Light in the Midst of Turbulence

Written By: Madalitso Banda

“I thought I was strong, and all along I was telling myself it is going to be ok, and time after time when problems arose I could move on and put a brave face for the sake of my children, but things were getting worse as each day was passing by,” Liveness Nkhoma said, pausing to compose herself.

“But finally, the pangs of poverty were evident. My only source of survival, my Tea Room business, could no longer cover both expenses and family needs, and there was no more food on the table,” she continued. “The children that I dearly love started to complain. I got scared for the first time in many years.”

Liveness, 47, has more energy and charm than many others in her village of Dzinadzina, in the Kasungu district of Malawi. The region used to rely on tobacco farming for income which resulted in many women dropping out of school at a tender age to become tobacco growers.

“Have you seen those women in that group who are wearing the same wrapper like mine? Yes, those are the people who introduced me to what has transformed my life: the Village Saving and Loan Association introduced by Join My Village,” Liveness said happily.

Before the VSLA changed her life, Liveness Nkhoma had faced many challenges. In 1988, she lost her first husband who was the father of her four older children: Catherine, 21, Raphael, 19, Aubrey, 16 and Asiyato, 12. Liveness remarried and her youngest, Vanessa, now 8, was born. However, Liveness separated from Vanessa’s father four years ago because he would abandon his family after the money from the tobacco harvest ran out.

Liveness’ earlier years were equally challenging in a way not uncommon for women in her community: “I dropped out of school in standard four, when my parents died.” She lived with her grandmother, but when the elderly woman passed away as well, Liveness had no choice but to grow tobacco. She worked as a tenant farmer – working someone else’s land for small wages.

However, Liveness has a mind for business and she sought opportunities to grow her earnings first by opening a tearoom. One day while at work, she learned about a way to grow her earnings.  “I was seated in my almost empty tea room, where customers could rarely visit and no one was ready to loan me some money to boost my business,” she said.  Then two customers arrived who were members of a local CARE supported Village Savings and Loan Association. “Words from those two women brought hope and light.”

“I learned about the VSLA concept and I joined Tithandizane Group in 2014,” Liveness explained.

“Since then my business is flourishing and customer visits have improved. I no longer lack access to loans to boost my business, I get a loan when it is needed.”

The Village Saving and Loan Associations that Join My Village has facilitated have transformed the lives of many households in Kasungu district. Families that were on the brink of crisis are being spared after family income is improved and stabilized thanks to VSLAs.

“Through VSLA I have learned a lot of things: I have learned how to sew, bake and to become financially self-reliant. I wish I could have known this long time ago,” said Liveness. “And I will not stop telling my story about how Join my Village changed my unrecoverable situation to an inspirational one in my community. I am a living proof that Join my Village is here to empower us, more especially we women,” she added, laughing.