Wanawake Wezesha Project: 2022 | 2023
Wanawake Wezesha (Empowered Women): Supporting Maternal Health Through Financial Literacy
Empowering rural women socially and economically makes a difference to their families, communities, and countries. Vikapu Bomba (VB) “Fantastic Baskets” creates economic opportunities for previously unemployed rural women in Southern Tanzania, through the design and production of high-quality and ethically sourced handwoven Iringa baskets. Baskets are sold in reliable and sustainable premium markets both regionally and internationally including in the United States.
Despite having a stable income source, many women face challenges in securing their long-term financial future. Lack of financial literacy and management skills hinders their ability to plan effectively and manage resources which leads to several challenges, including during pregnancy, delivery and medical emergencies while raising their children and supporting their families. Several women shared anecdotally with VB founder Catherine Shembilu and members of her team the kinds of specific challenges of unexpected medical visits when they had complications during pregnancy or the financial shock of having to have a cesarean section when they had planned for a natural birth and had no money put aside to cover the cost. The women described experiencing significant stress from the financial burden of healthcare costs during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum.
As an alum of the US State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowship, Catherine partnered with a long-standing colleague from her previous work in public health who is based in the United States. Catherine’s colleague, Andrea Mantsios, is the founder of Public Health Innovation and Action (Phia), a public health consultancy based in New York, NY. Together Catherine and Andrea applied to the US State Department’s Mandela Washington Reciprocal Exchange to fund a project to address this crucial need of the women of VB. Catherine and Andrea were fortunate to receive funding from the Mandela Washington Reciprocal Exchange for “Wanawake Wezesha” (Empowered Women) which allowed for the development and implementation of community-led financial literacy training and support networks to foster shared knowledge, experiences, and strategies for increasing financial security to reduce the burden of pregnancy and maternal health care costs.
Project Wanawake Wazesha Outcomes:
The 3-day workshop included the following activities:
- A visual budgeting exercise with an overview of savings strategies
- Drafting a savings plan for their household
- Elevating voices of women who’ve had success with saving sharing challenges and lessons learned
- An introduction to mobile and bank savings accounts and the opportunity to open each
- Support for the formation of 3 community savings groups including the election of leadership and establishment of group rules
Throughout these activities, the focus on healthcare and specifically saving for pregnancy and the post-partum period when women are unable to work and thus have no income remained central to group discussions.
Women described a sense of empowerment in being able to come together with their peers for these activities to strategize approaches to the challenges they face and to identify their top priorities for promoting the health and well-being of themselves and their families.
Public Health Innovation & Action
Mandela Washington Fellowship