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Clara’s story, how sustainable energy is changing lives in Malawi

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In Malawi, energy prosperity has a female face. Here, the ‘Breaking the Barriers’ programme is eradicating energy poverty by empowering women through clean energy-driven economic opportunities.  The programme provides women with training, loans and equipment to create sustainable energy businesses. In the Chikwawa district, this initiative has favoured the creation of the Tsapa Women’s Group, formed by 15 local business women.

As a member of the Tsapa women’s sustainable energy businesses Clara is seeing real differences in her community. Women are more financially independent and more children are now able to go to school. The group has developed a new range of dried fruit and vegetables, produced using a solar dryer donated through the Breaking the Barriers programme.  

Clara and her twin five- year-old boys Francis Caleb.
Clara and her twin five- year-old boys Francis and Caleb. ©Christian Aid/Malumbo Simwaka
Tsapa Women’s Group members
Tsapa Women’s Group members. ©Christian Aid/Malumbo Simwaka

Sustainable energy is relatively new for many communities in Malawi, a country where only 42 % of the urban population and 4 % of the rural population are connected to power.

Women play a fundamental role in the socio-economic development of communities. However, their challenges are broad and deep-seated. They have to face major obstacles when opening a business. Poverty, limits to their participation in decision-making, and access to financing, to name just a few, are still the reality for many girls and women.

Clara, 32, lives with her twin five-year-old boys Francis and Caleb. Struggling after her clothes business was affected by the Cyclone Idai floods, Clara joined the Tsapa women’s group in Chikwawa district. They develop food products using sustainable energy such as banana chips. They also have a new factory building with lighting powered by solar panels.

We need to be financially independent and develop our families.
- Clara

The group is assisted by Christian Aid and its partner EAGLES Relief and Development. Within this slick and professional operation, women work together to prepare, dry and package the fruit. They’ve just ordered a refrigerated van which they will use to deliver their products across southern Malawi.

Since joining the women’s group, Clara has seen real benefits for herself and her children. She has used the profits she’s made to rebuild her business. The additional income means she can now send her sons to school and buy land to start building a house.

About the project

The four-year Breaking the Barriers programme is financed under the EU-funded Women and Sustainable Energy Initiative. It is supporting over 200 women’s groups in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Honduras and Malawi to establish their own sustainable energy businesses and promote gender equality.

In partnership with EAGLES Relief and Development, New Building Society Bank and Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development, it supports women in Karonga, Mangochi, and Chikwawa districts in Malawi.

To date, 188 jobs have been created through new enterprises set-up thanks to the programme in Malawi.  It has resulted in more economic autonomy for the women involved, as they now have a valuable income to support their families. The participants are also tackling gender imbalances, and they are encouraged to take part in family discussions, as they have more decision-making power over their household income.

Tsapa Women’s Group members.
Tsapa Women’s Group members. ©Christian Aid/Malumbo Simwaka