By Iole Pizzola
The sun has not yet risen on the dusty sun-baked town of Zalewa in southern Malawi, but Gloria* is already stirring about. She hastily wraps her brightly-colored chitenje around her waist and smooths her hair back before she scurries out to catch the first tap-tap bound for the nearby city of Blantyre. Gloria will spend her day off from the Mtendere Restaurant procuring items from local vendors for her small crockery business.
Gloria is part of a growing community of women running micro-businesses dotting the landscape of Africa. This gentle and soft-spoken lady has identified a niche market for household goods bought on credit and is excelling by doing so. Her business plan is truly interesting--she purchases items from shopkeepers in Blantyre and then sells the items on credit to people in her community. She extends credit on crockery, cutlery, and soap for 30 days, at the end of which, she collects her initial investment plus interest. Her small business is generating an income stream for herself and her family, as well as providing a useful service to many individuals who have no access to credit and simply cannot afford to pay costs up front for the items they need.
Things were not always so promising for Gloria, in fact; she freely admits that there were many moments in her life when she didn't think she could survive one more day. Providing food and shelter for her children seemed impossible. Scared and HIV-positive, she was earning a living as a commercial sex worker. Then, she found her way to PIH’s sister organization in Malawi, Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo, which welcomed her into a newly-developed income generation program. The program helps commercial sex-workers find alternative forms of employment. Gloria received some basic business skills training, and soon began working at the local Mtendere Restaurant.
With a smile in her voice, Gloria explains how working at Mtendere has provided her with the seed money necessary to start her own side business. She now looks to the future with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. She makes a point of mentioning that she is able to meet the needs of her family with ease, and manages to pay school fees for all of her children with the proceeds from her business.
* Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the participant
Iole Pizzola worked with APZU in Neno, Malawi.