Mbwenu, Innovator

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure. Sometimes it’s not easy moving home. Once you’ve been out to see the world you look at home through a different lens. “We had a shock,” was the way that Mbwenu and Wangwa described it to me when I visited their home in rural Manyamula in northern Malawi. The couple had gone away to Swaziland to study at a bible college and when they decided to move back to their home village many things were not as they had been in Swaziland. Their four sons now had to learn to live without electricity, and Mbwenu lamented how “it was hard for the boys to get used to the dark.” Hearing this history it is not surprising that when Mbwenu and Wangwa sought their first low-interest loan from the local Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (formerly called MAVISALO), they bought a solar-charged light battery and a full solar panel that they put on the roof. Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening. At this moment in his testimony, Mbwenu snapped on the small battery light for effect, “ahhhh” we all marveled! He became animated as he took us around the room showing the small TV and lights they could have now with the solar panel. There was also a cell phone charging station next to the solar panel battery. I could tell he was the kind of person who liked to figure out these technologies and show off his successful installations. I was so inspired by my visit with Mbwenu and Wangwa, and it gave me three insights about what makes SIA so great: 1. SIA’s programs are diversified Mbwenu and Wangwa’s house was nice. It had a cement floor, stable brick walls, and tin panels on the roof. They were clearly not the poorest family in the neighborhood. And because of that they had not received a SIA Small Business Fund grant, which are reserved for the poorest. Instead, they had joined the SIA-supported Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, which gives very low-interest loans and is open to ALL community members, regardless of wealth. There are different SIA tools for each family to benefit. 2. SIA empowers rural communities to thrive The family is developing their farm and investing in cattle and goats. “The COMSIP Cooperative is a big help,” Mbwenu explained, “we couldn’t buy the solar changing system all at once on our own.” Yet, their small farming enterprises are steady enough to be able to pay back the loan in a timely manner. A solar panel TV and light might be seen as “luxuries” in areas where there is no running water. Yet, these things made it agreeable for the family to move back to their village. And this means that the whole rural community benefits. Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure. Canaan (left in purple), the SIA contact for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, was so excited by Mbwenu’s enthusiasm for rural solutions. 3. SIA partners are innovative The solar panel was just the tip of the innovative iceberg in Mbwenu and Wangwa’s household. He also showed us a bio-gas contraption that uses cow manure to make a cooking gas, and also creates a liquid compost by-product for the farm. At the end of the visit, surrounded by 10 COMSIP Cooperative on-lookers, a little boy, a rooster, and a brood of chicks Mbwenu demonstrated his prototype drip-irrigation garden. He’d seen the technique in Swaziland and was combining new technology with local supplies to create a system that allowed you to “attend a meeting while irrigating the crops.” At the thought of such multi-tasking ability, the group laughed and then began asking questions as they inspected the tubing and bucket. It was exciting to witness these exciting developments from Mbwenu and Wangwa and see the many ways that SIA is serving and benefiting the people of Manyamula Village. A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu’s irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds. Catch a glimpse: See their TV and laugh about watching the world cup in rural Malawi: #MAVISALO #SolarPower #AfricaTrip2014 #Gardens #Malawi #Empowerment #BiointensiveAgriculture #FoodSecurity

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