Tuesday, 25 June 2013

HBCA drills 14 in leadership

Home Based Care Alliance (HBCA) on Monday trained 14 of its members in various leadership roles to strength their capacity and depend the coalition activities.

Linda Nkusiwa from Federation (standing) stressing a point during the training
The Alliance works in partnership with CCODE and Malawi Federation in promoting home-based care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

The fourteen trainees, drawn from various Central Region districts including Lilongwe, Dowa, Ntchisi and Mchinji have been drilled in report writing, communication, coordination and advocacy among others.

The Alliance national team leader Daphne Gondwe said the exercise aimed at equipping the trainees with knowledge of how they can reach out to the community.

She urged the learners to replicate the knowledge in their respective communities so that a broader population benefits.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Hope in Despair

How old are you?
Me? My age? Mmmm, I can’t remember,
When did you come to Mtandire?
Iiiiiiiiii, I don’t know. It’s long time ago. Government sent us here from, eerh, Maula!

Tafwaule Nkhambule looks frail. She cannot recall her past, mumbles her name and forgot her age. Only her grey hair and wrinkled skin reveal how long she has lived.

She lives in the slums of Mtandire in Lilongwe. She says back then, the settlement was sparsely populated and united.

She says communities would donate labour towards development schemes like constructing classrooms and repairing footpaths, roads and bridges. But with years folding and the population swelling, the united society split and collective self-help initiatives faded.

“The road up there has no drains. They were sealed a long time ago. Rainwater bursts and floods our houses. It forms a dam here,” says Nkhambule pointing at a ditch.

“Rainwater troubles us every year but we have no means to control the situation. We only try to protect ourselves, the children and our properties.”

Nkhambule’s house lies on a sloppy terrain. Between it and her neighbour’s compound is a water-made gully, half buried with debris. She says rainwater deposits refuse which rots and stinks along the gully.

Each rainy season disrupts the routine in Mtandire. Annually, poor drainage leads water into people’s homes, threatening to arc houses down, leaving neighbourhoods vulnerable and desolate.

Over 150 households lie along either side of road drains. Water gushing down compounds exposes neighbourhoods to panic. Roads become muddy rendering travel impractical. Children fail to leave for school, adults abstain from businesses.

The township’s usual glee is soaked in the untamed waters. Noise from carpenters, tinsmiths and welders is muted.

Since collective self-help initiatives ebbed, roads remain unrepaired; bridges tattered and drains sealed. Water flows perilously, eroding roads, forming gullies and dumping debris in neighbourhoods.

While nobody traces threads that wove society together, the Centre for Community Organisation and Development (Ccode) is stringing the settlement into one fabric again.
Nkhambules explaining challenges the community faces with rainwater

Ccode wants communities to identify and solve their problems.

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through the Lilongwe City Council, the organisation is implementing a K97million project to upgrade roads, construct water kiosks, build water drains, and repair bridges in slums of Mtandire and Chinsapo.

Despite being kilometres apart, both Mtandire and Chinsapo are high density slum areas with roads disturbingly networked, dusty and potholed.

Houses here are predominantly two-roomed, built with adobe bricks and mud mortar. The ratio of iron-roofed and grass-thatched almost tallies. Accommodation rates rank amongst the cheapest, attracting incalculable numbers of the urban poor.

Swelling populations insert pressure on social amenities. Yet, social facilities shrink in either capacity or quantity leading to poor sanitation and shortage of clean potable water.

Poor sanitation and lack of clean water are what ONE, a global movement fighting injustices of extreme poverty, says are leading causes of child mortality claiming an average 2,000 lives through diarrhoeal infections daily.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) recently reported that Malawi had met access to safe water and basic sanitation by 2010.

But the report is but a mockery of the situation in Mtandire and Chinsapo where over 150 households drink from one kiosk. By design, each kiosk has four taps. However, only one works. The others were either stolen or deliberately closed to preserve water pressure.

Since they are in the open, the kiosks – which are also in stinky surroundings – are closed when it rains. Users turn to rain water, exposing themselves to waterborne diseases.

Women and girls have been the worst victims of the situation. They hoof long distances looking for the liquid, eating into work or school time.

Besides water and sanitation issues, accessing a house in Chinsapo or Mtandire is dreary. One has to weave through clumpy houses, zigzagging through pubs, churches and video showrooms. Pavements are webbed, roads bumpy and dusty.

Group Village Headman (GVH) Banda of Chinsapo said the state of roads in his area is hampering development activities.

“In our daily lives we need to eat but accessing Admarc [Agriculture Development Marketing Corporation] is hard because of poor and impassable roads. It’s even harder to find transport when somebody is sick or during death,” he said.

Ccode Assistant Project Manager Gerald Chihana says once the informal settlement upgrading works complete, the two townships will have better roads and improved sanitary conditions and access to clean water.

“We expect the upgraded roads to improve drainage systems such that water will no longer flood neighbourhoods or dump debris in people’s compounds,” said Chihana.

Nkhambule shared Chihana’s expectations. The drainage will cushion the neighbourhoods from destructive runoffs. Children will go to school even after heavy downpours. Water sources will also be convenient and protected.

This should drive the MDG target of universal access to safe water and basic sanitation whose benefits go beyond health sector.

ONE estimates that meeting this target would reduce child deaths by 203,000; enhance school days by 270 million and help sub-Sahara African governments save about 12 percent of their annual public health expenditure.

In the immediate, the benefit of the Ccode project is that it is tapping local human resource, not voluntarily but on wage. Each pockets K800 per day, more than double the recommended daily wage of K371.

For people of Mtandire and Chinsapo to maximise utility of the K97million package, they ought to look at how their society was knifed apart, neglected.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Toilet that 'nourishes' a family

Most households in Malawi look up to their farms for food. But few produce enough to feed their bellies annually. The majority yield insufficient harvests because they cannot afford a bag of fertilizer to nourish their crops. Access to subsided fertilizers remains shrouded in corruption, perennially leaving incalculable poor households under threats of hunger. However, as Nora Baziwelo from Mtandire slums in Lilongwe City proves, there is still hope even outside chemical fertilizers.

On a maize-packed veranda were two teenage boys packing the staple grain in 50 kilogram bags. Just a hoof inside the house stood 25 bags already swallowed with grains. And the ground floor was spread with abundant corncobs, left to dry.

“All this maize is from my farm, but I don’t apply chemical fertilizers, I use humanure,” started explaining Nora Baziwelo.

Like many slum dwellers, Basiwelo has no formal employment. She sells compost manure for a living and her husband, Edimon, is a carpenter.

She says their combined revenue is too little to buy enough chemical fertiliser, presently selling above K15, 000 a bag, to nourish their 2-hectare farm.

Yet, the Mtandire resident boasts of plenty food annually. But what oils the drive wheels to keep her family nourished year-round is something rare: toilet.

Baziwelo marvels at her maize grains on the veranda
Baziwelo uses Ecological Sanitation (Ecosan) toilet to compost waste. The toilet offers her cheap or free fertilizers and aids household food security.

“We used to struggle to buy fertiliser but since I started using the toilet manure, I don’t need fertiliser anymore,” she said.

After digesting her nsima, Baziwelo relives herself in an ecosan toilet. The dung is then contained in a sanitation installation for pathogen to die off. The process produces safe soil from faeces and fertiliser from urine. She uses the resultant humanure to nourish her farm where she yields enough maize, and then, the nsima returns on the table.

The Malawi Homeless People’s Federation member said when Center for Community Organization Development (CCODE) first introduced the ecosan toilet idea to her in 2008, she doubted its efficacy.

However, after trying it she realized human excrement is no waste product but holds nutrients to fertilise land and boost her crop production.

“Every six months I harvest enough manure which I apply to my crops and yields are always bumper” she said.

In the 2013/2013 national budget, government allocates K60.1 billion to the Farm Input Subsidy Program (Fisp) to allow poor households access a bag of basal or top dressing fertiliser at K500.

But with politics and corruption always preying on the subsidy program, many are poor farmers that it escapes profiting.

Eventually, most poor families continue producing fewer and fewer yields, much of which deplete before their next harvest and they chiefly depend on local markets for food purchases.

However, when most granaries are empty, prices of the staple grain skyrocket, stretching the poor’s economic muscle to a rupturing limit. Just two months ago, a 50 kilogram bag was trading at around K10, 000.

Baziwelo receives no fertilizer subsidy coupons yet that people spend nights in ADMARC deposits queuing for the staple grain is some shock she gets from radio bulletins, telecasts, and newspapers.

“I yield enough maize for the whole year and I don’t buy any additional food,” said Baziwelo.

In October 2012, the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee reported that about 2 million people (about 13 percent of the population) were food insecure.

Obviously, this hunger threatened population largely comprises the poor, who perennially record lean harvest because they cannot afford expensive fertilizers for their farms.

But like Baziwelo, they too can improve their food security with just an ecosan toilet within their compound.

Research indicates that one person produces enough wastes to supply nutrients to produce 250 kg of cereals yearly.

That means for a population of 15 million people, Malawi can annually produce 3,750,000 metric tonnes of maize using ecosan toilets, a figure which equals this year’s maize production estimates of 3.7 metric tonnes as reported by the Global Information and Early Warning Systems (GIEWS) on food and agriculture.

Already, Baziwelo has twenty five 50-kilogram bags; her veranda has abundant unpacked grains; and some corncobs are drying on the ground floor.

“I expect to pack at least 35 bags more when all the maize dry,” she said.

Baziwelo says the toilet-supported harvest is entirely subsistent. It feeds her extended family of 12, often sustains relatives and seldom supports hungry neighbours, who also admire the wonders of the ecosan toilet.

“At first I could sell some of my produce, but now I feed a bigger family so I wouldn’t risk selling,” she said.

Despite its potential to replace chemical fertilizers and help save billions government yearly spends subsidizing farm inputs, the use of ecosan toilets remains an exclusive of a few households.

For instance, in Mtandire slums, a habitant of about 18 000 people, only eight families use the ecosan toilet.

That means the rest will continue bribing chiefs for a subsidy coupon or else risk yielding less and brace to go to bed on empty bellies.

Already Baziwelo says she will not sell her produce, and if other farmers emulate, then government might as well start importing the grain using the K5billion it has allocated to replenishing Strategic Grain Reserves.

With sustainability of the subsidy programme looking foggy, maybe it is time Fisp was aborted and its funds channeled towards construction of ecosan toilets to give poor households sustainable fertilizer manufacturing factories, whose raw materials are already running in their bodies, daily.

Awkward as it may sound, but it will turn the citizens; especially the poor, into Baziwelos and nobody will care if Strategic Grain Reserves and ADMARC depots remained hungry, empty.

Monday, 20 May 2013

When the common is defied

“When the Federation and CCODE came and introduced this project to Blantyre City Council through our Director of Planning a year or so ago, I thought it was going to be like any other project. I have heard a lot about community development and this project was about community-led slum upgrading. Therefore, I looked at this project as business as usual.”

That is how sceptical Louisa Nyalo, Community Development Officer at Blantyre City Council, was at the onset of SDI-7 Cities project. 

But she can be forgiven because in most projects, communities suffer from dependency syndrome. They always look up to outsiders for support, so why would Nyalo expect a surprise?

But the common was to be challenged, the unexpected tested and Nyalo’s thinking defied.

She accepts that the SDI-7 project has strengthened relationship between the Council and local leaders in the informal settlements. She testified that community leaders now share their plans with the council, something which was non-existent before.

“Unlike most of the projects I have seen implemented, I think there is true community participation in this project. The communities actually know why they are doing profiles, and why they have to plan their settlements,” said Nyalo.

“What has impressed me is the fact that some of the communities have started upgrading their basic infrastructure through the other projects of water and sanitation that CCODE is implementing in the City.” 

She further said communities are able to transform themselves citing Nancholi where people have improved own sanitation and access to piped water.

Ignorance retards development, says GVH Matope

Enumerating settlements before implementing developmental projects is vital because a surveyed population is better placed to demand people-oriented projects, a village leader has said.
Group Village Headman (GVH) Matope of Ndirande said this on the backdrop of Slum Dwellers International 7 Cities Project being implemented in Blantyre courtesy of Federation and CCODE.
He said the project was an eye opener recounting that previously his subjects hardly catalogued prevailing problems. He said in the absence of such information, it was difficult to demand community-oriented projects.
“For years, we thought we could see but we were too blind to notice our own problems. I am saying this because as a settlement we did not know our population. We did not know that many households had no toilets and that we only have one broken private water kiosk saving 1,836 households,” said Matope
“We only knew that diarrhoeal diseases were rife in this settlement but we never figured out a reason for that. However, this has all come out because of the enumeration, profiling and the mapping that we have done with support from CCODE and the Federation.”
The village head said it was impressive that the project equipped his area with profiles and plans saying the data remained a benchmark during discussions between the Council and communities.
He recalled a moment when leaders of informal settlements attended Participatory Budgeting Session at the City Council for the first time saying it enabled them to learn what was happening in the City.
The GVH said he was surprised when a Constituency Development Funds (CDF) expenditure report revealed that his constituency gets MK7 million for small development projects saying he wondered where that money goes.
“I was shocked to discover that our MPs are not spending this money for their own reasons. We always thought that there was no money for development projects but we now know that the money is there,” said Matope.
‘Now that we know, there is this money to fund projects like those we have identified through the enumeration, profiling and mapping exercises. The information we have will give us power to push our representatives to do more for us.”

MHPF South leader lauds SDI-7 Cities Project

Malawi Homeless People’s Federation (MHPF) has hailed the Slum Dwellers International 7 Cities project stressing it has strengthened their relationship with Blantyre City Council (BCC) and other slum dwellers abroad.
MHPF Southern Region leader Loveness Chimatiro said the project has fostered mutual partnership between BCC and slum dwellers while also giving the latter a voice in various development projects.
We have managed to support slum communities and their leadership in the City to be organised and have a voice with which to engage with the City, politicians and other development partners,” said Chimatiro.
She further said through the project, the Federation has supported over 15 settlements to do enumerations and profiles adding communities are using the data to demand services from their MPs.
“What I have liked about this project is that it has linked the slum communities to their local authority. For ages, the relationship between the two was acrimonious,” she said.
“The City believed they knew better about what communities want and communities on the other hand did not like the Council imposing its priorities on them. This lack of consensus was costly because projects never worked and if implemented people shunned them or just vandalised equipment.”
Chimatiro described the present relationship between the City and the people as “very open and cordial.”  
“The local leaders could not even dare to come to the City in the past, but today they come to share their plans, hopes and dreams with their Council. This is amazing,” she said.
Chimatiro added the SDI-7 Cities project has cemented MHPF relevance arguing communities now look at the grouping as an agent of change, a status which has led to sprouting of new centres in all settlements where Federation works.
“However, we are facing a lot of pressure from the communities that have developed their implementation plans. I wish there were resources to support the small projects like footpaths, drainage and bridges that are featuring highly on the community-shopping list,” added Chimatiro. 

Apart from Blantyre in Malawi, the SDI-7 Cities project is also being implemented in South Africa (Cape Town and Stellenbosch) Zimbabwe (Harare), Uganda (Kampala), Kenya (Nairobi), India (Pune) and Ghana (Accra).