A charity in Malawi known as the Culture Awakening Society is running a project that uses the profits from the sale of a monthly magazine to create employment. The magazine, called "The Big Issue," is sold only by homeless people and slum dwellers.
The headlines in a recent edition promoted Malawi's efforts to fight AIDS. It included a story of a 14-year-old boy who is taking care of two siblings. Their parents had died of AIDS. In the same edition is an article on the push to have women gain half the seats in parliament and a profile of musician Lucius Banda.
The founder and chairman of the project, Dr. John Chikago, says the concept was hatched in 2000 in Japan, where he was working as Malawi's ambassador. "I used to buy the magazine in Japan but what fascinated me is that it was sold by only old people. When I enquired about it, I was told that we can establish similar project in Malawi," he said, and there they decided to focus on the poor.
About 250 vendors have been recruited so far. They get half the profit from each issue they sell. The editor of the magazine, Philip Pemba, told VOA that they are trained in business management skills."They sign a vendor code of conduct outlining the strict rules to which they must adhere while selling the magazine, including no begging, no drinking, no swearing and no harassment of the public," he says.
The vendors are issued an official identity card which they must display when selling the magazine.
The Big Issue Malawi is affiliated with the anti-poverty group, International Network of Street Papers in Scotland. The group is providing the Culture Awakening Society with strategic support, including training, consultancy, and access to funding.
The network has more than 100 street papers in over 40 countries. Malawi has become the sixth country in Africa to introduce the magazine. Others include South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Ethiopia. The Government of Scotland is supporting the project with a three-year grant of over 132,000 US dollars.