Cycle of Good: Meet the Team
Join us as we head to Chilomoni Township, Malawi, to meet the incredible women behind the Cycle of Good products we know and love.
Meet Selina, Maria and Rachel! For over 10 years, these 3 incredible women with very few resources other than sewing machines donated from the UK, have trained over 1600 women in Chilomoni Township, Malawi.
These dedicated women lead classes in informal tailoring and the three-month course is taught in Chichewa so that it’s accessible to women who have not been able to attend school. They also teach a one-year diploma course which not only passes on sewing skills but helps to build literacy and prepares women for the world of work.
We’d also like to introduce the Manager of Cycle of Good Malawi, Mary Kamwendo. Cycle of Good would not exist without this incredible, strong woman. She has championed the rights of women and girls throughout her life; Mary truly understands the impact of providing education and training to women in order to achieve long lasting positive change in a development area.
We asked Mary to give us a little insight in to her life and the impact that Cycle of Good has had on the community. You will find that if nothing else, Mary is brutally honest!
Q: Mary, tell us a little about yourself- where were you born?
A: I was born 66 years ago, in Zomba which is a town in the middle of Malawi, it’s very beautiful with a high plateau and lovely scenery.
Q: Have you always lived in Malawi?
A: Yes, I have travelled to Kenya, Zambia, the USA and South Africa, all or either Church funded or Aids Clinical Trial Group work.
Q: What’s the best thing about Malawi?
A: I’ve never seen war, it’s a peaceful country, the people are warm and friendly- we do call it “The Warm Heart of Africa”
Q: And what’s the most difficult thing?
A: The gap between the rich and poor; mostly the poverty. In Chilomoni Township, poverty is different to the rural areas. In the countryside, people have extended families who will always help. Here in the township it’s graver, people can go for days without food, there’s no extended family and people do not feel an obligation or empathy.
Q: So why do people live in the township instead of their home villages?
A: Just like any other country, it’s urbanisation. People think living in town is the best, they want the smart clothes and life, but it’s not like that, there are no jobs.
Q: Cycle of Good is part of the Beehive hub of social enterprise. How did you first get involved, what was your role?
A: I am proud to have worked with Beehive from the beginning. At the start I was the “Community 1st Responder” I made sure the funders knew what the community wanted, people came to me to state their needs and I was the bridge to the project. Then I helped to start the tailoring school. Later I became the HR Manager for the whole organisation. I also managed all the cooks, at one point we cooked a hot meal every single day for all 600 employees. I’ve helped to support the female students at the IT college with matters concerning safety and equality. Then I became Manager of Cycle of Good.
Q: And what impact have you seen from the beginning of Cycle of Good?
A: A big impact! The ladies working here, some have husbands who also work, so they would be ok. But our culture is to work hard to support the whole extended family and that’s what working here means to them. They can pay school fees for children, buy food and clothes. The tailors, they enjoy working here; they didn’t just want work, they wanted equality and a say in their work, they get that here. I’ve tried to be a supportive manager, encouraged the team to love and respect one another so that they help each other to achieve good quality, we are proud of what we do.
Q: Where do you see CoG in five years’ time?
A: In five years’ time, CoG will employ over 200 people!
Q: What do the tailors think of the recycling element of the project? Is that meaningful here in Malawi?
A: To be honest, that’s a little lost on them. It’s not something we think about in Malawi because here everything is used to death. If you have an inner tube, it is used until it is scraps and cannot be used anymore.
Q: Do the people you know like the products we make?
A: No! They want shiny smart British goods, not something made out of rubbish!
Q: I think we’ve found a culture gap! Do you like the things we make? What is your own favourite product?
A: Yes, I like the products, especially that waste is bringing money into people’s lives. My favourite is the lunch bag, I think it’s so smart and I could use one!
And here, modelling our coffee sack duffle bag are just a few of the wider team of tailors! Each are educated via the tailoring training courses; these incredible women sew the old inner tubes, coffee sack and lorry curtain into top quality eco-gifts. We’re inspired by the way the tailors work to support each other within the team. They understand that the success of one means the success of all, they coach and mentor one another. They provide a shoulder to cry on and a friend to laugh with. Each woman earns more than treble the minimum wage in Malawi. They have a pension scheme, paid holiday and access to subsidised childcare. They use their earnings to nurture and educate their children, making the Cycle of Good truly sustainable.
And finally, UK waste being sent to Malawi we hear you ask?
As a charity, Cycle of Good have been sending second hand bicycles to Malawi for well over a decade. These bikes which can transform lives, are sent via sea shipping container along with school equipment and books, most of which are salvaged from schools and libraries in the UK. Cycle of Good was created in the knowledge that we could add new materials onto these shipping containers and utilise every last square inch of space on the container and that is exactly what we do! There are a huge number of helping hands once the containers arrive in Chilomoni and the bikes, books, school equipment and several thousand inner tubes are promptly put to good use!
Sewing machines are solar powered by the Malawian sun, bricks for construction are made on site using Hydraform eco-bricks and over a thousand trees have been planted in the region. Our environmental impact is closely managed and policies are in place to ensure we continue to act on our responsibility to reduce carbon and environmental footprints and formally commit ourselves to being an environmentally responsible charity.