This blog is a recording of the Credit Union coaching assignment for the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) to consult with Credit Union Managers in Malawi Africa. This is the second year of a two year commitment. I am part of a team of six Credit Union Managers from Canada going to Malawi.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

DWASCO Board Meeting

On Friday February 26th we had our final meeting with the Board of Directors of DWASCO Employees SACCO. We started off the meeting with an opening prayer which is one of their traditions. We then moved into introductions of the Board and Bruce and I and the chairman Andrew Mdoka made his opening remarks.

Bruce and I gave our presentation with Bruce starting off reviewing the progress from last year and me reviewing the new issues that have come up at the SACCO. The SACCO is well run but they have their challenges especially with liquidity, they have a large loan demand and limited ways to raise deposits to fund them. After we completed the presentation we answered questions and discussed issues with the Board Members.

Board Members

The President then called the meeting back to order and then proceeded with gift presentations the Board presented Bruce and I with an original painting of the DWASCO SACCO building and a SACCO logoed golf shirt. Bruce and I then handed out the gifts we brought for the board. After that exchange we had closing remarks from the President and the closing prayer.

Receiving gifts from the Board

We then enjoyed an evening of fellowship with the management and board of the SACCO. They were great hosts and we had lively conversations throughout the evening.

me with the Board Bruce was taking the picture

Enjoying Dwangwa

This morning when I went back to my Hut I noticed there were fishermen pulling their net to shore. There were six on them pulling in the net, it looked like the net was a long way out there since I watched them for a good five minutes and they were still just pulling rope no net. I went into my room for a few minutes and when I came back out they had the net on the shore and were harvesting their fish. From what I can see their catch was not that good only about a dozen fish which they will take to the market and sell by the side of the road.

When Davison picked us up he informed us that one of the bridges on the way to Lilongwe was washed out so we may have to go around by Mzuzu to get back to Lilongwe which will add three hours to the trip since we have to travel north to Mzuzu and then turn south to go to Lilongwe. It is a minor inconvenience for us but it is tough for the merchants who rely on the road to make their living.

Our time in Dwangwa has been great but with all the rain and the road conditions Davison could not take us to some of the places he wanted us to visit so we spent all our time at the Plantation. Oh well when it is the rainy season I guess you should expect a little rain. However we did get to visit the Ethanol Plant today and received a tour with a full explanation of their processes. It was a very interesting tour and the reason the Ethanol Plant is in Dwangwa is because of the Sugar Factory since they use the Sugar Factory's waste mash for their process. We were able to go right to the top of the plant and all we could see to the North and the South of the plant was sugar cane fields. The Ethanol Plan was not in production when we were there because it is the off season, the cane harvest will start the first of April and run for six to seven months, that's when the area is busy.

at the ethanol plant with Davison

On top of the Plant

I asked Davison about the sugar cane plant, if you eat it raw does it taste like sugar, he said it does but if you are caught holding a plant within the Plantation then you will be permanently removed with no chance of returning. No second chances and no regard to if you have been a thirty year employee, this rule also applies if you are caught taking a packet of processed sugar off of the plantation. Because of these measures nobody touches the sugar plants.

Back at the Lodge we met Kurt a Peace Corps volunteer from Chicago, we were sitting at the bar and it is amazing how you can pick up different accents when your pattern of speech is not the norm, when I heard him talk I knew right away he was from North America. He actually sounded more Canadian than US since he did not have a Chicago accent. He is in Malawi for two years and has six months to go, he lives in the small villages and speaks Chichewa (the local Language) well and was telling us some of his adventures. He is currently looking for a position with a NGO (Non Government Organization) so he can stay in Malawi.

The next day when I came outside there were four monkeys playing in the trees outside my hut, they were fun to watch. While we were waiting for Davison to pick us up Bruce and I talked to Kevin Phiri who is the Manager of the staff, he has been in the hospitality industry working in Lilongwe and at the Kasasa Club before moving over to the Ngala Beach Lodge. He is the second oldest in a family of seven and is married with two children a boy and a girl he says that he is done having children as they are expensive to send to school. There seems to be a trend in Malawi to have fewer children. He was telling us that he just finished helping his brother finish teachers college and he is now employed as a teacher.

After Davison picked us up we stopped at the Standard Bank so Bruce could cash in some travelers cheques, while waiting for him (it took 45 minutes) Davison introduced me to the Chairman of the Supervisory Committee for the SACCO. Davison and I also went into the FMB Bank they wanted me to open an account and they were going to pay six percent on the savings account, that is less than the ten percent the SACCO pays.

We were meeting with the Board of Directors tonight at 6:00 pm so we were going back to the Lodge early but before we left for the Lodge Davison invited us back to his home to meet his family. Davison has four children two girls who are older and two boys; while we were there we learned that his oldest daughter had a touch of Malaria. She was getting better and should be well in a couple of days, we were served sema which is their staple food in this area of Malawi, and it is made from corn. You eat it with your hands by rolling a chunk around in your hand then dipping it in some sauce and eat it. It was not bad there was not much of a taste; it looks like mashed potatoes with a little heavier texture. Before and after you eat you wash your hands which is a custom I had forgot about because in the restaurants in this area they don't do this, but in Karonga last year we did it every meal.

Davison and his family at their home

After the meal we left for the Lodge I feel privileged that Davison invited us to his home he has a great family. He was telling us he will either be moving to a bigger house next year or they will add on to his current house because based on his pay grade he should be in the larger house. The house he is in now has two bedrooms so he could use the extra room with the four children. I asked him how he met his wife and he said she had move to the plantation to live with her uncle after her parents passed away. She is from south Malawi by Blantyre they have been married 12 years.

When we got back to the lodge we had enough time for me to take the kayak ride on the lake, once I got on the Kayak I realized I was going to need more practice then I had time for so I traded for a canoe. It was great out on the lake just paddling around in the gentle waves. Once I returned to the shore I walked along the beach to the next lodge over. The sand was a little course and gave my feet a good scrubbing. I returned to my room to get ready for the Board Meeting.

eating sema

Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


When we returned to the Lodge last night we were greeted by millions and millions of Lake Flies you can see them out over the lake and it looks like black smoke. Every once in a while they decide to come to shore and last night was that once in a while. They are harmless more of a nuisance than anything else; they are attracted to the lights so we were instructed not to keep any lights on in our rooms because the flies are small enough to get through the screens. I worked on my lap top with only a small battery powered lamp and I was still swatting flies. In the morning they were gone again.

We had a great lightning show over the lake at 2:30 am it was a great show that I watched for a few minutes before going back to sleep. I guess that during the rainy season this is a common occurrence it reminded me of the lightning shows back on the prairies.

We arrived at the SACCO at our usual time and we worked on our own for a bit until Davison came in and met with us for the balance of the morning. In the afternoon Davison took us to the Dwangwa Market for a visit. It is amazing what you can find at these markets, they have everything you need from food to cloths to repair shops etc.

Davison let me dive back through the crowded market to the SACCO this was fun as it was only my third time this trip I got to drive and over here in Malawi you drive on the left hand side of the road. So far I have only hit the windshield wiper control twice when trying to turn on the signal light but it is a little weird judging the distance on your left. I got us back safe and sound with only one close call when I was passing a bike rider and only missed him with the mirror by 3 to 5 inches, oh well no harm no foul.

We knocked off a little early today and made it back to the lodge in time to take a boat up the lake to where the hippos and crocks live. So Bruce and I boarded this boat that resembled the boat from Gilligan's Island we only hope it is not longer than a three hour tour. We got up to where the animals were supposed to be but with all the mud in the water from the rains they were too far back in the bush to see. Oh well the boat ride alone was worth the price of admission. Our Captain was named Karma and the first mate was named Gilligan (just kidding his name was Sequoya) treated us royally and didn't even ask us to get out and push when the motor quit. They got it going again after working on it for ten to fifteen minutes and we returned to the Lodge after dark. Chris the Lodge owner was getting worried but we came back before he had someone come out to look for us.

We finished the day off with a late supper and some work on our reports.

Stay tuned for more exciting (at least it is to me) stories from Malawi

Our Cruiser

Fishermen on Lake Malawi

This is where the hippos were suppose to be they were hiding in the bushes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The first night in the Ngala Beach Lodge was good I slept most of the night which for me was good because last year I think I only averaged 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night the whole time I was over here. Davison arrived in the morning to pick us up to go to the SACCO and when we got there he introduced us to the staff. We were given a working area in the Board Room and policies to read to help us understand the SACCO we are here to help.

Davison was busy in the morning so we spent it reviewing their policies the plan was to meet with Davison in the afternoon. For lunch we go to the Kasasa Club (I spelt it wrong in the last post in case anyone is paying attention) but this time I got to drive which was exciting because they have right hand drive vehicles in Malawi and drive on the left hand side of the road. Made it to the restaurant in one piece even though I went in through the out gate and kept turning the windshield wipers on when I was trying to use the signal light.

My bonehead move of the day came at lunch when I was looking at the Perri Perri Sauce I was lifting them up and looking at the flavours and when I lifted the Bar-B-Que flavor the lid came off and the bottle fell to the table spraying this red sauce all over me. I took a direct hit to my shirt; a bit hit my pants and I also got some on my face and in my hair. It took a while to clean it up and Bruce had a good laugh at that mishap. Davison however was very polite and didn't say a thing.

After lunch we met with Davison, the DWASCO SACCO is closed bond SACCO for the employees of the Lloyd Sugar Company out of South Africa. They have 4,255 members of that 3,800 are men and 455 are women. They have member shares in the amount of MK 85,500,000; Member Deposits of MK 5,000,000; Member Loans of MK 83,950,000and total Assets of MK 105,800,000. One of the main issues for the SACCO is their lack of liquidity to fund member requests and they are looking at ways to raise either shares or deposits. They are talking to other related companies to have access to more potential members and they will be tentatively converting to the new banking system in June of this year that has cost this SACCO MK 3,500,000.

This SACCO is innovative in their approach to non interest income they sell paraffin for cooking, cell phone cards (Zane and TNM) and they also sell empty sacks for maize to their members. Since Davison has been Manager they have won SACCO of the year three times and Davison was named Manager of the year for District two.

Once the meeting was completed Davison took us on a tour of the compound within the Plantation where he showed us the first SACCO Office which was one room and had four employees. We walked through the local market and past people's houses and to the church compound. They call it the church compound because they have all denominations from Muslin to Jehovah's Witness to Catholic. Davison stated that there are no religious issues other than each congregation trying to convert others to their religion and one church trying to sing louder than the church beside them.

That finished our first day at the SACCO.

Banking Hall at DWASCO SACCO


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back in Malawi

The flight from London was interesting I sat with Christian who is the Director Social Services Europe, Middle East & Africa for Oracle he is from Denmark. We had a long discussion about the differences in our cultures. In Denmark they have a high tax rate but they do not pay for health care and post secondary education. Their wait times for most surgeries is 2 – 3 months and they have private insurance that you can buy that will get you to the front of the line in a private hospital. For that privilege they are paying up to 50% in income tax plus they have a 25% value added tax on top of that.

We must have talked for around 4 hours then I watched the movie District 9 which takes place in Johannesburg which coincidently was where we were flying to. So that took care of six hours in an eleven hour flight you would think I would be able to sleep but no. Do you know how long five hours goes by when you can't sleep and your but is sore from sitting, it is long. For the second year in a row I made the trip from London to Jo-burg without sleeping.

Our four hour layover in Jo-burg was uneventful and the best part was we had to go outside to board our plane in the warm African sun. A luck would have it I sat beside Rosemary Kanyuka the Chief State Advocate for Malawi Ministry of Justice who I had a conversation with all the way to Malawi. Still no sleep for 29 hours so far but at least I know a high powered Lawyer in Malawi.

We got through Customs and everyone's luggage arrived which was a good sign. We were met by Innocent and Henry from MUSSCO to drive us to the Sunbird Lilongwe where we checked in and I changed some US cash for Malawi Kwacha. Everyone was beat from the trip so we all went to our rooms I decided I was going to stay awake until night so I had a shower and went for a walk. We met for supper and went to Mama Mia an Italian Restaurant we had eaten there last year and they delivered a good meal again this year.

Made it back to the hotel and crashed around 10:00 pm awake for 38 hours so I slept pretty well.

We met Dixon the MUSSCO operation Manager at the MUSSCO office in the morning for a quick briefing before we head out to our respective SACCOs. Dixon reported that the SACCO membership in Malawi has grown to 100,000 from 70,000 when we were here last year and assets have grown by MK 500,000,000 good growth by anyone's standard. MUSSCO negotiated the purchase of a new banking system from Kenya that all of the SACCOs will be converting to within the next two years. They scrapped the banking system they were converting to last year since it did not give them the capacity they needed. Each SACCO now has a policy on Gender and HIV and Dixon stated there has been some movement on gender.

Their focus this year is member recruitment and working with the Government to pass the Financial Cooperative Bill which they hope will be law by this fall.

Robert and Paul then left with Henry for their trip to Blantyre and the rest of us got in a vehicle with Dixon to head north. My bonehead move of the day came just before we left when Bruce and I were looking for the international cell phone calling cards and I purchased 4 sim cards by mistake. We asked the clerk at the store for international cell phone cards and that is what he handed me, I just put them in my pocket without really looking at them, big mistake. That wouldn't have been so bad but we needed sim cards for the phones and had to buy them at another place because I bought the last four that store had. We didn't find out what I had bought until Bruce showed Kati about an hour and a half into our trip.

The trip was uneventful but the scenery is beautiful since it is the rainy season here and everything is so green and lush. We arrived at Dwangwa and went in to meet Davison the SACCO Manager Bruce and I will be working with and went to the Kasa Club for something to eat. This is the place Robert and Paul stayed in last year and we thought we were staying there as well. But no they were booked up and they got us a room at the Ngala Beach Lodge when we were told this, visions of last year popped into my mind. But my visions were not well founded as Chris and Sandy the owners met us and made us feel most welcome. This Lodge is right on one of the beaches on Lake Malawi and I have a great view of the beach and Lake Malawi right outside my door. There is a family of monkeys that run from tree to tree Chris says they are pests since they eat their garden vegetables but the tourists like watching them.

The other neat thing that they have here is two gecko lamps at the bar that three or four real geckos hide under to keep warm and attack insects that are attracted to the light. They were fun to watch scurrying around eating bugs it was great entertainment. So here is where my bonehead move comes into play both Bruce and I phoned home and used up 1,000 credits in eleven minutes, so my advice to you is learn the difference between a sim card and an international cell phone calling card or it will be expensive to phone home.

Stay tuned for stories of our first day at the SACCO in Dwangwa.

The view from the deck of my room in Ngala Beach Lodge
 The owners Sandy and Chris whomade us feel real welcome duringour stay

 Ngala Beach Lodge

Getting started

I have had some technical difficulties with posting my blogs so I will start from the beginning of this adventure with this blog post.

It was a good thing that I got to the airport early on the 17th to start this adventure since when I went to the self serve kiosk to get my ticket there was no record of my tickets. So I went to the purchase ticket desk to find out what happened, after waiting in line I get to the counter and they tell me to go to the desk where you check in. So over to that line I go and when I got to the desk he looked for ten minutes before he gave up and sent me back to the first counter I was at. Now I am starting to wonder if I will even start this journey so while waiting in line at the ticket purchase counter I phoned the travel agency that booked the tickets. They found my ticket numbers and with that information the Air Canada agent was able to get find me in the system and get my tickets. She also took the time to answer my questions and gave me a print out to use at the other airports, she also made sure that I was not charged for my extra bag that I was checking in.

Then it was off to the security check point and for the first time in lots of flights it beeped when I went through the line. The metal snaps on my pants set it off and their wand was not working correctly because it kept beeping as well. I must have stood there for five minutes as they padded me down, I thought oh no here comes a body cavity search but thankfully they were satisfied that I did not have any weapons on me so they let me through.

When I got to London Bruce was waiting for me, I was suppose to arrive first but he could not fly to Calgary to connect because of the fog so he flew to Toronto then on to London. We then took the train to Paddington Station and had to catch a subway to Kings Cross Station. When we got off the train we took the wrong turn and had to walk all the way back with our luggage across Paddington which if you have ever been there you will know that this was not just a short jaunt. Since both of us packed two suit cases it was a workout. We got to Kings Cross and then took a cab to the hotel where we rested for a couple hours waiting for Robert to get there.

We then went in search of our first English pub to sample some of their wares the fish and chips were excellent but the beer I tried was not that good. From there we made it down to Buckingham Palace and looked around for awhile and it started to rain so we found another English pub to wait it out. I tried another English beer and so far I am two for two in the does not taste good department. After the rain quit we went back to our area and found an Italian Restaurant and had a two hour meal the food was good but the service was slow.

The next day we bought our tour bus tickets and made our way down to the bus station to start the tour we also bought our tickets to the London Eye which we went on as well. The view from the Eye was amazing you can see a long way. After we got off the Eye we went on the river cruise up to the Tower Bridge and got off on that stop. We walked around the Tower of London and then went to find something to eat. Back on the bus we saw where Captain Blye was buried and the traffic circle the Griswold's could not get off in European Vacation.

We got off the bus and walked to Piccadilly Circus and man was it crowded we spent the rest of the day exploring until we went for supper in Chinatown. We took the Underground back to Kings Cross and it was so packed in all the cars I do not think they could have put another person in the car. I am not sure how people do that on a regular basis I like people but that was too much. On our way back to the hotel we got lost again and had to ask directions London is laid out weird.

Our last day in London we rode the tour bus again and seen some of the sights we missed the day before after we got off the bus we stopped at our last English pub for lunch. Back to the hotel to check out and catch a cab to the air port for the 16 hour flight to Lilongwe. I have decided during the cab ride to the airport that driving in London is nuts. The roads are narrow and you need to know where you are going. We met Paul and Dennis as soon as we finished checking our bags and found out that Niki had some passport issues and would not join us until later in the week.

Stay tuned for stories on Malawi in the next blog.

Our Hotel, The Holiday Inn Kings Cross

London Eye

Subway in London, they are everywhere

Street scene in London

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Internet Access again

We ran into an issue with internet the first few days so this has been the first chance I have had to update this blog.  Over here in Malawi I have to use wifi cards so I will see how it goes.  February 18th I flew to London England to meet with Bruce and Robert.  We were there until Saturday and we flew out at six pm making it to Lilongwe at 12:30 pm.

Stay tuned for more detailed updates coming soon.

In the London Eye

In a neighborhood pub

Look Kids Big Ben, Parliament

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Malawi earthquakes in December

The pictures are from the earthquakes that happened in and around Karonga Malawi from December 6, 2009 to December 21, 2009.  The Credit Union in Karonga was one of the Credit Union's Bruce and I visited last year.  The Credit Union Manager Itai Msiska reported that at least 350 of her members have been affected by the earthquake.  Their main branch and their northern branch both suffered damage.

Even though I am not scheduled to travel to Karonga this trip I have kept in contact with Itai and can report that MUSCCO, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and CDF have stepped up to help the people of the region.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Itinerary received

Our assignements came in today and it looks like Bruce and I are going to be heading to Dwangwa 260km north of Lilongwe to work with the Dwangwa SACCO (Credit Union) from February 22nd to 26th.  Then back to Lilongwe until March 7th. 

The areas marked in Green are where our teams will be travelling to Dennis and Niki are headed north to Mizuzu while Paul and Robert are going south to Blantyre.

The start of the assignment is getting close, stay tuned for more updates.