Hooked by Their Unity

Written By: Madalitso Banda

Mc Tan Chikakula, lives in Sapezeka Village a typical tobacco-growing community in Kasungu District, Malawi where men like him work hard with their wives and children on their tobacco farms. “There was poverty out here, since tobacco could no longer fetch good prices,” Mc Tan said. The challenges of the tobacco industry often contributed to broken homes: with tobacco prices dropping, all too many farmers spend what little money they have on alcohol, leaving their wives and families destitute.

An opportunity came in an unexpected place: Mc Tan attended a funeral in the village and noticed a group of women wearing matching cloth wraps. When he asked about them, he learned that the woman who had passed away – along with the women in the matching outfits – were members of a local Village Saving and Loan Association.

“The term VSLA was a new thing to me,” he said. “And from that time on my interest grew and my dream was to learn what they do and have one formed in my own village.” A tall, slim and friendly man, Mc Tan, 35, became passionate about the VSLA model. He began to attend seminars on VSLA methodology, economic activity selection, planning and management – and even a class on the production of reusable sanitary pads organised, all of which were conducted and sponsored by CARE with support from Join My Village.

However as he became more involved in championing women’s empowerment activities, fellow men in his village laughed at him and even discouraged him. “It was not easy at first because other men were jealous,” Mc Tan said. “They would not allow their wives to participate, but due to my staying focused on the purpose of my association, the positive fruits are evident that my goal was to facilitate and share with others my passion of seeing lives of women being transformed.”

Today, those who once laughed are joining him and are benefiting from their wives who are active members of VSLA groups. “I have joy that women in my village and surrounding areas are enjoying the benefits of Village Savings and Loan Associations,” Mc Tan said. “VSLAs have given women a say on their money, women are empowered and they are now included in decision making in their families.”

The benefits extend beyond improved incomes and personal growth for women: “Including men in VSLA groups has been an ice breaker in the way that issues to do with gender have a forum where we teach, learn and share experiences.” He has also noticed benefits to groups which include both men and women as members: “I have seen that VSLAs that have a mixture of males and females - their performance is very encouraging.”

Mc Tan, far right with one of the VSLA groups he serves

The benefits in the community are noticeable to Mc Tan: “VSLA groups have improved the unity of people in our villages,” he said. “Many women are able to realise and use their potential that was hidden due to the discouragement they used to face. Households are slowly moving out of poverty, you can see houses with iron sheets, goats grazing, and solar panels even on a grass-thatched house, bicycles which are regarded as a luxury in our area, and others are even sending their children to school.”

As a result of the VSLA program, Mc Tan has become a role model in his community. He is well respected among women and male counterparts due to the fruits of his passion which has created lasting benefits to families in his village as well as eight other surrounding villages.

“My dream for the groups that I have trained and am still serving is to see to it that every member and her/his family is out of poverty and able to sustain themselves in this time where the climate is unpredictable” Mc Tan said.