Stawa the Supermom

May 9, 2019
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

Stawa James is a quiet woman — shy and unassuming by nature. But the story of her journey is both compelling and heart-warming. She is our hero.

“I didn’t go to school, because I had no clothes to wear.”

“My life in this village was very tough… my mother couldn’t afford to give me most things. I used to walk around without clothes. Out of pity, women in my village gave me a chitenje (wrap) to wear so I could cover myself,” Stawa speaks quietly, reflecting on a childhood and early life filled with hardship and disadvantage. “I didn’t go to school because I had no clothes to wear. My mother could not afford to give us enough food — she used to do casual labor to make some money for us. One day, she found a man who was willing to marry me.” Stawa was 15 years old when she got married.

Today, Stawa’s life — and the lives of her own children — couldn’t be more different. Once looked down upon by her neighbors in Chitute village, she is now a model for others in the community who struggle to get by. And people from surrounding villages in Malawi come to hear her speak and see for themselves how she has turned her life around.

All it took was for someone to believe in her and lend a helping hand.

Stawa James at her new home in the village of Chituke in Mangochi District, Malawi. Stawa says her family's circumstances have improved dramatically since she started using conservation agriculture. Concern has been carrying out conservation agriculture programming in Malawi since 2012, with the assistance of Accenture Ireland.

Stawa James in front of her new home in the village of Chituke in Mangochi District, Malawi.  Photo: Kieran McConville

“The way they grasp this opportunity is just amazing.”

“We actively seek out the poorest people in a community and try to help them tap into their own potential,” says Concern’s Thokozani Kalanje. “Mostly it tends to be women, and the way they grasp this opportunity is just amazing.”

Thoko is in charge of Concern’s “Graduation” programming in the south of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. It provides life skills and business training to those who take part, while supporting them with cash payments as they learn to change their perspective on life. Then they receive a grant to help fund their business idea, with ongoing support from Thoko and her team. One of the key elements to any small business is access to credit, and new Community Savings and Loan Organizations have been set up for exactly that purpose.

Stawa James (purple) with her family.

Stawa James (purple) with her husband Robert and children Shakira and Laisa. Photo: Kieran McConville

“With this field I used to harvest one bag of maize — but now I harvest 8 bags.”

For Stawa, a mother of 2 boys and 5 girls, it was a game changer. It was the difference between surviving and thriving. She was trained in Conservation Agriculture — a method of farming that reduces labor, increases crop yields, and copes with drought — and produced spectacular results.

Stawa James with her crop of Soya near the village of Chituke in Mangochi Distrct, Malawi. Stawa says her yields have increased dramatically since she startd using conservation agriculture. Concern has been carrying out Conservation Agriculture programming in Malawi since 2012, with the assistance of Accenture Ireland.

Stawa, with some of her crops, near Chitute.

“With this field I used to harvest one bag of maize — but now I harvest 8 bags,” she says. That’s a huge increase and it has effectively put economic power back into her own hands. “Everyone in this village knew I used to sleep hungry and my children would sleep hungry and would not go to school because they did not have enough food. Now, my life has changed in so many ways.”

“Stawa is a such a strong and determined woman — it didn’t take much to help her get to this point. She did it herself.”

Stawa points to the sturdy home she has built, the bicycle she bought for her husband, the goats and chickens that roam the compound, and to the young woman sitting in the shade of the house, studying a schoolbook. “My children can go to school and they have books and clothes. My dream is that they should not struggle the way I did — I want them to go to college.”

The young woman is 17-year-old Laisa, who looks proudly at Stawa, and shares the same dream. “I want to study at university and become a doctor… I want to help people,” she says with a quiet determination she most definitely inherited from her Mom.

Stawa James with her daughter, Laisa James.

Stawa with her daughter, Laisa.

Stawa’s family eats three meals a day now, and there is enough maize left over to sell at the market. Combined with the money her husband Robert makes from casual labor, they are doing well and Stawa has plans to extend her farm and business activities further. “My neighbors are surprised at the things I have now,” she says, smiling shyly. Thoko from Concern is not surprised. “Stawa is a such a strong and determined woman — it didn’t take much to help her get to this point. She did it herself.

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