SHAFAQNA – In an attempt to rescue poverty-stricken rural women in Malawi, a local Islamic charity is providing entrepreneurship skills to the women regardless of their faith to achieve sustainable solutions to poverty, an initiative which is widely being praised as a “living hope” in the highly impoverished and least developed southern African nation.
“In Malawi, women constitute 60% of the total population and a larger percentage is rural women who are poor,” Abdul Razzaq Fattani, National Chairperson of Islamic Relief Agency (IRA), the charity implementing the program, told OnIslam.net.
“They encounter enormous challenges in their quest for survival. It is for this reason that we introduced this empowerment program to alleviate their suffering and safeguard their integrity.
“Through this program, Fattani said, “we are identifying the poorest of the poor regardless of their faith inclinations, and we are providing them with tailoring and entrepreneurial skills and after the training, we give them sewing machines and start –up capital to enable them stand on their own.”
He added: “The needs of poor rural women are quite overwhelming. Most of our beneficiaries are either divorced or widowed mothers. They shoulder a huge responsibility to provide for their families. They go through pain to get something for their children to eat. We are therefore, doing everything possible to reduce rising levels of poverty among women in the rural areas of the country.”
He said since the inception of the program a few years ago, the number of beneficiaries has been on the rise.
“We started with a small group of women, but there has been a rise in the number of those in desperate need of support. We have so far reached out to more than 1000 thousand women.
“But due to limited resources, we are unable to take all on board. Funds permitting, we plan to reach to as many women as possible and extend the program to other parts of the country.”
Rural Areas First
Currently, Fattani said the program is being implemented in the rural areas of the country’s commercial city of Blantyre.
He said besides giving out the sewing machines, beneficiaries were also being provided with farming tools to boost food security at house hold level.
“Agriculture is an effective way of alleviating poverty. People should have enough food to eat and sell for them to have cash. If they enough food, they will not beg and in this way, their dignity will be preserved. We are making sure that we invest considerably in agriculture so that these women would be self=sufficient in food,” Fattani, told OnIslam.net.
“These women are going through depressing situations. They have no money and at the same time, they lack food. For them to survive, therefore, they have to go about looking for money to enable them have food. But as long as we boost food security at house hold level, there is an assurance that their lives would be better off.”
Since the initiative started, according to Fattani, “there has been a marked improvement in their lives.”
“Through the businesses which they embark on after getting the training, the women are able to provide for their dependants and send their children to school. This was not possible for them before this program was rolled off. We have managed to bring smiles on the faces of people who had lost hope and had resigned to their fate.”
A group of beneficiaries in Kachere Township in the outskirts of Blantyre city praised the program and testified how much their lives have been improved.
A widow in her 40’s indentified as Edna said before she was drafted as a beneficiary in the program; her life has been a “continued struggle”.
“Since the death of my husband a few years ago, life has been a continued struggle for me and my children. It has been a painful experience for me to provide for children. But when I became a beneficiary of this program, I’m now able to support my dependants through money realized from my tailoring business. At least, my suffering has been alleviated,” Edna, told OnIslam.net.
She added: “This initiative has brought light and hope, to the needy like me. Poverty stole my pride and dignity, but this initiative has restored my dignity. We are very grateful to IRA for this intervention.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Lucia Banda, a Christian of the Church of Christ who described the program as a “living hope.”
“I have been a person without hope for many years since my husband died, but since I started benefiting from this intervention, hope in my life has restored. This initiative is a living hope. I don’t know where I could have without this level of intervention. And being a Christian beneficiary, has changed m mindset towards Islam and Muslims. I’m extremely moved and grateful,” Banda told OnIslam.net.
Fatima Ndaila, National Chairperson of Muslim Women Organization (MWO) has hailed the program describing it as a “huge treasure”.
“The level of pain that poverty has subjected women to is quite indescribable. Scores of women in both urban and rural areas of the country are going through immense pain in their endless struggle for sustainable source of livelihood. This program is therefore a huge treasure which deserves our commendation,” Ndaila told Onislam.net.
“There are millions of women who are in this country who are bearing the brunt of poverty. They are going through enormous pain for them to afford something to eat. Therefore, unless we have interventions of this nature, we are going to have a larger population of this nation in pain of poverty.
“All faith groups in this country need to unite to rescue women from the trap of excruciating poverty,” said Ndaila.
Through the program, beneficiaries especially the aged are provided with basic clothing and blankets.
Malawi is rated by the World Bank as one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world. Its majority poor according to the bank, struggles to survive on less than US$1 a day.
Currently, the country is passing through severe economic challenges following the suspension of 40% budgetary support by its cooperating partners following a major corruption scandal dubbed “cash gate” which has seen huge millions of taxpayers’ in US dollars being stolen by civil servants, politicians and business people.
This development, according to economic experts has deepened poverty levels in the country. The delivery of basic social services has been greatly affected. Public hospitals in the country which provide free medical services to the country’s majority poor have been running without essential drugs for many years now.
Malawi is a secular, but diverse religious nation. Islam is the second largest religion in the country after Christianity. Muslims, account for 36% of the country’ 16 million population.