In Zambia, men have most of the power. There has been an effort to gain greater influence for women’s rights, but it is difficult to incorporate programs that change traditional beliefs. But things are starting to change through economic strengthening activities under the Sustainability Through Economic Strengthening, Prevention and Support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (STEPS OVC) project.
A consortium of partners, including Africare, has implemented this USAID-funded project to give participating women some financial gain and a voice in their families’ money matters. This is also a source of pride and belonging, as project participant Esnart Ngulube proudly says, “namugona mu nyumba iwemi na kadodo kane,” meaning, “I will be sleeping in a nice house although I am HIV positive.” Hers is not just an ordinary smile, but a smile coming from deep down, and indeed a source of joy to Esnart and her entire family.
Property rights must be understood as a fundamental human right. As clearly pointed out by Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” But this is not the case for many people, especially women and children. Such was the case of Esnart Ngulube, a widow, mother of one girl and three boys, and a person living with HIV in Lundazi District. Esnart is 47 years old and had never owned a decent house although it has been her life’s dream “to own and stay in a pan built brick house with an iron sheet roof.” Esnart narrates that:
Being HIV positive, a widow and coming out in the open, I have been a laughing stock to many in the community and stigmatized by many. I used to isolate myself, but through the visits by caregivers from the Kataji Community-Based Organisation [a sub grantee under Africare STEPS OVC in Eastern Province], I have come out in the open, and I can speak freely about my status.
Esnart has been registered as a Basic Care and Support health client and has also benefited from the Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC) program to fulfill her dream of having an iron sheet roofed house.
SILCs are groups of community members who pool money to boost the livelihoods of each SILC member in turn. When STEPS OVC introduced SILCs, the idea sounded like a non-starter as many of the people thought, due to their poor economic status, that they could not afford to be a part of SILCs. However, SILCs are a shift from microfinance lending and emphasize that anyone can participate and save. Training in areas such as business planning and record keeping was done with help from the PCBFI (Promoter of Community Based Financial Institution) and the Ministry of Community Development trainers, and the involvement of traditional and civic leadership in championing economic strengthening at the beginning of the program was of great importance. For example, 76-year-old Headman Kajintha personally formed the Kataji Self Help Group SILC with eight members, five men and three women. Members agreed that by 2013, each member would have a good house, a good transport system and improved living standards in their households. Each member agreed to personally save 200 kwacha, approximately $36, and an additional $3.64, for a social fund every month. Members use their savings to generate income by buying and selling charcoal, buying and selling farm products, and selling blankets. The group now has more than $2,250. So far, the group has helped three members each build their own houses.
In ensuring that the living standards of its people are uplifted, the group members have helped Esnart Ngulube realize her dream of owning “a pan brick house roofed with iron sheets.” As the saying goes, “there is no sweet without sweat,” and Esnart was asked to mold bricks to build the house on her own. Her SILC’s members contributed by purchasing iron sheets to roof the house. Esnart, her children and dependents are very grateful to Kataji, other community members, STEPS OVC consortium partners and Africare in particular for the training that has made her a homeowner. She narrates that being a participant in STEPS OVC has benefited her whole family. Esnart is an HIV activist in her community and encourages others to join the SILC group. The program demonstrates the unlimited potential that women and vulnerable groups have to make sustainable positive changes, and the powerful difference that seemingly small steps can make in the fight against poverty.
by Jessy Taona Mtenje, Africare/Zambia,
Provincial Facilitator, STEPS OVC Eastern Province