Grace Kaunda, 48, from Chikhasu Village in Senior Chief Kanyenda’s area in Nkhotakota braved insults when she joined Tikondane Community Road Maintenance Club where all the four members were males.
“Most community members uttered discouraging words that I would not make it because of the nature of the work which most community members felt was for men. I am glad to tell you that my family has benefited a lot from the club which maintains Banga-Chipanga road,” she says.
The club is supported by Road Fund Administration (RFA) who are implementing Community Road Maintenance Programme (Crmp) in the country, including in Nkhotakota.
Kaunda says with her husband, they have been struggling to fend for themselves but the situation improved after she joined the club. Each of the club members receives a monthly wage of K10 850 from RFA.
“I am paying school fees for my child at Nkhotakota Secondary School at K45 000 per term thanks to the wages and profits we get from the club and businesses which we established,” she says.
Her husband, Esau, 54, concedes that the family relies on road maintenance for their living.
“I am not employed anywhere but I sometimes sell timber. However, we rely on the road maintenance programme for our survival and this is why most of the times I do road maintenance work on behalf of my wife,” says Esau.
Tikondane Club foreman Benson Pipe says the club began maintaining a five-kilometre road in 2008 after government decided that the road should be maintained each year so that it is in good condition while at the same time alleviating club members’ poverty.
“Apart from assisting to pay for school fees, we got a bonus from which we started pig farming before switching to poultry. We had 72 chickens in June 2014 and the community relied on us but the number has now decreased after some were attacked by Newcastle disease,” says Pipe.
The foreman appealed to RFA to consider raising the wage rate as the current one is not enough to take care of their families considering that they rely much on the job for their survival.
“Worse still, it sometimes takes three months for us to receive our wages. For instance, currently the school term has opened but we are yet to get our wages thereby affecting the education of our children,” says Pipe.
The need to revise the wage rate and improve the payment of the wages is also the view of Kangamowa Community Road Maintenance Club in area of Senior Chief Mwadzama in Nkhotakota.
Kangamowa Club secretary Gift Chodamutu says the club was established in 2008 to take care of the road and the club members are paying school fees for their children and dependents after receiving their wages.
“Due to inflation, we would like to appeal to Road Fund Administration to consider raising the wage rate from K10 850 to K15 000 per month,” he says.
The club has a business subcommittee and their business started when they grew groundnuts and sold it. Thereafter, the club bought two bales of tobacco but made a loss after sales.
“We then bought maize only to make another loss. The business then picked up such that last year, we had K313 000 out of which we shared K10 000 each club member.
“Currently, we have bought 80 bags of maize and we are expecting to make profit. We have also lent K176 000 to members at an interest,” says Chodamutu.
Group village headman Besela said Kangamowa area has transformed because the road opened the area to other places and it is passable even during the rainy season.
“We are only complaining of unavailability of healthy facility otherwise vendors are coming here to buy our farm produce because of this road,” he said.
Nkhotakota District Council director of public works Francis Mbaya says the district has eight community road foremen, 14 road maintenance clubs of 92 members in which each member is responsible for maintaining a kilometre. Of 92 members, 26 are women.
“Initially, club members were getting K4 100 per month but now they are getting K10 850 per month and this is a big motivation and performance has improved. Through monthly savings, all clubs have small-scale businesses which have improved their living standards.
“The programme has improved rural roads and they are passable throughout the year, easing challenges people were encountering when going to markets, schools and healthy facilities,” he says.
RFA chief executive officer Stewart Malata, who visited the two clubs, was impressed especially that Crmp is assisting in poverty reduction apart from improving the roads’ conditions.
“This is the whole essence of Crmp and we are committed to continuing the programme. I would, therefore, urge you [club members] to continue working hard despite facing some challenges because this will be for your own benefit,” he said.
Malata said the clubs are their partners and RFA is responsible for providing funds while the clubs are responsible for maintaining the roads.
“We are committed because roads play a crucial role in society since ambulances and traders operate in these roads. We would like to make the roads passable regardless of season of the year.
“We would provide materials such as hoes, picks and rakes for smooth road maintenance and we will also take into consideration the plea to raise the wage rate as well as to pay the wages in time,” he assures.
Kasitu ward councilor Charles Kamija says the timing of the wages should be seriously looked into because delays compel the club members to seek individual private loans [katapila] which has high interest rates.
Esau and Grace Kaunda, for instance, say whenever the wages delay, and they are required to pay school fees for their child, they borrow money from people at interest rates as high as 50 percent which is way above what commercial banks charge.