Driving through Dioni Village in Traditional Authority Msakambwe, one can not miss an impressive house. A house that stands out because of its size, perfect finish and clean surroundings.
This is the house of a once homeless deserted wife and mother of three Felia Sikubweza. At five months pregnant she was abandoned by her husband and left to sleep in the open with two children. Nkhata-Bay Jett was her bedroom for two nights then it was by the road side to Bandawe for another two nights. She was psychologically violated and deserted because she could not fit in her husbands class.
Felia narrates her story of success which she attributes to the psychological torture she went through.
“As soon as he finished his first degree, we were so happy together living in the village, but things changed so fast when he went back for his masters,” she starts her narration.
According to Felia, when her husband was accepted for his MA program at Bunda, he almost refused the offer because they had no income to support him at college,
“but I begged him to go back, and for this, I had to knit kids stuff in order for him to have soap, pocket and transport money,” she proudly explains.
“After qualifying with his master, he started abusing me verbally, and told me openly that I am uneducated and unworthy of being his wife,” she says with anger.
She was rejected, and moved back to her village in Dowa where she had no land and no where to start from. She resorted into peace work for survival.
“Through it I saved, money to build my first house,” she says whilst showing off her house.
“I started building this house with money from sale of maize, potatoes and vegetable which I cultivated from the rented land,” she explains.
Her break through in life came during a Village Development Committees (VDC) meeting, where they needed someone who could read and write and she was the only one capable. She was immediately selected to be the VDC treasurer.
Her active performance in the VDC and her ability to read and write resulted in her being elected into Tigwiranemanja Women’s Movement, ActionAid International Malawi’s development partner which she says exposed her because of the reading material she received on women empowerment.
“I learnt about women empowerment, and that is when I knew that I needed my own land,” says a confident Sikubweza.
She got two acres of land which she cultivated and harvested 48 buckets of potatoes.
“ I saw that a woman could do it, I got more land planted maize and harvested 16 bags 50kgs of maize which I sold,” she explains with a smile on her face.
Through the Tigwiranemanja Women’s Movement Felia visited Liwonde in the southern region on a field visit to observe what our friends are doing in farming and I got tips from there.
Since then, Felia took farming as a business, selling farm produce and saving money to build the house.
“I thought of empowering my fellow women in the village and initiated the formation of Tilipo Club,” she explains.
Formed in 2005, Tilipo club has 16 members who are into irrigation farming. “I want all members to build brick houses with corrugated iron sheets,” she confidently explains. “We selected six women, borrowed them money to buy more farm inputs especially fertilizer,” she adds.
Felia says women who are not empowered lack confidence and continue being abused by their partners, “women are suffering in silence, their partners sale off all the produce which they labour for together,” she explains.
“If we want to end poverty then women should know their rights and they should be given land and farm inputs so that they can farm on their own,” she adds.
The once ridiculed pregnant woman who was deserted and left with two boys at Nkhata-bay jet in 2001, has become a source of inspiration to many women in her village. She believes that empowering women is one way of fighting poverty in Malawi. For her, farming is the answer especially when a woman has enough land, farming inputs knowledge then she will understand how small scale farming can make a difference in her life.
According to Felia, what a woman needs is a small piece of land and encouragement “because she can start small by growing vegetables like I did and believing that you can change your life with it,” she concludes.