By Dyson Mthawanji
In the pretty landscapes of Ntchisi and Dowa districts in Malawi’s central region, where agriculture often dominates the economic terrain, the introduction of Community Learning Centres (CLC) geared towards tailoring and entrepreneurship holds immense promise. This strategic initiative aims to empower local residents by imparting practical skills that not only enhance individual capacities but also contribute to the overall development of these rural communities.
CLCs play a crucial role in the context of Adult Learning and Education (ALE). These centers are designed to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for adults to engage in learning activities, acquire new skills, and enhance their knowledge. CLCs are typically located within or near local communities. They aim to serve the specific educational needs of adults in the surrounding area, making learning more accessible to the community.
With funding from the Germany’s BMZ, DVV International and the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare are behind these CLCs whose smooth rolling is courtesy of the trainees’ deep interest to acquire new skills. The fascinating point with the project is its potential sustainability as the graduates have already started taking their sole direction in as far as the application of the acquired knowledge is concerned.
Five out of 12 tailoring and entrepreneurship Dowa-based graduates namely Diana Gift, Sarah Christopher, Hastings Isaac, Peter John and Gladys Halison have embarked on entrepreneurial path. One of the graduates has a sewing machine which she bought herself soon after the training. Another person borrowed from their CLC tailoring instructor. These young people are graduates of adult literacy classes. This goes well with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 whose mission statement calls for inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The four raised K16, 000 and borrowed K14, 000 as rentals for the shop they are using at Dowa Turn Off which is located along the Malawi’s M1 Road in Dowa district. The three women and two men are also members of Savings and Loan Group. Therefore, they also borrowed K20, 000 from the Savings and Loan Group to buy materials such as fabric and thread.
The savings and loan group is a programme which DVV International initiated as one way of enabling the tailoring learners to save and access loans to purchase sewing machines. The savings and loan group is based at the CLC and the membership includes the learners and management committee members.
Each member of the Savings and Loan Group has savings of minimum K30, 000. Since the Savings and Loan Group was established in July 2023, the members see potential in maximizing their capital as time goes.
One of the men, Isaac, said: “Embarking on this tailoring and entrepreneurship journey has been nothing short of transformative for me and my community. The skills I've acquired have not only equipped me with the ability to craft beautiful garments but have also ignited a spark of entrepreneurship within me.
Harrison also shared her excitement: “I now see my role in the community as more than just a tailor; I am a creator, a small business owner, and a source of inspiration for others.
“The training not only honed my technical skills in tailoring but also instilled in me the confidence to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams. I've learned how to manage my business, market my products, and provide excellent customer service.”
DVV International Senior Programme Officer, Elizabeth Chiwewe, said the aim behind members’ involvement in Savings and Loan Group is to help leaners be able to buy sewing machines on their own.
“The establishment of CLCs is a focal point for community building. Beyond the acquisition of skills, these centers nurture collaboration, resource-sharing, and mutual support. In this environment, individuals come together to embark on entrepreneurial ventures, creating a robust sense of community and shared prosperity,” said Chiwewe.
Savings and Loan groups can play a significant role in aiding tailoring learners (individuals learning the art of tailoring) to establish their business ventures. These groups, often referred to as savings and credit groups or microfinance institutions, provide various benefits that can empower aspiring entrepreneurs in the tailoring industry. For example, Savings and Loan groups can offer financial support by providing loans to tailoring learners to start their businesses. This capital can be used to purchase sewing machines, fabrics, and other necessary equipment.
Furthermore, these groups encourage members to save regularly. For tailoring learners, this can be a disciplined way to accumulate funds for future business needs or emergencies. Regular savings also instill financial discipline.
These groups also often provide financial literacy education, helping tailoring learners understand how to manage their finances, budget effectively, and make informed financial decisions for their businesses. Savings and Loan groups may explore options for risk-sharing mechanisms. This can help protect tailoring businesses from unexpected events such as equipment breakdowns, natural disasters, or health emergencies.
Chiwewe described the project as vital mainly now when Malawi is passing through various economic challenges. While it is a big challenge for many rural people to buy farm inputs such as fertilizer and seeds, tailoring is likely to provide additional income for them hence complementing well to their finances for agriculture.
As CLCs respond directly to the SDG 4 by providing education for all, they also help other SDGs such as SDG 1 which calls for the end of poverty in all forms. When the CLCs graduates become able to raise additional income through tailoring, they can win the fight against abject poverty.
The fact that the CLCs participants are also subsistence farmers, the CLCs will also help to achieve the SDG 2 which aims to achieve "zero hunger”. This is possible for the people who may use the generated income from tailoring for agricultural inputs.
This is the most visible signage that Adult Learning and Education is a cross cutting issue and a catalyst for all community development interventions.
The introduction of CLCs focused on tailoring and entrepreneurship in Ntchisi and Dowa districts heralds a new era of empowerment and sustainable development. This comprehensive approach not only equips individuals with practical skills but also nurtures a sense of community, resilience, and cultural preservation. As these rural communities embrace the transformative power of knowledge, the ripple effects are poised to shape a future of prosperity and self-sufficiency.