are given hybrid seed crops for free and are given modern farming skills for maximisation of output.
“We also provide market for the produce of the farmers at competitive prices. So we train the farmers best agriculture practices for maximum yields. This far we have reached out to over 1100 farmers in Nkhata Bay District under TA Zilakoma,” she said.
One of the farmers, Martha Luhanga who does farming together with her husband said when she received rice seeds in 2016 and cultivated 1.5 hectares of land, she realised about K150, 000 from sales of the produce.
“This was the highest profit we have ever had since we started rice farming in 2006. We have also managed to build a house and we are able to look after our seven children very well,” she said.
Nasfam and Livingstonia Synod under a project called Livingstonia Synod Aids Support Programme (Lisap) are working together with financial support from Help a Child Malawi and have five key interventions. These are economic empowerment, strengthening community structures, access to quality education, early childhood development and youth empowerment.
Help a Child also partnered Word Alive Commission for Relief and Development on similar interventions and they are working in Mzimba District.
Lisap aims at reaching out to over 800 destitute families with various interventions to improve their livelihoods in T/A Zilakoma.
Lisap Programmes Manager, Charity Nyirenda, said they introduced various initiatives aimed at improving rural livelihoods.
She said they want to ensure that the communities themselves are able to shape their own growth; strengthening the capacities of local committees.
“We provide capacity building training to achieve our goal of improved resilience amongst children so that families are able to address the needs of the children in their communities. Through these trainings, we strengthen the functioning of village or area development committees, village health committees and zone advocacy committees,” she said.
In addition to providing trainings on roles and responsibilities they also focus on developing lobby and advocacy skills, and improving the coordination between the different committees.
“Consequently the communities will have strong committees that will be able to mobilise themselves and provide strong leadership. They will also be able to engage their leaders like ward councilors and Parliamentarians when they need development among other things,” she said.
Lisap is a five year programme and is currently mid way.
An assessment in the first two years the interventions have been implemented in Nkhata Bay’s TA Zilakoma indicates a growth in terms of monthly income in their households from K16, 000 to K54 000. The area has a population of over 1900 people there has been
Help a Child Malawi Programmes Director, Erine Dijkstra, acknowledged that development is a challenging process, saying that in terms of agriculture, farmers are always dependent on climate and economic trends which they have no control over.
Dijkstra then said they chose to work in Malawi because it is still struggling with poverty.
“We have seen that the programmes are very relevant but there are several areas that can be picked up and need all of us to work together. Some of the areas include community development, child protection, youth work,” she said.
Echoing Dijkstra sentiments, Help a Child Programmes Manager, Tiwonge Nsonda said in the organisation’s strategic plans, they are focusing on child development through community engagement.
“And we are committed to focus more on early childhood development and a programme called Youth Active in Climate Smart Agriculture. This program is an economic empowerment program focusing on youth, initiated by Help a Child Malawi,” he said.
Help a Child, an international organisation which clocked 50 years last year opened its doors in Malawi in 2009 having noted that some sections of the public seemed abandoned.