Likoma Island is the larger of two inhabited islands in the northern part of Lake Malawi and is where Ufulu was conceived and ran its first workshops. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but in our opinion, it is also one of the most beautiful. Lake Malawi occupies 1/3 of the country of Malawi, in central southern Africa.
The lake is known as the ‘Year Lake’ because it is 365 miles long, 52 miles wide and has 12 rivers running into it. Likoma Island has 14,500 people living on it in 13 villages.
There are no tarred roads on Likoma, although it does have an airstrip allowing small aircraft to land. Numerous boats, which criss-cross the lake, service Likoma providing regular transport links for the island population. The largest of these is the Illala Ferry, which travels up and down the lake on a weekly basis. Pretty much everything on the island comes on or off by boat. Illala day is always a huge spectacle down at the port with cargoes of fish, maize, wood and every household item imaginable being manhandled on and off the ferry in small wooden boats.
The main employment on Likoma is fishing. The women spend their days running the homes, looking after the children, collecting water from standpipes, tending the crops and cooking the meals. Life is pretty tough for the average woman in Malawi, about 50% of the population of Malawi live under the poverty line and 25% live in extreme poverty.
Likoma however, has a number of hotels on it, from backpackers through to luxury resorts and between them they employ a significant number of the islanders. One of the hotels, Kaya Mawa which is run by Green Safaris, also has a creative workshop ‘Katundu’, where local women produce beautiful jewellery, artwork and furniture, which is sold both on the island, within Malawi and internationally. One of the first workshops that Ufulu ran on Likoma was with the Katundu women.
The main hub on the island is Likoma Town and the biggest market is in Mbamba, which is also where St Peters Cathedral is located. This is the largest cathedral in the whole of Africa and was built by Scottish missionaries in the 1880s.
There are three senior schools on Likoma Island. Chipyela Community Secondary Day School is in the south of the island. St Peters School is attached to the Cathedral, in the centre of the island and Likoma Secondary School is in the north. Ufulu works with all 3 senior schools, as well as the numerous junior schools, providing free cups via our workshops, ensuring that all girls on the island are able to fulfil their potential and complete their education.
Likoma has a cottage hospital, also based in the centre of the island, close to the cathedral. The matron of the hospital is called Ulemu and she was one of the first women on the island to receive a cup from Ufulu. Ufulu works with the hospital medical team, keeping them informed of the women we have provided cups to, and we hold a great many workshops there, as it is so central to all of the villages on the island. Mr Sibale, the District Health Officer for Likoma is very proud that Ufulu chose to start their cup project on Likoma and has been incredibly supportive of the work that we are doing.
The waters around Likoma are crystal clear, as is the case with most of Lake Malawi. The diving and snorkelling are truly excellent and the lake is host to many varieties of cichlid fish. A documentary in the BBC Africa series was dedicated to Lake Malawi and its breath-taking beauty. It forms part of the Great Rift Valley and is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world.
Likoma was chosen as the first place for Ufulu to run its workshops for various reasons. First and foremost this is where Nandi lives and where Widge was staying when she realised how dire the situation is for the majority of the women on the island, in terms of having access to decent sanitary products. Widge has spent a great deal of time on Likoma and has a good network of contacts there. The island also has a contained population, and Widge and Nandi realised that it would be an ideal place to be able to maintain good, regular contact with the women and girls provided with cups, as the project started out.
Like most small island communities, Likoma people are incredibly friendly and caring. Ufulu has been able to establish a good framework for workshops and the project as a whole; and the feedback and encouragement we have received from the islanders has been invaluable. Widge made a promise to the women of Likoma to provide them with decent sanitary products and help them out of period poverty. We are very proud of the fact that this promise has come to fruition and that as a result, Ufulu is now beginning to conduct its workshops across Malawi.