M’Pekala (Where We Live)

by Marsha Winsryg

M’Pekala is the name that the 10 women have given to their economic initiative project making sisal bags. It refers to the fact that they are able to add to the prosperity of their community by fashioning and selling these products and not only by their traditional agricultural work.

This project is the result of Sister Immaculata Mulyei, a Franciscan sister, who once lived in the region and is well aware of the difficulty these woman face earning cash money, being hours away from the nearest town.

Sister Immaculata Mulyei

Two groups from two villages have taken up her challenge to come up with a plan to manufacture a salable product. One group is making oil from a local nut, called mungongo in the local language and known as candlenut in English. M’Pekala was taught to make sisal baskets by master Zimba basket maker, who they hosted in their village for two weeks three years ago.

On the way to Sekute, the M’Pekala group’s village north of Livingstone

Then they planted sisal plants to make their baskets with. The beauty of this plant is that it needs no water. Drought has made their normal method of earning extra cash, raising meat animals, impossible. Sisal is a good solution, but it takes a long time to get big enough to harvest. Someday they won’t need to buy raw sisal, which they have difficulty finding.

Three women of M’Pekala with the young sisal plant, already three years old

Each winter season when they are through working in the fields, the women focus on weaving sisal bags and finding ways to add handles or lining. Each year, the quality improves, and the AACDP wants to offer them for sale on its website. The biggest problem right now is shipping the finished product to the US, because it costs a small fortune. The price to fedex 15 bags was $300! The local postal system was reliable until a year ago and now is almost defunct. That’s one hurdle to approach.

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