Malawi - The Warm Heart of Africa
The warm afternoon sun hits my face and instantly relaxes me. After almost 20 hours of travel across multiple times zones, I’m tired but happy to have finally arrived.
I’m in Malawi for my posting with Kiva.org, the micro finance company, and I realize it’s exactly 10 years ago to the month that I was last in the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.
Making my way towards town, I constantly scan the horizon and landscape around me looking for a familiar landmark, a sign or road, anything recognizable, but, sadly, I recall nothing.
I’m 20 minutes into my journey when I realize there is one thing familiar; that ‘feeling’ I get, of contentment and calmness, when I am travelling or I arrive to a place or project that I am excited about. The knowing that right now I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
My heart surges and a lump forms in my throat and I quickly find my ‘stiff upper lip’ and quell my tears for fear of crying inexplicably like an idiot in front of the driver.
Don’t get me wrong, they are happy tears. I am so happy that Malawi will be my home for the next few months, and I feel determined and excited to be furthering the mission of a company that I truly believe in.
Kiva’s presence in Malawi is brand new and I am thrilled to be their first Fellow. I’m working alongside 2 field partners to help implement and scale their programs, ‘Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Program’ (SSLLP) and ‘Micro loan Foundation’ (MLF).
SSLLP has a very specific loan product based on the Heifer International model of ‘passing on the gift’.
Once funded, farmers have 30 days to construct their ‘Kholas’ (Chichewa for pig sty) and following the training, loans are used to purchase 2 sows and 1 boar, the intention being that once they have bred, loans are paid back from the sales of baby piglets, as well as piglets being ‘passed on’ to other resource poor farmers to continue the cycle.
SSLLP conducts the pig management and agribusiness training, as well as continued monitoring, as part of the loan package.
This program is especially popular as the impact is triple fold and yields fairly fast results. It also allows a lot of resource poor farmers to diversify their business; particularly those that are affected by seasonal produce and weather implications.
I have already been out in the field to identify borrowers and all their loans were funded in less than 4 hours, some as quickly as 40 minutes. As they move into the second phase of the scheme, I will be able to see the training in action and deliver some pigs!!
My other Field Partner, Micro loan Foundation, are a traditional MFI devoted 100% to women in business.
They offer business starter loans to ultra poor rural women living below the poverty line of US$1.25 and who quite often have very poor access to roads and no electricity.
Coupled with continuing business training and support, a bank account and savings plan, they are given opportunities to become self sustainable through having their own businesses and being financially independent from their partners.
Being the first generation of my family to go to University and also being part of a culture whereby traditionally girls are not ‘valued’ and family resources are invested in boys, the vision and mission of MLF resonates with me.
In the next few weeks, I will be heading out on a long road trip to visit all the branches that offer Kiva starter loans and I hope to be meeting with some of the women borrowers and reporting back on their success stories and how loans have impacted their lives and that of their families.