Evelyn Chisambaâ€™s world came to a standstill in 1997. Her marriage ended. Little did she know that her efforts to explore means of survival would unlock fortunes for other less privileged women.
Left with 10 children, most of them in primary school, Chisamba, 64, was troubled at the thought of providing for their welfare as a single parent.
But two months after her nightmare scenario, an idea struck her mind. She ventured into quarry stone business along the road to Kamuzu Institute for Sports in Malawiâ€™s capital, Lilongwe.
“I was all alone when I first came to this place and sat on these huge rocks in search for a solution to my problems. I decided to give it a try and started breaking the rocks to sell quarry stones,” says Chisamba.
She says a few months later, some women in her neighbourhood joined her after observing the financial relief she was getting from the business.
“That time, I was selling seven tonnes of quarry at K100. Although the money was not much, I experienced some change in my welfare.
“I stopped begging for food and money for basic household things. My neighbours were surprised that I could buy bags of maize to feed my children on my own.
“My children continued to go to school without any problem. I could afford to buy them clothes, shoes, uniforms, notebooks and other learning materials on my own,” says Chisamba, who stays in Kawale Township.
She says when three women joined her in the business, they resolved to increase the price of quarry to K500 per tonne in 2005. Today, a tonne fetches about K5 000.
“Due to the high demand for quarry from the construction sector, we started employing some labourers to help us break more quarry stones as many trucks were coming to buy the stones,” she says.
On the other hand, her children are all independent. They managed to finish secondary education and secured jobs in different organisations.
“Two of my children died but I managed to educate all the remaining eight up to secondary school. They are all working. I donâ€™t even beg from them because I get enough money from my quarry business.
“On a good day, I make K15 000. I also bought goats in order to diversify my investment using proceeds from the stones. I now have six goats which give me milk and save me in times of urgent financial need,” says Chisamba.
She says she has a bicycle which has helped ease transport problems at her home.
The only challenge these days, she says, is that business is hard because there are many people selling quarry stones at this place.
“As a result, we scramble for customers and end up reducing our prices,” says Chisamba.
Today, there are about 40 women engaged in the business around Kamuzu Institute for Sports area and over 50 labourers who break the rocks.
The women are operating under the name Widows Company, which they registered with government in 2005, according to Chisamba.
Mary Bwanali, who joined Chisamba in 1997, says the company is owned by widows and other vulnerable women.
She says in 2005, Lilongwe City Council officials asked them to stop mining quarry at the site. Later, the council only allowed them to operate from the area but to source the rocks elsewhere.
“We finally stopped mining quarry from this place in 2007. Since then, we have been sourcing the quarry rocks from Area 22 which is about five kilometres from here.
“We hire transport to ferry the huge rocks to this place. We pay K8 000 to transport three tonnes of the rocks to this place,” says Bwanali, adding that it takes her about three days to break a tonne of quarry stones on her own.
She says the quarry business is supporting over 300 people in households of the owners of the Widows Company.
“When I started the business in 1997, I managed to build a three-bedroom house for my mother in Dedza. I also bought a radio set. I have five children whom I have managed to educate up to secondary school,” says Bwanali.
Another member, Fanita Kaphantengo, says she was among the first three women who joined Chisamba in 1997.
“I was suffering because I had no source of income. My marriage ended in 2000 and itâ€™s the stones which have put food on my table all these years.
“I have seven children. Two of them are still in secondary school,” says Kaphantengo.
She says the women leave their children at home to do the hard work of breaking the stones.
As government is battling to implement strategies to eradicate extreme poverty from the masses and increase the economic resilience of women, efforts by members of the Widows Company in Lilongwe show how resolute less privileged women are to improve their own status when they find an opportunity.
Fast facts on Widows Company
. Chisamba single handedly ventured into quarry stone business in 1997, in desperate need to fend for her 10 children. Later she was joined by three women and together they registered the business as Widows Company.
. Currently, there are about 40 women who have joined the business. As such, although prices of quarry have increased over the years from K100 for seven tonnes in 1997 to the current K5 000 per tonne, Chisamba says business is slow as there are now many players.
. The Widows Company was once banned by the Lilongwe City Council from operating at their site near Kamuzu Institute for Sports, but the council later allowed the women to operate from the area but source stones from elsewhere.
. The Widows Company is providing a source of livelihood to the women involved.