Social Cash Transfer gave me a lifeline
Like Phiri, many of the beneficiaries feel they wouldn’t have improved their situation if they were not trained to invest their money in income-generating activities, writes Allan Nyasulu, Mana
MALAWI: Mzimba, Mana: First, his older brother and his wife died and left him with three children. Later on, his young brother and his wife also died and left him with six children.
That meant Chief Phiri, who initially had responsibility for his wife, two children, and his 81-year-old mother, was now added 9 more members to his already struggling family.
“To fend for 14 people was an uphill task. I was devastated and life came to a standstill,” recalls Phiri of his helpless and hopeless situation before the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) commonly known as Mtukula Pakhomo came to his rescue.
Born and raised in Manguba Phiri village at Emfeni, Senior Chief Mabulabo in Mzimba district, the 54-year-old, Chief Phiri was merely a peasant farmer with no proper livelihood.
He narrates: “I was sleeping on a dirt floor in a grass-thatched house that leaked excessively during rainy seasons. Hunger was our daily companion as we didn’t have much to eat.
“Furthermore, I couldn’t pay fees for my school-going-children. I was poor in mind, stripped of dignity, and pitted for in the entire village. It was a difficult situation to be in.”
A state such as Phiri’s is exactly one of the reasons why the Malawian government developed the SCTP which provides unconditional cash transfer payments to households classified as ultra-poor and labor constrained. The aim is to reduce poverty and hunger as well as increase school enrolment and attendance, among the major objectives.
SCTP was piloted in 2006 in Mchinji district but has since scaled up to 28 districts. It is implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare through District Social Welfare Offices and Community Social Support committees (CSSC). Recipients are determined by their household possessions, family size, earnings, and local authorities’ backing.
Fortunately, Phiri’s household was identified and enrolled under the Mzimba district SCT programme which was launched in 2014 and is funded by the European Union.
Under the SCTP in Mzimba, households receive an allowance every four months. The cash depends on household size, with households of four members or more getting a little bit more. However, an additional monthly bonus for each child enrolled in primary or secondary school is also given.
Phiri has been receiving MK36 000 every four months and has so far utilized his donation well with the help of cash transfer district trainers.
Simbaraishe Dube, a cash transfer trainer from Mafundeya cluster in Emfeni says he and his fellow colleagues visit their beneficiaries at least once a week to make sure they do not stray from a good cause.
Mzimba District Social Welfare Officer, Shadreck Mingo reveals that while the district’s SCTP is funded by the European Union, other partners complement the efforts.
In particular, Mingo cited the Pathways for Successful Transformation (PAST) project being implemented by Save the Children in the district to have played a huge role in helping beneficiaries achieve independence.
Under the PAST project, Phiri got MK147, 600 in 2021 and was obliged to be trained in tailoring, and is now a tailor. Yet still, he joined Village Savings and Loans (VSL) and got trained in financial literacy and other skills.
“Since 2014, my transformation has been immense,” Phiri proudly recounts, “I have replaced my grass-thatched house with iron sheets, replaced a dirt floor with cement, and installed solar-powered electricity in my house.
“I didn’t have any livestock but I bought two female pigs with the PAST money and within a year I had 12 pigs.
“Again, I couldn’t afford to pay school fees for my children, but right now, three of them have finished their secondary school education and one of them is at Kasungu Teachers Training College.
Significantly though, Phiri makes between MK20, 000 to MK60, 000 a week with his tailoring trainer and intends to buy his own sewing machine very soon.
The importance of beneficiaries’ training cannot be overemphasized. Like Phiri, many of the beneficiaries feel they wouldn’t have improved their situation if they were not trained to invest their money in income-generating activities.
Nathan Zimba from Ammon Zimba village at Luwerezi, traditional authority Mabulabo in Mzimba South is also a recipient of the SCT programme but was a perennial drunkard who misused his cash before intervention from trainers.
“I was in a mess: I was drinking excessively, sleeping in a dilapidated house and constantly fighting with my wife who later left me,” he remembers with regret. “However, after I received training, I realized I had to change my life for the better. This programme gave me a lifeline because I was literally dying.”
Zimba adds, “Today, I have bought a motorcycle after I invested in tomato and Irish potato farming. I have bought iron sheets for my house, a solar panel, and good-quality blankets.
“Most importantly, I was reconciled to my wife, have stopped drinking beer and no one in my village can believe a complete turnaround of my life,” says Zimba with pride and beaming smiles.
Some studies have established that cash transfers, conditional or unconditional, are not a magic pill and have limitations that are often ignored by policymakers. One of the strongest criticism of the program is that it creates a dependence syndrome amongst beneficiaries and that once the intervention ends so does the results. Contrary to this belief though, Zimba has never felt more independent than ever before in his life.
“I am not concerned,” he says. “I was told that at some point I’ll have to graduate from the program and pave way for others.
“I am glad I have made the most of it, changed my life, and earned admiration from fellow villagers. My next big thing is to buy a car through greater investment in farming,” reveals Zimba with broad smiles.
Zimba and Phiri’s accounts are among the highlights of SCTP in Mzimba. However, some beneficiaries feel the money is not enough to uplift them from the deep pit of poverty, a claim Phiri denies vehemently.
“What is more important is knowing what to do with the little that one gets,” he reasons.
The two successful beneficiaries are part of the 9, 342 households in Mzimba South who are benefitting from the programme and among 14, 500 in the entire district. Mzimba social welfare office reveals that households who were enrolled in 2014 have exceeded the time span for graduation, which was 4 years.
“We have not yet done research to determine the number of those who can stand on their own but government intends to do it this year. However, through the PAST project, Save the Children is conducting its own study that will give us a picture.
“With the help of our partners, we want to link those who are doing well to other initiatives, like small-scale enterprises and bank loans. Nonetheless, this will be voluntary and none will be arbitrarily removed,” Mingo explains.
The social welfare officer further revealed that government will embark on enrolling other beneficiaries who were initially left out because of lack of resources. “Every day we have people knocking on our door asking when they will be drafted in because they too are poor.”
Mingo says SCTP is part of the government's broad efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, a major barrier to people’s development and welfare.
“Offering social protection to people is very important in shaping people’s minds, changing their lives, and bringing them to contribute positively to building a vibrant nation,” he observes.