Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to start an income generation program

Hey guys!

I have successfully landed in Malawi, after over 2 full days of flying. I love Africa, but there’s gotta be a shorter way to get there... I really don’t know people could handle the boat ride…

Many people have said to me, Maeghan, what the heck are you doing in Africa this time? I am helping to start up an income generation program in 3 communities, which is receiving funding from CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) and is administered by Visionledd, a Canadian NGO.

Maeghan, Fatimata, and Charmain

So how does one start up an income generation program, you may ask? Well, here we go….

The first part is to have incredible, dedicated local staff members. I work with these wicked-cool ladies, Fatimata and Charmain. Fatimata is a 55-year old HIV-positive widow with 3 kids. She is originally from Sierra Leone, the setting of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, and lost her husband and 2 of her children in the conflict there. IF you ever want to know if diamonds really fund conflicts, speak to a Sierra Leonian. They will tell you the truth…Fatimata says diamonds destroyed her people.

We sit in the back of the open-ended truck, talking about life and war and diamonds and AIDS. Her favorite colours are purple and green, and she loves to eat fish. Fried fish. She worked for the United Nations before coming to Malawi, helping to start income generation programs (IGAs) across Zambia and Sierra Leone. As her HIV/AIDs advanced, she had to quit her job because of being too sick to work many days. Now she is on ARV’s, the drugs which slow the spread of AIDS, and she has gained strength. Fatimata loves Jesus a LOT, and she is always telling me to pray. I get angry when the truck stalls on the road, or we can’t find a sewing machine, and she says to me, “maeghan, just pray, it will be okay.” She can talk for hours and hours and hours about God, and she has an opinion on everything from civil rights to healthcare reform in Malawi to the best kind of rice to buy. All of that to say, she is one of the smartest people I know. Her prayer for her life is to be healed of AIDS so she can take proper care of her kids and meet her grandbabies. So if you are praying folks, please please please be praying for her with me…and that she can be strong enough to continue to work as well. She travels around 4.5-5 hours a day, walking and on the African mini-buses, to get to the office to work. Kindly remind me of Fatimata if you guys hear me complaining about my commute to Mississauga when I get back!!!
This is Charmain with our 2 precious sewing machines:

Charmain is a pretty cool cat as well. She is turning 50 this year, and is a proper African mama, meaning she has got quite the bootie on her. And she can shake it…we were driving around in the mini-bus today, trying to get supplies for soap making, and the Akon song “nobody wants to see us together” came on the radio. She was getting super-excited to see all of these activities for the income generation program come together, and started dancing in her seat. Of course, we all had to try to bust a move (the try was me – the token white girl trying desparately to keep the rhythm of the song), and we got the taxi driver to crank the music. Our financial officer, Felix, refused to dance with us. Alas…Char is a quiet pillar of strength. She has 3 kids as well, and has lost 2 children to HIV/AIDS. We were speaking about it yesterday, and she said that she still is not free to speak to people about the HIV-status of her children. Instead, she first told me her daughter had died of a headache. I asked why they are not free to speak, and she said that people will judge her, and think her daughter had little character while she was alive. The screaming silence that surrounds AIDS here is still evident, and I honestly can’t say that it would be different in Canada. Often when I speak to people at home, one of the first reactions is people passing moral judgments on the people who are HIV-positive in Africa, even making comments like, “That must be God passing judgment on them for living lives of promiscuity.” Arghh…

The second thing you need is patience. If you think Wal-Mart has outlets in Africa, you are wrong. No matter how many times I come to Africa, I still forget that things are never simple. We tried to buy 8 sewing machines yesterday. Promptly at 9:00AM, Charmain, Fatimata, and I left the office on the back of the transport truck. It was quite a sight for Malawians to see a white girl on the back of a truck. One man actually fell off of his bike into the ditch as he watched our truck drive by. Normally, international workers move around in SUV’s or expensive foreign cars. But Africa is much more fun on the back of a truck….well, I think so….

After 13 shops and 4 hours, we discovered that there were only 2 Singer sewing machine in all of Lilongwe. What the HECK?!?!!? There were many, many cheap knock-offs, brands like SENGER or SPINGER. Kills me…I love what the Chinese come up with to try to trick you. If we sent a cheap knock-off sewing machine into the community for an income generation program, it would break in less than 3 weeks. Not a good idea…

The last thing you need is a market to sell your goods…I have worked in income generation in Uganda and South Africa, and worked with both local (as in within the community) and international (Fair Trade international, etc) markets, and I am beginning to think the local markets are the best way to go. At least when you start up. Africans know nothing of international business – fashion trends and stock and the logistics required to get items overseas. Our program has decided to focus on staple items needed by the local Malawian community members (soap for washing, tie dying fabric for skirts, and also sewing school uniforms for orphaned children). We are going to rent a stall in the local markets where the women will sell their wares. Fatimata has also given them each training in basic business management (stock management, accounting, etc.). Did I mention that Fatimata is great?

So that is what we are up to! I am here coordinating the purchase of the start up materials for about 150 women to gain basic skills in sewing, soap making and tie dying. The women have already selected community leaders who are in charge of training and managing the individual community projects (the women are spread across 3 communities that Somebody Cares works with). Next week, a team of women from Canada are coming to see the project, and to help with training in sewing and such. I’ll keep you posted on our hunt for sewing machines…we are trying to get them sent from the other major city in Malawi, Blantyre, which is more developed and has more resources.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maeg, I can't stop thinking about you and praying. I miss you already but maybe that's because I know you're never fully here when in Canada. One day I will come to your Africa.

Please hug this blessed Fatimata for me, she is a precious sister.

Much love always.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Katie Mac said...

You're in Africa again!!!!!!! Yipe! How long? I'm sorry I was so lazy and didn't make it to visit you in toronto. Although, maybe I should just come to Africa and teach sewing hm?

Love you and thinking of you lots and lots.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo Sister. Guess you are having way too much fun hunting for sewing machine in Africa to remember Toronto. Well, pray your joy will be filled to the fullest in Christ's love as you continue minister there. Catch up later. Nhat

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it the first time iam visiting your site.wel iam interested in income generation our mission to iga i have discovered that the majar problem has been lack capital for IGA, lack of busineess enterprenuership skillsand marketing has been a problem for most women clubs.the other thing is lack of positive thinking as they limit them selves.
finding in some project we have in zambia .and we wish to learn from you.we are a youth organisation with member drawn from diferent christain churches with a mission of creating a safe and health community were to raise children through empowerment of skills which will directly of indirectly benefit orphans and vulnerable children.have similar projects directed at young women and youths

2:02 AM  
Anonymous Pearlie said...

Well written article.

3:31 AM  

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