Liz is our longest serving and without a doubt most committed Deki volunteer Deki have had the pleasure of welcoming onto the team. Nicknamed the 'Deki evangelist' because she can often be heard telling anyone and everyone about Deki's mission, the team weren't surprised when Liz volunteered to go to Malawi for us. Team Deki thought it was a great idea for Liz to meet the entrepreneurs who she is so committed to helping in the UK.
In this blog Deki interviews Liz about her experiences in Malawi and tells Deki lenders why Deki loans are so important.
DEKI: Hi Liz can you tell the Deki lenders what the purpose of your trip to Malawi was?
LIZ: Deki - where I volunteer - provides microloans to small entrepreneurs in five countries in Africa including the remote area of Nkhata Bay of Northern Malawi. The purpose of my trip was to act as the 'guinea pig' for Deki's new Fellowship Programme which will send Fellows out to the countries to work with local field partners. My aim was to test the process from beginning to end - applying for the role, passing a medical examination, undergoing training, fundraising and conducting interviews in country to measure the impact of Deki loans.
LIZ: It was a joy to meet some of the entrepreneurs whose stories I write up to be featured on Deki's website and to see how loans improve the lives of the people in areas where there is no access to a bank.
DEKI: Did you feel our trip for Deki was successful and you achieved everything you set out to do?
LIZ: To raise money for the trip and contribute to the costs of flights, insurance and fuel costs (which are as high as those we pay in the UK) I abseiled down the Avon Gorge with fellow volunteers and staff. It was a first for me and the trainer was clearly sceptical about my ability to get down the 150 foot cliff. Although initially a bit apprehensive about going over the edge it was such fun that I went back for more.
LIZ: In the region where Deki's field partner Temwa operates - Nkhata Bay North - my target was to complete 20 interviews with clients who had received a loan and who had fully repaid it. In three days in the remote lakeshore villages of Buwa, Khondowe, Chiwisi, Ruarwe and the upland village of Bula I interviewed 14 clients. I acted as the ears and eyes for Deki in the Temwa office, gleaning impressions and gathering materials for the team. I watched the training the field partners deliver to new clients, conducting audits and gathering financial data.
DEKI: What was Malawi like to work in? Did it meet your expectations?
LIZ: I have travelled extensively in Africa but never before visited Malawi which is known as the 'warm heart of Africa'. The people of Malawi are so friendly and welcoming. It was a privilege going out to the beautiful, remote villages on the lakeshore to disburse loan capital to clients who have had their loans approved. Working had its frustrations; you have to adapt to the lack of pressure to act now, to the lack of funds and to the slower pace of Africa – which the Deki office call ‘Africa time’.
DEKI: What were the difficulties faced working in Malawi?
LIZ: Travelling around the country is not easy; as soon as you leave Mzuzu, you hit a rust-red, dirt road which is very dusty and full of potholes. It's a four hour journey just to get to Usisiya on the north western shores of Lake Malawi and another two hours on the boat to get to the villages of Khondowe, Chiwisi and Ruarwe.
LIZ: Another challenge you face is trying to coordinate meeting with clients in remote villages, some of them only accessible by boat. It took much longer to conduct interviews through an interpreter as I don't speak Tambuka although I made a point of being able to at least greet people and say thank you in their local language as a matter of courtesy. It surprised and pleased people that I would greet them and say 'Tawonga chumeni'.
DEKI: Which Deki entrepreneur inspired you the most?
LIZ: So many of our clients had inspiring stories - building their businesses and being able to improve their lives. The women carry so much of the burden of caring for their families, the home, their business and cultivating the crops of cassava and maize which sustain the family in the tough times.
LIZ: One lady who struck me as a real survivor was Lidia aka Loveness Mangwe who was widowed whilst living in Zambia. She had to return to her home village of Usisiya. She took out a loan through Deki to grow her small grocery business. Now she runs her grocery, has set up a barber's shop next door and has bought a dugout canoe and a fishing net. She employs a barber and a fisherman to go out on the lake and bring in the catch. She was the first in her village to install electricity to her home and has bought a fridge. She has been able to turn her life around and her home is filled with her five grandchildren who love to watch her newly installed television.
DEKI: What hardships do our entrepreneurs face when setting up their business?
LIZ: With no access to a bank they have no way to raise themselves out of poverty other than to set up their own business using a Deki loan.
DEKI: How have Deki helped with this?
LIZ: Deki uses crowdfunding in the western world to get people to lend money to their chosen clients. By working through a field partner in the country Deki gets loans into the hands of clients so that they can lift themselves out of poverty with hard work and determination.
DEKI: What surprised you most / didn’t surprise you about our entrepreneurs?
LIZ: I was surprised by the hoops clients have to jump through to apply for a loan and how diligently clients track the costs of running their business, recording how much they pay for each item they sell.
DEKI: What is your best memory of the trip?
LIZ: There are so many magical moments I will treasure - sitting under a large mango tree interviewing clients; observing a gentleman dressed in suit & tie, paddle out to the boat in his dugout canoe to request a meeting with the field partner; singing with young Freddie, he sang 'Azungu' (which means white person) and in return I sang 'Africano'; sitting in the boat as the local kids pulled us back to shore. I well remember the discussion with the women of Usisiya on how the burden of caring for their families falls on their shoulders. They were surprised and delighted to know that, as a single woman, I understood their tribulations.
DEKI: Do you have a favourite photo from your trip to show the Deki lenders?
LIZ: My favourite photo - it's hard to pick just one. The lakeshore is where so many people come to do their washing, wash their pots (and themselves) and where the children play. Amongst my favourite photos are the little girl running along the beach after splashing in the lake; two boys hanging out in a dugout canoe by the lakeshore; the little kid hiding behind a canoe & peeping out to watch the Azungu; the laughing Deki client in Buwa village.
DEKI: What did our entrepreneurs and field partner think of you?
LIZ: I felt honoured to be given a local name. It caused big smiles and peals of laughter when I introduced myself as Lizzie Chiumia. You could see the surprise on their faces that this Azungo had not only got a local name but used it.
LIZ: I was privileged to be in the field with Maria & Jericho of Temwa who work so hard. They were very happy to have my help with disbursing loans but I did have to insist on doing interviews with clients. I would not dare return to the Deki office without completed interviews. Temwa greatly appreciated my ideas and suggestions such as using an existing client as an ambassador to others in the village.
DEKI: How would you describe our Malawian entrepreneurs to our lenders?
LIZ: Dedicated, hard-working, willing to learn and determined to create better lives for their families and their community.
DEKI: Why should we lend to a Malawian entrepreneur?
LIZ: All those delightful people I met work so hard to put food on the plate, to be able to pay for their kids to attend school and have a better chance in life. They are so generous with what little they have, many of them take on orphaned children left alone after their parents died of AIDS. Clients are asking for such small amounts - on average £125 - to help them buy additional stock, improve their business and work their own way out of poverty.
LIZ: It means so much to me to have been able to see the difference I can make to the smiley people in the 'warm heart of Africa'.