Friday, December 18, 2009

Rising above average hopes

Wyson Mpoto, 26, does not regret dropping out of Standard 8. He acknowledges growing up believing that the earth was a prearranged fate- too much, always, for the masters; too little, if at all, for the have-nots.
“That’s how things went those days that many pupils from Misuri Village in T/A Chikumbu’s area (Mulanje district) were dropping out of school believing that they would benefit nothing from school, and that their future lied in tea plantations,” says Mpoto.
He also cites rural poverty as one of the reasons behind high school drop out rates. Hard work seemed like the only poverty-unlock key for many in Mulanje and Thyolo, Mpoto says, with tea fields offering the best alternative.
“My whole life revolved around the hope that, one day, I would work in the (tea) fields and be able to fend for my family. But I felt I could not achieve this through the classroom because of poverty and too much theorizing in our curricula,” he says.
Therefore, Mpoto banged heads with 24-year old Lonimas Moyowina about the possibilities of better life unattached to the classroom. They agreed to abandon Misuri Village for Blantyre.
Nothing strange in this decision as many a people from Mulanje trek to Blantyre in their average hopes for better life. Additionally, United Nations Development Programme Human Development Indices for the past ten years seem to suggest that Malawi remains one of the countries with the highest rates of urbanization.
A trend Local Government Minister, Goodall Gondwe, acknowledges. He says rural people tend to believe that urban life offers better opportunities. Government has, however, been working towards changing this mindset.
Gondwe cites various government policies, including the Malawi Rural Development Fund low cost loan facility, One Village One Product initiative, and increased funding to local government establishments.
“All these are designed to reverse this trend and bring development to rural areas; not only that, but also that these developments remain there,” says Gondwe.
By improving resource allocation to district and town assemblies, Gondwe hopes for a medium-future Malawi where urban masses go back home (rural areas) and invest in the many virgin opportunities.
For Moyowina, village life still provides limited opportunities. The more reason he loathed the idea of working in tea fields and earn peanuts while estate owners walk home millions of Kwacha high; neither could he remain in the village and marry at a tender age. Where would the resources to sustain his family come from?
Mpoto and Moyowina came to Blantyre some ten years ago. There was no ready employment for them so they spent much of their time fishing in mudy Bangwe Township rivers. They would put the fish in five litre bottles for sell but, to their surprise, most of the fish would die within days. Today, the two may qualify for the description ‘genius’.
Using raw knowledge, the two have come up with unique designs of fish tanks, water- filter and pump systems, with an electrified air circulation system to boot.
“It’s nothing learned from school; our innovations are a gift from God,” says Mpoto.
Strange, the inspiration behind their innovations: “We were inspired by dead fish, and wanted to know why they were dying a few days down the line. In the end, we came up with the idea of designing electricity-run aquariums, as well as air circulation and water filter systems. It is a first in Malawi,” says Moyowina.
The system works like this: Mpoto and Moyowina assemble and graze glass to construct a transparent aquarium.
The two then assemble plastic bottles from which they mould small pipes through which air and water will pass. Sometimes, when the cash is on them, they will buy the pipes at either Bangwe or Limbe markets. This, combined with mosquito net-sized meshes, covers the area of air circulation and water filtering. The only things they buy are an electric cord and plug, which they connect to the aquarium for the water and air systems to start working.
Their aquariums are thus electricity powered, and water can remain unchanged for six months.
“The good thing is that we have designed the aquariums to consume very little power; far less power than a portable radio could consume,” says Moyowina.
The two are now singing a different song. They have since 2004 made over 20 aquariums, which they sold at prices ranging from K5, 500 to K6, 000. The aquariums come in two sizes: 25 centimeters (cm) by 10cm and 20 cm by 8cm.
“Many people now know us in Bangwe. Demand for our aquariums has peaked up but we lack resources. We need glass, electric cables, good quality pumps, glue, and financial resources. We are in the process of devising a battery system,” says Mpoto.
Mpoto says they have plans for growth but need K300, 000 to reach Mzuzu and Lilongwe. That is a medium term plan because, now, they do not even have a fixed place. They sell their aquariums loitering around or standing outside NBS Bank Limbe Branch- oblivious of the warning, ‘Vending or loitering around bank premises is prohibited’.
But, at least, they have avoided the single path to tea estates.

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