BALAKA area, lies many kilometers from Kabwe, and where people are still wallowing in poverty. The area is situated along the line of rail where people expect life to be easy due to accessibility but this is not the case for the people of Balaka area.
Some people are detached from reality because of various factors which include lack of development. For many years now, people in this area have built grass-thatched houses not because they are lazy but simply because they cannot afford to construct decent houses as a result of not having enough funds.
Most of these people depend on farming, as it is the only activity to sustain their livelihood and also as a mean s of taking their children to school. It is sad to learn that women who are the majority of the population, are the most vulnerable as most of them are widows.
As a result of poverty thriving among women, cases of early marriages are numerous in this area because they think it is the only way to earn a living.
It is not fair to judge them as bad people but surely can poverty be alleviated if girls are not educated?
Poverty and hunger can be alleviated in Zambia if a woman is empowered with knowledge as well as resources to help her earn a living.
It is true when a woman is empowered in a way the whole household benefits because women are the most committed in society.
Government through the Ministry of Gender and Child Development has been making efforts to empower women but this has not yielded good results as most of them are in remote areas.
From the time Inonge Wina was sworn in as Minister of Gender and Child Development, she has tried to empower women by involving them in activities that will enable them earn a living.
The minister, from time to time, has been describing women in Zambia as being in the bracket of the most vulnerable and the poorest such that when it comes to poverty rating statistics, they are always found on the highest side of depravity.
"Women are vulnerable to all these things including the disease burden simply because they have no access to resources that can improve their lives," Inonge Wina said.
It is against this background that Heifer International Zambia (HIZ) has pledged to help women in Zambia in a bid to complement Government efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty among women.
Recently, Heifer Country Director James Kasongo announced that over 6,000 women in Central Province were empowered with cattle which are dairy animals so that they can earn a living.
"We have empowered more than 6,000 women in Central Province since 2012 with cattle, pigs and goats," Mr Kasongo said.
Mr Kasongo says his organisation has decided to empower women with heifer cows because women are directly involved in food security and also that they constitute the majority of farmers in Zambia.
"Women are the ones that take care of the food security at home. If you empower a woman, she will take care of the whole household thereby reducing hunger and poverty at household level, in Zambia, the majority of the farmers are women," he explained.
However, in order for these women to yield good results, they are put in groups of not less than 20 so that they can work together.
The move to group them is to promote the spirit of sharing because the organisation believes that when one person has been empowered, the women they in turn would also empower others in the community.
Mary Chirwa who is the chairlady for one of the cooperatives known as Masengo Women Group in Balaka village explains that the group was formed in 2002 with the aim of tackling their challenges.
"The main purpose we formed this group was because of the problems that we faced in our homes and community at large. The challenges were, food security, education for the children and HIV/AIDS," Ms Chirwa explaining that since the formation of the group, HIZ came on board in 2011 to help them.
"On December,18 th 2011, HIZ brought 20 heifers cows and gave them to 20 members of our group and apart from the dairy animals, each family was given three pockets of sand, pasture seed, bucket, milking cane, drug kit for the group and high cattle sprayers," Ms Chirwa explained.
The 20 cows started calving and having milk the following year in March and later on the group members started passing on their gifts to the other vulnerable members of the family within their communities.
The idea of the Passing on Programme (POG) is to promote the spirit of sharing in the community so that hunger and poverty can be reduced.
Once the 20 women have been given cows each, they are expected to donate their first calves to the vulnerable in the communities they come from and this has continued since 2012.
Ms Chirwa said since 2012, the group has been able to pass on their calves to more than 10 families in Balaka village.
Heifer International has been able to empower women in different provinces through the programme of POG.
Heifer International decided to link the group to Parmalat through the milking collection centre so that their milk could be marketed.
From milk which she gets from her cows MS ,Chirwa says she has been able to become self-reliant as she is assured of getting not less than K600 monthly.
She said she had been able to sponsor her first born child who is studying Mass Communication at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Great East Road campus.
"After my husband died in 2006, l couldn't take my children to school because I had no source of income. But now my first born child is at UNZA studying Mass Com. I'm now a happy and proud mother," she said with a smile.
Ms Chirwa has since urged other widows to stay focused and form cooperatives that can be sponsored by some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like HIZ so that their livelihoods can be changed.
Ms Charity Sanka who is a widow and a group member also said she had even built a two roomed house from the money she collected monthly from the sale of milk to Parmalat.
"For many years I was living in a thatched house. I'm able to buy cement and this time, I have completed constructing a two bed-roomed house," she said.
She says she is able to take care of her children and other members of the community a thing that she never did before joining the women group.
"Life was very hard before I joined the women's group. I used to struggle just to earn money for one meal. We used to eat once a day but now, I can manage to feed my family and relatives three times daily," she explained.
Another beneficiary who is also a widow Ms Dainess Mulombwa disclosed that her husband died in 2002 in a road accident.
After the death of her husband, her late husband's relatives grabbed all her property and left her with nine children and five dependants.
"My in laws grabbed everything I had in the house and only left me with the nine children and five dependants, as if that was not enough, they chased me from the house," she narrated while tears were dropping on her face.
Ms Mulombwa however said she is no longer living a miserable life because she now has two cows and a very sprawling farm.
She said she had been able to buy farming inputs and was planning to expand her farm so that many people can benefit from it.
"I have been helping orphans from the time I was empowered, I want to expand my farm so that many people can benefit from it ," she said.
Strides by the Government to deal with hunger and poverty may not be achieved if women in the rural areas are not empowered.
Indeed, women must be empowered because they are the ones that are key in taking care of families. Once a woman is empowered, then the entire household benefits.
However, Government alone cannot manage to empower every woman in the country hence the need for non governmental organisations and the private sector to help fight poverty to achieve a world without hunger and disease.