Airtel Money takes aid to hungry villagers

By Gregory Gondwe, Lilongwe, Malawi

When Airtel Malawi limited introduced the phone-based cash transfer innovation, called Airtel Money, the buzz was on how this facility will allow users to enjoy various exciting transactions where through its use one would pay bills for their television subscriptions and utility bills.

At first, it appeared that an illiterate villager would not be made part of all this Airtel money razzmatazz. But this was proven to the contrary last week when Airtel Malawi joined hands with Save the Children Fund to provide for 650 villagers. 

The Villagers of Zomba at Dzaone Trading Centre in Malawi’s old Capital City, had something to smile about this month, when they realised that Airtel Money cannot only be enjoyed by urban dwellers.

The Airtel Malawi and Save the Children Airtel Money programme is set to assist poor families who are facing hunger due to poor harvest in the last growing season.

Each villager will be getting K8, 250 every month up to March 2013 through Airtel Money.

“We are proud to be associated with the programme which is making poor people happy,” said Airtel Money Country Manager Andrew Santhe.

Santhe explained that the programme is funded by Word Food Programme which has identified Save the Children as its agent.

“Airtel is coming in because of our programme, Airtel Money, which is convenient for the initiative,” said Santhe.

Save the Children Malawi Country Director Mathews Pickard said his organisation chose Airtel Money because it is convenient as they discovered that when people are given food aids some of them sell it.

“We, therefore, thought it wise to give them money so that they choose for themselves what to do with it,” he said.

Pickard said this is convenient to the people and even to Save the Children Malawi because they will not be involved in many logistics such as transportation of maize and other materials needed.

Pickard said the emergency response through Airtel Money will benefit 3 130 households until March when the next harvest is due.

“We decided to start providing cash to vulnerable households after studies in conjunction with World Food Programme established that people were starving despite enough stocks of foodstuffs on sale,” he said.

“Cash distribution innovation is more efficient and effective than traditional disaster responses in two ways. First, it gives vulnerable families choice to determine and buy just what they need most while distributing food items may scratch where it does not itch and force people to sell relief items,” Pickard explained further.

He said the second is that it is cheaper to give cash than transporting trucks loaded with foodstuffs.

Seventy-three-year old Mary Paulo, an old woman who is one of the beneficiaries acknowledged that receiving money through her phone has allowed her to save and withdraw it only when she really needs to buy something for the survival of my family.

 “With money in my phone, I cannot wait to go and buy a bag,” Paulo says. “We don’t have maize in our homes, but there are is plenty of it at the market.”

Paulo who looks after eight dependants says she walked for about five hours to get to the distribution point,  because without this assistance her family would have died of hunger.

The villagers crammed at the open ground at the trading centre to open Airtel Money accounts, and soon after becoming over K8,000 richer they now said they could now a 50kg bag of maize which is selling at K5 000 at their local market.

Despite her age, Paulo says she also has an old and sickly mother  and desperation engulfed her when she realised poor harvest that came as a result of poor rains.

The phone-aided cash transfer scheme uses a secured password to effect money transfer.

Airtel Malawi corporate services manager Bigboy Makoloma says in Zomba alone, more than 3 000 people are already using Airtel Money facility.

He however, said the services used in the village on managing food availability is unique unlike the services that all those using the Airtel money in Zomba have been enjoying as it was more to do with mobile banking and bill payments.

Airtel has since distributed handsets to food insecure account holders so that they can redeem their monthly allocation as need arises.

They have also certified agents who will be providing these services at a commission

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