In Malawi, women suffering from fistula are often ostracised from their communities. During the treatment period, at the Fistula Care Centre, women are introduced to various business ideas and are trained in business management to provide them with new skills and the ability to earn an income when they return to their communities.
Freedom from Fistula decided to work with SolarAid and SunnyMoney to provide economic empowerment by providing women that were interested and engaged with the programme with solar charging stations and training in how to use them to run a business.
The solar charging stations are given to the women on a small loan that they pay back over time by using the station. The stations are given on a repayment loan so that the women have a sense of responsibility for the stations and take care of them. The women use the stations to charge phones, lights, and other small appliances. Many of the women then go on to run additional small businesses in their village with their new found financial skills. These fistula patients are then able to return to their villages with a source of income and means to provide for their family.
It’s a fantastic programme and really demonstrates the powerful role solar can play in multiple ways: to empower women, to provide a source of income, to teach business and financial skills and, of course, to provide power where there was none before.
The following stories show how effective the programme has been and how happy the women are to have been supported by Freedom for Fistula:
Loveness contracted fistula in July 2016 and was operated on in November 2016. Before she had fistula, she gave birth to one baby following the death of her first child. She is still married to her husband who works for the post office.
During the time that Loveness had fistula, she was not able to leave her house because people in her village would laugh at her and say that she smelled. Now that she is cured she can go to church and interact with the community again.
With the help of the solar charging station given to her by the hospital, Loveness is now able to cook dinner using the light in her house during the evening.
She also uses the solar charging station to conduct her business where she charges mobile phones for 50 Mk/day. With this money she can buy groceries and other necessities for her family. The business training she received for the charging station has helped her develop another business through which she sells ground nuts in her village.
Violet contracted fistula in 1996 which resulted in 21 years of suffering. She gave birth to four children and two passed away.
When suffering from fistula, Violet was stigmatised and discriminated against in her village. Because of all the negative attention, her husband left her and married another wife.
Violet was cured at the Fistula Care Center on 21 February 2017 which changed her life drastically. Her husband has returned to their home and spends most of his time with her, and she is able to interact with her village again.
These days Violet does not lack money because of the business she has created with the help of the solar charging station. She has already repaid 25,000 Mk and continues to pay her loan back from earning 1,000 Mk per day charging mobile phones. With some of this money, Violet is able to buy necessities and has even joined a village bank to continue to learn how to manage her money.
Felista had suffered from fistula for 21 years before she was cured last year. She had seven children in her lifetime, but four of them passed away.
When she suffered from fistula, people in the village refused to buy any of the beer she would brew because they believed she was dirty. Fortunately, her husband stayed by her side and was extremely supportive during this difficult time. Felista started learning how to manage a business by charging mobile phones for money, but now in addition to that she also sells beer, fish, and salt. She is now able to be a part of her community again and regularly attends church.
Brave Mhonie, the General Manager of SunnyMoney Malawi said:
“We’re so proud to work with Freedom From Fistula to help in rebuilding the dignity of the women they work with. We accepted the challenge with a real sense of responsibility. From the first day, the SunnyMoney team has worked hard to support the women and we will continue to work to make the programme a success and sustainable, to give it the energy required to grow so that we can help more women in Malawi through solar technology.”