By Kaitlin Shendale
Malawi is a life with hardships and still water. Where certain people have the courage and will to break free from the poverty cycle, fighting to create a life many here can only ever dream of. Others continue the Malawian life many have lived time after time, a limited life with many struggles.
Blister Longwe is someone you don’t come across often in the small villages of Northern Malawi. He is a fisherman and businessman living in a fishing community just off Lake Malawi with his wife, Beatrice, and five children.
Blister lives a successful life for a Malawian and is proud that it comes from his fishing turned businessman career. In 1995 he started this journey by purchasing his first fishing gear set – nets, lights, and boats.
Once Blister could start bringing in the fish, he and his wife worked fiercely together to grow this small family business. Husbands and wives working together is not seen in the typical family home of Malawi where the culture often doesn’t allow women of the household to do much more than household chores. However, Blister and his wife perfectly exemplify what is possible.
Blister would gather his crew, approximately eight, and rise early in the morning to see how much was brought in after a night of fishing. As a businessman, he sells from the beach and buys from others, creating his profit. Beatrice would take the fish that was left over, sometimes over a period of a few days, and make her way down to Blantyre, to sell what she could.
The profits that both Blister and Beatrice made after buying and selling allowed them to invest in more gear. Now 27 years later, the husband and wife own ten boats and have a crew of 80 personnel. Hearing Mr. and Mrs. Longwe’s story over tea, I could see how much dedication and determination they have for fishing.
When asked what made Blister choose this life and type of job, he explained that growing up, he lived in poverty with his parents, their parents, and so on. He knew he wanted to provide better for his family and give his children the opportunities he never had.
His eldest daughter, now 25, owns her own fishing gear and follows in her father’s footsteps, hoping to create her own fishing business. His second eldest daughter has just graduated from studying Food and Nutrition, and is hoping to land a position with an NGO in Malawi. The other three are still young and in primary education, one attending a private school.
Most recently, Blister has been able to purchase a car for his home and a large stock of batteries needed for the boat and boat lights.
Although this is a success story, Blister explains it hasn’t always been easy. The biggest challenge is keeping a steady income with Lake Malawi’s declining fish numbers due to overfishing. Since 2017 he has seen a significant decrease in the amount of fish his crew is bringing in and the size of the fish has become smaller. He feels that there are too many people and not enough fish, and it doesn’t help that others are coming from neighbouring countries also to catch Lake Malawi fish.
One of Ripple Africa’s projects focuses on fish conservation – a project Blister is very familiar with and excited about. Because of the project, he understands what needs to be done to help conserve the fish, such as using the correct net size and avoiding the areas within the lake which are fish breeding areas. Blister was also very excited to say that he is sharing this information with others, such as his employees, so they too can get a better understanding of fish conversation.
Lake Malawi is more than just a body of water for those living in Malawi. It’s the beating heart of all surrounding life; without the lake, those living in Malawi will see more hardships than ever before. The lake provides so many possibilities for men, women, and families. It is water that holds possibilities of equality and growth.