Daily Mail's Linda Nyondo looks at how the German NGO Kindernothilfe's Self Help Program is empowering the most vulnerable women in our society :
Chibombo women thrive from self-help group, Daily Mail, Linda Nyondo, Commentary :
Sometimes, communities underestimate the power of development clubs but one woman in Chibombo knows better. She has managed to take her children to school and provide for her family through a self-help group.
Development programmes touch people differently depending on their size and capacity. To her, the effort has made a great difference, small as it may appear. She has greatly benefitted from the group. The 42--year-old widow and mother of four joined the Self-Help group at its inception in 2007. She is among the first 18 women founder members.
“I joined the group because I had difficulties looking after my children. When my husband died in 1997, life became tough because there was no one to provide for my family since I was not employed,” Gladys Tembo says.
As a way of sustaining her family, Ms Tembo started doing part-time work but the pay was too little to sustain her family.
Ms Tembo recalls that the time when her daughter qualified to Grade 8, she could not proceed because there was no money for school fees and other essential items.
“When a group of people came to our village and informed us about the self-help group and how it can help widows and vulnerable people start doing something to reduce poverty, I jumped at the idea and joined without hesitation,” Ms Tembo says.
The women started meeting on a weekly basis and contributed token amounts to a revolving fund. The money was given to one member at a time, who invested it in a business and was required to pay back with minimal interest when the business became viable.
When Ms Tembo got the loan, she invested it in gardening. The proceeds were re-invested in the business. Part of the money was used to redeem the loan and the rest was channelled to domestic use. Ms Tembo’s success story is the sole objective of the self-help group. The group strives to combat poverty among the most vulnerable women in communities, using their limited financial resources.
The programme empowers the marginalised poor, the majority of them women who have limited capacity to improve their lives. The women acquire skills and knowledge to help them effectively participate in individual and national development.
Some of the Self-Help Group principles include savings, financial management, record keeping, entrepreneurship and leadership. The programme also puts a lot of emphasis on human rights.
Since inception, 357 similar groups have been formed under the initiative in Eastern, Central, Lusaka and Southern provinces. The groups are made up of about 5,497 women and 9,668 children.
Although the self-help group programme is a brainchild of the German NGO Kindernothilfe, it is being implemented with the joint efforts of 10 local NGOs. Children In Need Network is the lead implementer.
According to a report by Kindernothilfe, the programme has produced great results which have significantly changed the lives of women and their families.
The report says the groups have accumulated capital of about K117 million and given out loans amounting to K183 million to its members. The overall savings ready for use within the groups amount to K295 million.
All the money has been generated from internal savings and fundraising.
The Self-Help Group’s guiding principles include the following:
*Poverty is not just material deprivation but a continuous process of dis-empowerment which includes denial of choices, rights, opportunities, discrimination and disparities.
*Alleviation of poverty does not end with meeting material needs. Most importantly, the strategic needs have to be met.
Eva Hanyema of Choma, a mother of two, is another beneficiary of the self-help group. She says the programme has helped to boost the family farming business.
“I did not know how to save money but since I joined the group, I have become financially disciplined,” Ms Hanyemu says.
Ms Hanyemu says before she became a member of the group, she and her husband could only grow crops for domestic consumption but things have now changed for the better. The couple can manage a surplus which they sell to raise money for school fees. Ms Hanyemu is also able to look after the extended family, which was impossible not too long ago.
Apart from personal enhancement, the money contributed by members is invested in a group project. The proceeds are used to care for orphans and elderly women in communities.
The groups make a range of products including reed mats, baskets, vaseline, soap, candles, honey and peanut butter to generate income for their community outreach programme.
To celebrate their achievements and share ideas on how to improve the programme, self help group women met on August 28, 2009 in Kabangwe at Chifwankula basic school where they displayed their products.
Deputy Minister of Sport Youth and Child Development Christopher Kalila was guest of honour at the exhibition and said the Self-Help Group was doing a commendable job by supplementing Government efforts in alleviating poverty in rural communities.
“This is a good programme because it not only reduces poverty among the poorest women but also empowers them socially and politically,” Dr Kalila said.
Dr Kalila said the programme would help to enhance women’s participation in different spheres of life and improve their capacity to look after themselves and contribute to national development.
He said Government supports programmes aimed at alleviating poverty among the most vulnerable people. Government through the Ministry of Community Development has initiated programmes such as the social cash transfer and the public welfare assistance scheme which are playing a role in alleviating poverty among the vulnerable in communities.
“The self-help group programme is unique in because the financial resources come from the women themselves. This is amazing because women are often viewed as weak, helpless and poor,” Dr Kalila said.
Dr Kalila said the women who are being empowered using their limited resources to start a business should be emulated.
Most of the women in the Self-Help Groups are widows and some are housewives who have been abandoned by their husbands and have to look after their children single-handedly.
The women feted the guests who attended the celebrations to mark their achievements. As a gesture of appreciation, the women gave the guest of honor some of their products and urged him to support them because he had witnessed how the programme was transforming the lives of the most vulnerable in society.
The Self-Help Group Day was used as a platform to market various products. The women’s biggest hindrance is the lack of a wider market which could help them to sell more of their wares.
They appealed to Government to help them find a better market for their products. The women have the potential to compete favourably because their products were of high quality.