Fanny Phiri, a 36 year old widow, earns a living by distilling and selling Kachasu, a local spirit. Like many women at Vintenga Village in the area of Traditional Authority Malengachanzi in Nkhotakota district, Fanny’s day starts with household chores such as collecting water from a tap about 200 metres from her house. She cleans the house and prepares herself and her only child, Mayamiko, breakfast. After putting her house in order, what follows is her business, either distilling or selling Kachasu.

One evening in November 2012, as she was attending to her customers, Fanny heard a village crier from the group village head making an announcent.

‘‘Kuli msonkhano mawa kwa a gulupu, nthawi ya two koloko mawa (Your are all being invited to a meeting at Group Village Head Vintenga’s court tomorrow at 2pm),’’ came the message.

Fanny did not know what had prompted the Group Village to call for the meeting.

Although she had some business to do on the day of the meeting, Fanny knew that the invitation was not a request. Attending the meeting was an obligation. Failure to attend for no proper reasons would be considered insubordination to the traditional leader.

At the meeting the message was unpacked; the meeting was all about suggesting possible means of migrating from basic to improved sanitation after some Community Led Total Sanitation(CLTS) triggering. Fanny’s village underwent CLTS triggering, and the community responded positively by embarking on the construction of basic latrines to fight open defecation.

However, the triggering and sanitation marketing approach facilitated by Hygiene Village Project, operating on a sub-grant from the Global Sanitation Fund through Plan Malawi, increased demand for improved sanitation.

This willingness to attain improved sanitation faces one hurdle, though: inadequate money to invest in improved sanitation.

‘‘I have been advertising my skills to the communities, and I am convinced that people want to have improved latrines but the challenge is that improved latrines cost a lot,” said Zawadi Muononga, a mason trained to construct and sell sanitation facilities in communities.

“Just how can a person earning MK10, 000.00 (about US$22.00) a month use part of this money to buy a bag of cement for a slab?” wondered Muononga, rather rhetorically.

Then, a bag of cement was going at MK6, 000. 00, about US$13.00, which among more pressing priorities such as food, a MK10, 000.00/month earner could not afford.

The Hygiene Village Project, therefore, proposed at the meeting the formation of Village Loan and Saving Groups to enable households to raise enough money that could be invested in improved sanitation.

After the meeting at the Village Head’s court, 12 groups mushroomed within Group Village Head Vintenga’s community.

The groups were subsequently trained in the management of Savings and Loans Groups. Fanny, 28 other women and seven men formed a group called Chigumula Bank Mkhonde.

‘‘In our groups we agreed that the savings should be invested into household sanitation,” said Fanny Phiri.

“I am going to use my savings in purchasing iron sheets and cement for a new latrine.”

Fanny already has MK64, 000. 00 (about US$140.00) in savings and she says she hopes to save more than K100,000.00 by the end of 2013 when the group members are expected to pocket their savings.

According to Fanny, it was not easy to save money as an individual but saving as a group instilled the spirit of ‘competition’ among group members, thereby enabling each member to save a lot of money.

Looking at what Fanny and her group members are planning to do with their savings, it seems facilitating the formation of Savings Groups to save money for improved sanitation could be more practical than linking communities to microfinance institutions that lend money for investment in sanitation at household level.