Here at CoG we’re determined to minimize our carbon footprint and that includes reducing our flights, but every so often it’s essential to travel to Malawi in order to develop our range of products and to make sure that we’re on track with our fair trade intentions. This February, George Furnival, our UK Manager made the 5500 mile trip to the Warm Heart of Africa; she took some time out from working on new products to interview the Malawi Manager of Cog, to find out what difference the project makes to lives for women in Chilomoni.
CYCLE OF GOOD'S MALAWI MANAGER MARY INTERVIEW
Q: Mary, tell me 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 CoG.
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: Ah, perhaps we could make some information posters for the walls of the workshop to explain about the problem of waste and landfill in the UK?
A: Yes I think that would be a good idea.
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!