DENIS Robson, from the Thondwe Community Forum brings us the latest news from the group. Thondwe is a small community, located in the Zomba district of Malawi in south-eastern Africa. It is linked with Innerleithen, Walkerburn and Traquair for mutual learning and fundraising.

During the early partnership discussions, it became clear that our sister community wanted to develop entrepreneurial skills particularly for women.

Living in rural Malawi with little infrastructure to provide outside employment, starting a small business is the best way to earn a living.

They informed us that small business development helps empower women and transform lives. By investing in hard working, thrifty business women from the entire community will benefit from their success. With no access to bank loans we wondered how capital could be obtained.

By twinning local businesses, we believe we can create opportunities for both communities to fundraise, share skills and strengthen our links.

So began the grant making and mentoring programme for income generating activities. The possibilities identified were a café, hairdressing business, tailoring, welding, bee-keeping and egg production.

Up stepped the Innerleithen businesses, beginning with No 1 Peebles Road Café, who already had a charitable ethos and like-minded customer support. They relished the idea of a start-up Malawian café in their image as a zero-waste community hub and the Thondwe Community Forum was selected as the charitable partner for 2017.

Similarly, the Number Six Hair Design team were keen to fill a community need and give Thondwe girls a chance to earn a living. Both businesses organised lively creative fundraising events from static cycle rides, night rides, a sponsored abseil and themed lunches.

It gripped the interest of customers and the community alike and together they raised over £6,000. A group of women with some experience in sewing came forward to start the tailoring business.

Thanks to funding from a quilt show, sewing quiz and Tweeddale Quilters, the group in Thondwe now operate very effectively with treadle foot sewing machines, lots of colourful material and a lot of hilarity.

In Thondwe, seed money has been granted to rent premises, buy inputs like equipment/material/ingredients and train staff. Things have started off well with enthusiastic teams filling gaps in the market and gaining experience through on the job training.

A mentoring programme is being introduced to overcome the challenges of educating team leaders on financial information and business practice. They lack the knowledge to organise the businesses in a formal way.

The Forum has made a great start to giving Thondwe women a helping hand as highlighted in Rev Picklen’s testimony:

These businesses have created a wonderful job opportunity and make them busy with something helpful.

The young ladies both at the Café and Salon are improving their homes, while the tailoring business gives much opportunity to the school leavers for their living. Thanks to all those who keep promoting the Thondwe Link all over the Scottish Borders.