How the Mosquito Net Project is Giving Jobs to Widowed Moms in Malawi

02/09/17

To hear the full story, listen to COTN’s podcast, “How the Mosquito Net Project is Giving Jobs to Widowed Moms in Malawi.”

When the truck driver arrived in the rural Mgwayi village, in Malawi, he was quickly surrounded by children, curious adults, and a group of women who started singing and dancing as six sewing machines were unloaded.

“They are so proud to be Malawian women,” says Cheryl. “They want to take care of themselves; they’re not looking for a handout. But they want to help their community, they want to help their kids, and they want to help COTN.” 

 

The women are part of a microfinance group called Khamalathu—which means “working hard together for good.” The sewing machines were part of a business plan to make and sell mosquito nets locally with the hopes of expanding internationally.

“I don’t think they believed this was actually going to happen,” says Cheryl Cuthbertson, COTN’s Director of Sustainable Practices. 

 

These sewing machines are a life-changing culmination of a story that began years ago.

Most of the Khamalathu women are widowed and have struggled to provide for their children. There is no safety net for widowed women in Malawi. There is no government assistance. Most of the women don’t have an education, but even so, good jobs are scarce and unemployment in Malawi is extremely high. The women struggle to grow their own food despite droughts and floods. They sell and barter whatever they can make and pray it will be enough to keep their family alive.

Mgwayi village is a short walk out the back gate of COTN’s Njewa’s campus. When COTN established the Village Partnership Program and a school in this village, it brought real hope to the families. Wanting to find a way to give back, the Khamalathu women consulted Pike Kaminyoghe, COTN–Malawi’s Village Partnership Program coordinator. Together, they started a garden project that would supply food and income for themselves and COTN, but the project struggled under drought conditions.

“The thing I love about the Mgwayi women is that they all work together and they all celebrate together,” says Cheryl.

 

They weren’t ready to give up. With support from Cheryl and Gabrielle Didomenico, COTN partner and founder of Khamalathu, the mosquito net project was born. “We didn’t just come up with a project,” says Cheryl. “We asked them what they thought, how they thought this should work.”

The World Health Organization says that more than 80 percent of global malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa. Nine out of 10 children die from malaria. In Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people in Africa feel like, well, if you’ve lived here long enough you develop an immunity to malaria,” says Cheryl. Malaria is full treatable and preventable and could be eradicated if money was put towards prevention techniques like spraying, getting rid of standing water, mosquito nets, and anti-malarial medication. The Center for Disease Control says that the average insecticide-treated bed can protect up to three children.

Unfortunately, even the average cost of for a mosquito net is more than most families in poor rural African communities can afford.

 

The good news is that in the last fifteen years, the death rate has fallen by 66 percent in Africa, due in part to the increased use of insecticide-treated nets. During the Khamalathu research phase, Cheryl could not find a single mosquito net manufacturer in Africa. Most nets are made in China.

“My vision is that one day these women would be selling Khamalathu nets all over Africa,” Cheryl says. “I think it would be a great testimony to what God is doing with these women.

The women sew the nets, dip them in insecticide, package them with literature introducing the Khamalathu project, and providing information on malaria prevention, symptoms, and treatment.

Currently, COTN purchases about 5,000 nets every year (after a year of daily use, the insecticide wears off and the nets sustain tears). The Khamalathu nets are half the cost and provide income for these women.

Recently, after Hurricane Matthew swept through Haiti, the women sold 100 nets to COTN-Haiti at a discount to help protect children against the rising spread of malaria in the aftermath. “I am so proud to hear of the nets that the children will use are coming from the women I know and from my motherland,” says Steven Mizecki, COTN-Haiti’s administrative intern from Malawi.

                       The children in Haiti are thankful for their new mosquito nets from Malawi! 

 

Khamalathu’s business is growing and already the women have been able to put money in the bank and buy material in bulk for future orders. They are also creating a marketing plan with a goal to expand throughout Malawi and Africa.

Through this project, these women are providing for their family and setting a powerful example for their children. “These women are going to change what people think of African women and what they’re capable of doing,” says Cheryl. “It’s a great example to other women that God is not done with you yet, even though your husband has died, even though you’re a widow, even though you live in one of the poorest countries in the world, even though you have no electricity, even though you may not have food to eat every day; God is not done with you.”