Lexah Harrison is the founder and coordinator of Kurya Ndiko Uku Community Based Organisation (CBO) and Karisa Baking Training Centre.
Located in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzikubola in Mzimba, Kurya Ndiko Uku (This is the way to eat), the CBO is giving a new meaning to community-led interventions.
Concerned with low economic status most women in her area were enduring, Harrison, 65, decided to establish the organisation in 2005 that branches to Karisa Bakery Training Centre.
The bakery may sound small, but means a lot to many communities.
Harrison started the CBO with a small group of five members who could make bread using locally available resources which they were selling and helping HIV and Aids affected widows in the community.
The hallmark of this CBO has been unity and hard work. The membership has grown from six to 40, with 32 very active members associated with the organisation.
“At that time, we were also involved in making seedlings nursery and we later fully ventured into nutrition because the communities around had a lot of malnourished children and adults as well,” explained Harrison.
To date, over 700 women, girls and boys have undergone intensive vocational and technical skills training at the place.
This has also contributed to the fight against under-nutrition through baking, leading to economic capabilities and potential as well.
They got a place within the village and are training girls and women from within the area and across on baking as business and entrepreneurship using locally available foods through Karisa Bakery Training Centre.
Harrison got her education at Mzimba Local Education Authority (LEA) before being selected to Likuni Girls Secondary School.
After completing her secondary school education Harrison left Malawi for the United Kingdom (UK) in 1973 and returned in 2002. She holds Diploma in customer care.
Upon return to Malawi, she observed that women in her village were not working together and were unproductive; hence, low economic status.
Lack of economic empowerment, in her view, contributes largely to women being considered subjects to abuse and citizens of lesser value.
“The value of women is reduced to child-bearing and taking care of domestic chores. Women are worth more and can achieve far more if given the opportunity. I find it worth spending my life empowering women so that they should realise their potential,” she said.
As she continued with her voluntary work of uplifting the underprivileged with the little they were generating from the bakery Japanese nutritionist Akali Shibuya passed by the CBO and was impressed with what they were doing.
She introduced more food groups and provided free lessons to the CBO members on nutrition.
The light came in 2007 for the group when they participated at an Agriculture fair in Rumphi where their stand received more attention and got an award.
The award was a big motivation to members of the CBO and led to much recognition.
United States Ambassador’s Self-Help Fund, in conjunction with the US African Development Foundation, supported the group with K1.1 million to start engaging in pitch work production in November 2012. From that time, the group has never looked back.
Kurya Ndiko Uku women have been trained and produce 30 to 40 bags per month with average price of K 3000 per bag. The group generated approximately K330 000 profits.
One bag even went for K31 000 in USA, showing that the group is also eyeing international markets for selling its homemade patchwork products.
The group has a hybrid revenue sharing model where 40 percent of the profit from a bag goes to the CBO and the balance to the community member that designed it.
This means that the 32 members have a steady source of income for their families. In addition, the CBO has already paid school fees for four secondary school girls and plans to reach out to more girls in many secondary schools.
Their successes attracted a number of partners. National Aids Commission (NAC) through Global Fund grants sent 30 girls to be drilled on nutrition at Kurya Ndiko Uku.
The course took three months on residential basis. The second cohort was a group of 60 women under the Ambassadors help fund.
Harrison said she later met Teveta accidentally in the year 2009.
“Actually, Teveta had a meeting at Mzimba Boma and my friends who were selling some of our produce invited me to escort them to the meeting. I talked to them on purchasing locally made nutritious foods. I also talked to them on empowering rural communities that have skills in baking and later my products were served in that meeting. This is how it started to partner with Teveta,” says Harrison.
Later, officials from Teveta traced her and months later, she was picked and trained in Nkhotakota and was given some modules at the end of her course.
Teveta also asked her to drill 30 youths across the northern region, but at that time, she had no building to accommodate the trainers.
Instead, she vacated her house at her Daniel Gausi village and accommodate the learners.
And so, this is how the idea of constructing a boarding girl’s hostels started. To date, they have a fully-fledged boarding school in baking.
“I have trained over 700 individuals. Although, I have interacted with people of various languages, but the language in baking and communication is so easy regardless of the level of education,” says Harrison.
Through partnership with Teveta, they have constructed Karisa Bakery valued at K11 million of which K3.5 million was a donation from Teveta and they also outsourced from United Arab Emirates.
At Karisa Bakery – they have drilled many women, farmers and youths in communities of Chitipa, Karonga, Rumphi, Mzimba, Nkhata-bay, Likoma, Machinga, Luchenza, Mtambanyama, Lilongwe city Area 36 and Njewa in Lilongwe rural.
Most of the trainings have been funded through Millennium Challenge Account, Mzuzu SOS, Plan International, STEP, European Union, Cadecom Mzuzu, CCAP Livingstonia Synod, Plan Malawi among others.
The bakery has also received top dignitaries such as Jean Jackson and several Ambassadors of Japan and the United States of America, including several local Cabinet Ministers.
Harrison said they have also trained farmers in value addition to their products. Most of the time they are invited to train people in their localities.
Normally, the students spend two-months of exclusive learning with weekly assessment at Karisa and later spent a month of attachments outside the learning centre. In order to enhance effectiveness and efficiency in various informal skills development initiatives, the students are being monitored and certified by Tevet.
“On baking as business, we offer the following; baking different products such as bread, cupcakes, birthday cakes, buns, biscuits, jams, cake decorating cakes and packaging. Business plans, marketing, customer care, bookkeeping, team work and storage.
One of the learners at the centre, Fatima Msoma, who was brought to the centre by Plan Malawi from Machinga District said the bakery training which she undertaken has provided her with skills which would give her access to reasonably paid work.
“If I had not gone to Karisa Bakery, I would be living a shameful life and continually dependent on other people to survive. I am a teen mother and depended on begging but through Kurya Ndiko Uku CBO, it has made me to be an entrepreneur,” she said.
She is very thankful to both Plan and the training centre saying before enrolment at Karisa, she used to bake mandasi in order to support her 3 year-old child Mederina Kamanga but she was not selling much.