Two weeks, 24 meetings, 711 attendees.
It’s no mean feat trying to organise 24 community meetings in two weeks, especially when it means travelling on dusty dirt roads, climbing four mountains in a day, and hoping Lake Malawi isn’t ‘misbehaving’ so that it’s possible to take a boat to reach lakeshore villages. But that is exactly what our Nkhata Bay Natural Way (NBNW) team have been up to this month.
After the successful launch event in Usisya, the team went straight out on the road to conduct meetings in some of the remotest places in northern Malawi. The meetings introduced communities to our latest project that we’re running in partnership with the International Tree Foundation and Deki.
WORKING WITH THE COMMUNITY
One of Temwa’s principles is the importance of community-led decision-making. That means involving villagers right from the start and making sure everyone is represented. Community members, village heads and existing Temwa beneficiaries attended these meetings and gave their thoughts on NBNW, suggestions for changes, feedback on previous government and NGO projects and what has worked and what hasn’t.
It was an impressive display of engagement and involvement. There is a freedom and willingness from individuals to share ideas and give suggestions, which comes from having a genuine interest in improving their communities. And with each village having different needs and governance structures, these meetings highlight the need to consult with everyone to determine what will work best in their area.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOCALITY
The 110 villages Nkhata Bay Natural Way will work with have been grouped into 24 ‘cluster villages’, with each ‘cluster’ being offered different options for Income Generating Activities (IGA), depending on the location.
For example, in Kasasire, a village in the uplands, Temwa will provide 25 beneficiaries with training and a micro-finance loan to purchase the resources needed for bee-keeping. The area around Kasasire is still heavily forested; it has only been settled in recent years so trees haven’t been widely cut down to make space for houses and farming. Therefore in this area, NBNW will focus its efforts on conservation rather than re-forestation.
How does bee-keeping fit into this? Because beneficiaries will be hanging beehives within the forest which will not only give them the chance to earn an income through producing honey, it also frightens off potential tree fellers (scared of being stung!), thereby protecting the forest.
In other areas, we are offering training and loans for potato farming, fish farming and soya bean production as well, where it suits the landscape.
CHOOSING THE BENEFICIARIES
Each village head was asked to consider who they would put forward from their village to be the beneficiaries for these IGAs. There will be a total of 3,330 beneficiaries over four years who must fit into at least one of six criteria:
- Families affected by HIV/AIDS
- Orphan hosting families
- Female/widow-headed households
- Young people aged 18 to 30 years
- Large households
- The aged & disabled
The final purpose of the meeting was to choose 86 lead farmers and 46 Community Extension Workers. These volunteer positions will be responsible for working with a group of farmers to promote sustainable agricultural practices. Attendees from each village discussed separately who they thought would be best based on certain criteria – e.g. they have to be honest, hard-working and be able to read and write English – and they decided as a group.
It’s a fascinating process, these meetings; being able to see the interaction between village members, village heads, Temwa staff and volunteers, and government workers. It’s a joint effort on behalf of all involved and overall a very positive experience. There is such a strong sense of community, even between neighbouring villages.
The next stage of the project is to identify the beneficiaries who will receive training and micro-finance loans and start getting them enrolled. We’ll keep you updated.
If you’re interested in how your organisation can work with Temwa on a similar project, please contact [email protected].