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© 2024 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit. EIN: 540907624.

Growing Beyond the Field: Malawi Graduation

By Joe Dutra

Many kilometers outside of Blantyre, Malawi, over 300 people came together outside of a rural school to honor the 103 women who completed their 2-year program. Complete with workforce and finance trainings, connections to social support, and direct resource transfers—the clients of our ultra-poverty graduation (UPG) program have been able to build sustainable livelihoods based on the needs of their families and communities.

The women of this program started off making less than $1 a day, struggling to feed their families and keep their children in school. Many had struggles finding and maintaining secure housing, and all had a hard time finding work on a daily basis.

Opportunity Malawi Country Director, Richard Chongo (left) and Opportunity Germany’s Program Manager, Andrea Zipprich (center) (Photo Credit: Hallie Kobylski / Opportunity International)
Opportunity Malawi Country Director, Richard Chongo (left) and Opportunity Germany’s Program Manager, Andrea Zipprich (center) (Photo Credit: Hallie Kobylski / Opportunity International)

But through the combined resources of this program, the 103 project participants that graduated this April have found themselves positioned not only to make a living, but to make a difference in their communities. As these women received their diplomas and shook the hands with local leaders like Opportunity Malawi Country Director Richard Chongo and Opportunity Germany’s Program Manager Andrea Zipprich, they entered a new phase in their lives.

For women like Alinafe, a mother of 2, that new phase includes running a small grocery stand that sits in a small structure next to her house, with a tarp folded over the roof to signal that she’s open for customers. These types of grocery stands are popular with other women in the program because the nearest market is too far away to visit regularly. Her stand generates business daily, and Alinafe is providing a valuable service that saves time and energy for her neighbors.

Alinafe, one of the 103 graduates (Photo Credit: Hallie Kobylski / Opportunity International)
Alinafe, one of the 103 graduates (Photo Credit: Hallie Kobylski / Opportunity International)

“I began by selling rice and gradually expanded by adding more products over time,” she says as she beams. “Now I have rice, oil, fish, sugar, flour, drinks, beans, and medicine.”

For many of the women, the celebration was also a recognition of their own personal strength and determination. Only a few months into the program, Cyclone Freddy devastated the locale. Known as the most powerful and longest lasting cyclone ever, thousands were displaced—including many within the program.

The house was destroyed during the cyclone, Opportunity was able to provide materials to help fix the building.

Program client Elina was one of those unlucky enough to face the worst of Cyclone Freddy. Her hillside home was all but washed away in the days of rain, and she lost much of the resources she had accrued in the early months of the program.

But thanks in part to other local program members and Opportunity International, Elina and her family received enough materials and manpower to rebuild her home quickly – and build it even stronger than it had been before the cyclone.

A year and a half later, Elina and her family have also been able to build a latrine, grow a pumpkin garden, and raise five goats. With the starting resources from the program and the proceeds from her garden, she has begun developing a mind for commerce and a plan to expand her business.

Today, she obtains much of her money through buying and selling dried ground nuts and maize. Elina’s intuitive know-how and resilience have been fundamental to her survival for her whole life, and thanks to the programs support, she can now use those qualities to tap into markets and establish a pathway to prosperity for her family.

On that April day, just outside of Blantyre, dozens upon dozens of women with similar stories to Elina and Alinafe rejoiced in their own success. Alongside their husbands, their children, their neighbors and friends, the first cohort of the Malawi program were recognized for their strength, determination, and intuition. Together, these women represent more than just a pathway out of poverty, they represent a map to prosperity for entire communitiesthat have never been given a chance.

So join us in celebrating the incredible achievements made by Alinafe, Elina, and 103 other women—may their success continue for years to come.

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