In the aftermath of a deadly tropical cyclone that caused immense devastation in Malawi, Aequitas Global colleague Ellen-Janet Adelakin and I witnessed first-hand the resolve and resilience of the Malawian people to rebuild their homes and communities. We were there to learn about the work of Development Aid People to People (DAPP), a non-profit organization that supports rural communities, schools, and farmers in Malawi.
Cyclone Freddy has left a devastating toll on the country, with over 500,000 people displaced, 500 lives lost and 1,300 people injured, while the nearby countries of Mozambique and Madagascar have also been affected. As the cyclone began on 4 February and ended on 14 March, the World Meteorological Organization has said it is likely the longest-ever in recorded history. Humanitarian organisations have warned against the possibility of waterborne diseases worsening the situation, whilst highlighting the impact of climate change in the region is likely to increase the frequency of cyclones.
In the face of such tragedy, it is heartening to see organisations such as DAPP Malawi providing immediate support to communities in flood-affected areas. In partnership with Humana People to People, DAPP Malawi has adopted an innovative approach to development centred around the sale of second-hand clothes, a sector that has been unfairly vilified in Western media. However, the reality is that the sale of second-hand clothes in countries like Malawi plays a vital role in the local economy and supports countless livelihoods, providing a vital source of income for many people in Malawi, particularly for those living in rural areas.
The sale of second-hand clothes in countries like Malawi, funds an entirely circular economy, providing employment opportunities for thousands of people who work at sorting centres locally and internationally and many more shopkeepers and traders at the local markets. At the heart of DAPP Malawi’s work is a commitment to empowering local communities, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas. The surplus made by DAPP Malawi from the sale of second-hand clothes goes towards supporting critical development projects, such as HIV prevention education, farmer training in managing the effects of climate change, and teacher training.
During my visit to Malawi, I had the opportunity to meet with some of the traders and field officers at the local market in Blantyre, who rely on the reuse of second-hand clothes to earn a living. Most of these traders are women who have found financial empowerment through their work in the circular economy, helping them to grow their businesses over the years and put their children through education. The clothes they sell are good quality and expertly sorted, allowing each trader to specialize in a particular niche, such as sports clothes or children’s wear.
The recent cyclone may have disrupted the market, but the traders had regrouped and were back in business in no time. DAPP Malawi’s swift response to the disaster was also impressive, with enough clothing donations sent to reach over 20,000 people affected by the cyclone.
In the midst of this tragedy, the Malawians have shown remarkable determination to rebuild their lives and communities, while the work being done by DAPP Malawi and Humana People to People is a shining example of the power of innovation and collaboration in the field of development.
By Simon Benson