Corled Nkosi
Yobe Nkosi is a village in the Southern African country of Malawi that now receives hydropower thanks to the work of a local innovator. However, 15 years ago, a Malawian villager, Corled Nkosi, had to do his schoolwork by candlelight. Unable to go any longer without electricity, Nkosi came up with an innovation to bring power to the village. In 2018, “Nkosi won a Point Of Light Award from Queen Elizabeth II” for his innovative work that brings electricity benefits to more than 2,000 people. Now, Nkosi stands as the “electrical engineer behind Kasangazi Hydro-Electrical Power Plant in Malawi,” which provides cost-free power to 21 houses and nine businesses in his home village.

How it All Began

It all began in 2006 after Nkosi completed high school in Mzimba, a town 25 miles away from his village, where electricity was part of everyday life. Struggling to transition back to a life with no electricity, he began experimenting with the water of a stream near his house that was able “to push the pedals on his bicycle.” With this realization, he “created a makeshift dynamo” to generate power for his home.

His invention utilizes ingenuity, which many villagers praise at the mere age of 23. Villagers would visit his home to charge their phones. As electricity demand grew, self-taught Nkosi expanded on his idea, making a water-powered turbine from a fridge compressor placed in a river to generate electricity for six homes. A local village student, Gift Mfune tells France24 that, before this electricity access, he had to study by candlelight, but “now we all have no excuse but to pass our examinations.”

Powerful Impacts

Today, the village of Yobe Nkosi uses a turbine built from “a machine that skims kernels of corn off the cob.” This machine is capable of powering 1,000 homes and is relatively free for users. Nkosi only asks for about $1 a month per house for maintenance. However, this is insufficient to cover all costs — he usually funds the rest through his personal finances.

His hard work and dedication direct him toward improving access in the surrounding areas as well. Only 4% of people have access to electricity in rural Malawi, making his contributions extraordinary. Nkosi singlehandedly brought power to schools, homes and businesses without any training. According to the Points of Light website, U.K. High Commissioner in Malawi, Holly Tett, said that “Inspiring young people like Nkosi are the future of the Commonwealth and give us all the hope that we will be able to face global challenges.”

Energy Poverty

Although the village of Yobe Nkosi now receives power, energy poverty in Malawi remains a prevalent issue. Access to electricity is vital to ending global poverty. The ONE Campaign, “a global movement” to eliminate global poverty and disease, explains the far-reaching impacts of a lack of access to electricity: “In both cities and rural areas across the continent, the lack of access to electricity isn’t just an inconvenience, it creates health risks, limits education and makes it incredibly difficult to run and grow a successful business.” Electricity access ultimately brings economic benefits, providing an escape from poverty. Because poverty has a plethora of causes and a mix of barriers that hinder people, focusing on basic necessities is the first step to addressing poverty.

Moving Windmills Project

Founded in 2008,  the Moving Windmills Project “works with local leaders” in Malawi to develop solutions to issues plaguing communities. In an attempt to address energy poverty, the organization has brought “solar-powered water pumps and energy systems” to Malawian communities. By building an Innovation Center, the Moving Windmills Project aims to develop a learning center that will inspire children to become innovators. The center will provide training, tools and resources to assist young innovators to develop their own solutions to “ease the burdens” of their communities. The center will pave the way for the youth to follow a path of success like Corled Nkosi.

With imagination, a bike and a river, Corled Nkosi was able to transform an entire village. The world is on its way to universal electricity access with the help of organizations, governments and innovators like Nkosi. Every individual can play a role in electrifying the world simply by supporting these organizations through donations, volunteer work and advocacy.

– Anna Montgomery
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Malaria in Malawi
Malaria in Malawi remains a top concern for public health and the safety of the country. On a global scale, Malawi accounts for 2% of all malaria cases, placing it in the leading “20 countries with the highest malaria prevalence and mortality rates.” In 2019, Malawi’s population totaled more than 19 million. That same year, health facilities in the country reported almost 5.2 million cases of malaria. The sheer amount of malaria cases in Malawi is alarming in comparison to the total population number.

Malaria-endemic Regions

Looking at malaria objectively helps explain its high prevalence throughout Africa. As the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2019, Africa accounted for 94% of the 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 deaths worldwide. WHO notes that children younger than 5 made up 67% of these deaths. The transmission of the deadly parasite allows it to thrive in many countries throughout Africa, specifically after the spike in annual rains in November. The malaria parasite thrives in very humid, often hot and wet conditions, making Malawi a prime location for the spread of the parasite. While the country has worked to control rates of malaria in Malawi by offering health services, the country still struggles to control the sheer amount of cases present.

The Beginning of the Malaria Vaccine Pilot Program

In 2019, Malawi welcomed the world’s first malaria vaccine pilot program. The vaccine, referred to as RTS,S, targeted children ages two and younger. GlaxoSmithKline is the producer of RTS,S, which underwent clinical trials after 30 years of refining. The vaccine trials found that RTS,S was able to prevent about four out of every 10 cases of malaria. The pilot project in Malawi aimed to gather observations and evidence of actual vaccine implementation to guide WHO in its policy recommendations for the use of RTS,S on a broader scale. The criteria observed included child mortality, vaccine follow-up and vaccine safety. Although the intention of the vaccine is not to replace other preventative measures, WHO hopes to add it to its bundle of malaria prevention recommendations.

The World Health Organization Approves the Vaccine

On October 6, 2021, WHO officially endorsed the use of the RTS,S vaccine worldwide, now called the Mosquirix malaria vaccine. This approval comes after two years of trials in three African countries (including Malawi) where more than 800,000 children received the vaccine. The vaccine can prevent severe and fatal cases of malaria at a rate of 30%. Since the pilot program implementation in 2019, WHO has been able to justify the ability of countries to roll out the vaccine safely. Although the vaccine itself is not 100% effective, it works as a preventative measure, reducing the likelihood of contracting a deadly case of malaria in Malawi. The rollout of this vaccine comes after decades of unsuccessful attempts to find a form of protection against malaria.

Economic Benefits of a Preventative Measure

Access to the Mosquirix vaccine will not only protect public health and safety but will also relieve the stress on Malawi’s economy. For years, programs focused on treating malaria in Malawi reactively. Given that treatment options are more widely available than prevention methods, health system responses have centered on reactivity rather than proactivity. As a result, the first response to malaria cases is often drugs. Drugs are both expensive and difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the malaria parasite adapts over time, becoming resistant to medications and decreasing the efficacy of drugs. Access to a proactive vaccine addresses the issue beforehand, saving costs in both healthcare visits and treatments in the long run.

Moving Forward

Malaria is a unique illness in that it involves a parasite that can strike an individual several times. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this reality is concerning. On a yearly basis, children average a total of six malaria infections. The continued attacks on their immune systems leave them susceptible to other diseases. However, with the new vaccine comes new hope in the fight against malaria in Malawi. While the approval of the vaccine is only the first step in widespread change, the next few years present a strong opportunity for progress in some of the most vulnerable communities.

– Chloe D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

uses of human wasteHuman waste is typically overlooked, yet it can be a valuable resource capable of solving many of the issues surrounding the world today. As the global population continues to grow, coupled with environmental and sustainability concerns, a solution is needed. More than 700 million people worldwide live in extreme poverty. Some of the challenges they face are food insecurity and access to electricity, clean water and social services like healthcare. Human waste is a sustainable material and replaces non-renewable resources like coal, oil and natural gas. Technology and ideas emerge every day, including new uses of human waste. Interestingly, creative ways to solve the issues surrounding poverty and the future of an expanding world have also arisen.

Why Human Waste?

Each year, humans produce 640 billion pounds of feces and 3.5 billion gallons of urine. Lack of proper sanitation is one of the concerns surrounding poverty as human waste can enter water supplies and cause infections and diseases among people. Feces are typically made up of 55-75% water and the remaining portion is made up of methane and a solid. Once dried, the solid could provide the same amount of energy as coal. If converted into fuel, global human waste would be worth about $9.5 billion. Human waste contains minerals used in fertilizers for crops, which increases crop yields and the nutrition of plants and soil.

Biogas as Fuel

Biogas digesters break down human waste into methane, which is then piped through buildings and used in vehicles. The digesters submerge the waste in water where bacteria break down the solids without the presence of oxygen. The resulting fuel is one of the most valued uses of human waste, capable of powering homes, buildings and vehicles.

Sometimes, areas where poverty is common lack access to electricity. Biogas offers a cheaper solution. Installing a biogas digester uses an already present resource to produce fuel on-site rather than relying on an outside company to bring electricity. An example of this is a prison in Malawi that once relied on firewood to run its kitchens. Since installing a biogas digester, inmates at Mulanje Prison no longer have to spend five hours chopping wood in order to prepare food for the day. Moreover, the prison’s electricity bill went down by an average of $400 a month.

The procedure decreases the reliance on firewood, which in turn, slows down the rate of deforestation — a widespread issue in underdeveloped nations. Biogas digesters are also present in other prisons throughout Malawi. In the capital city, Lilongwe, the NGO Our World International takes household waste for its digester and sells the biogas for half the price of natural gas.

Clean Water

Around two billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. A potential solution to this comes from the use of human waste, which involves turning urine into fresh water. Filters and machines rid the urine of salts and ammonia, leaving clean water to utilize for drinking or commercial use. The International Space Station uses a similar process to convert astronauts’ urine and sweat into drinking water. One Belgian solar-powered device removes 95% of ammonia from urine and has the capacity to be used in areas without electricity to provide fresh water. Although many people would not feel comfortable drinking water that came from urine, regions suffering water shortages due to natural disasters or violence will greatly benefit from a much-needed supply of water.

In addition, one of the other uses of human waste, fertilizing crops, is already practiced in many places. Wastewater and urine can also serve the same purpose as feces, adding minerals and nutrients to the soil. All of these uses show the functionality of human waste as an undervalued resource with the potential to decrease poverty and improve living conditions for millions of people.

– Madeleine Proffer
Photo: pxfuel

PeriWatch Vigilance programMalawi, a landlocked yet welcoming and beautiful country, is one of the poorest countries in the world. In Malawi, 50.7% of the population lives below the poverty line, and one of the leading causes of this is poor access to healthcare. On June 24, 2021, the Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women announced the commencement of the PeriWatch Vigilance program in Malawi. This program has the capabilities to improve maternal health, lives of children and poverty in Malawi.

What is the PeriWatch Vigilance Program?

This program is a partnership between multiple foundations, ministries and companies to provide fetal monitoring systems at no cost to Malawi health facilities. Partners of the program include the Texas Children’s Global Women’s Health Program, Area 25 Malawi Ministry of Health, Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation in Malawi and PeriGen.

The program’s ultimate goal is to assist doctors in reducing neonatal deaths and maternal deaths. The PeriWatch Vigilance tool has clearance from the FDA and has many key features. The tool:

  • Improves timeliness and accessibility to care
  • Tracks and manages crucial patient information between numerous hospitals
  • Records heart rate, labor progression and contraction statistics of mothers
  • Notifies doctors about any irregularities in vital signs

The PeriWatch Vigilance program in Malawi will allow for more successful births and hospital stays for mothers, children and doctors.

Hope for Malawian Mothers and Children

In Malawi, 400 mothers die per 100,000 births, and one in 50 babies die. At the Area 25 Malawi Ministry of Health, more than 7,000 births occur each year. This number is comparable to the number of births per year at the Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. However, Malawi has not had the technology to provide a safe labor and delivery experience. With the PeriWatch Vigilance program in Malawi, the well-being of mothers and children will now be at the forefront of healthcare centers. The artificial intelligence tool will provide doctors with crucial warnings, vitals and statistics all through mobile devices.

This quick access will give doctors an advanced warning of any possible maternal or fetal danger. It will also allow healthcare workers to keep watch over the whole unit compared to just a few patients. In addition, clinicians can now spend more time caring for patients, as PeriWatch Vigilance calculates data and measures statistics through its secure data system and technology. The program has recently kicked off, but in the short term it has been running, there has already been a decline in the neonatal mortality rate. Within the next two months, the leadership team hopes to have PeriWatch available for all 7,000 yearly births.

Long-Term Effects

The decline of maternal and fetal deaths in Malawi can create vast improvement for the overall health and wellness of the country. As neonatal disorder cases decrease, poverty rates will consequently follow this decline. When a child is born prematurely or is not healthy, this can impact the rest of their life. They can face neurological and physical damage, preventing them from receiving proper education or going to work. These potential complications will only promote poverty.

On the other hand, neonatal and maternal mortality presents another set of problems for poverty. There is a lack of confidence in the healthcare system in areas with high poverty. This uncertainty creates a fear of survival during and after labor and delivery, leading families to have more and more children. This cycle leads to overpopulation and an increase in poverty as more children are born into a country that cannot yet provide for them.

The PeriWatch Vigilance program in Malawi is helping to assist with safer practices, better care and more advanced technology that will keep both the child and mother safe and confident throughout all stages of birthing. This program will give Malawi the chance to improve healthcare, save lives and ultimately fight poverty.

– Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

hunger and povertyPresident Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced that the government has committed itself to end hunger and poverty in the country by expanding and improving its agricultural strategies. The president made this announcement at a United Pre-Food Systems Summit Dialogue hosted by the president of Malawi. Zimbabwe was one of many African countries that receive representation at the Summit.

Hunger in Zimbabwe

In the past two decades, farmers in Zimbabwe have struggled to feed the entire nation. In 2014, Africa Renewal reported that 2001 was “the last time Zimbabwe produced enough maize to meet its needs.” The reason for the lack of substantial produce is a deficit of financial support for the agriculture system in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the inconsistency of agricultural produce. This is prevalent in the recovery of agriculture as a result of improved control of COVID-19 cases in the country. Food inflation during May 2021 was at 179% and records determined that prices were at a 0% to 20% decrease, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Progress Toward Ending Hunger

While the agriculture industry in Zimbabwe may be on the mend since the pandemic, there is still work that needs to occur. For example, 2021’s Global Report on Food Crises has found that there has been no recent progress toward the goal of reaching “zero hunger” in the world by 2030.

This is one of the motivating factors behind President Mnangagwa’s decision to end hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe. He claims that Zimbabwe’s best strategy requires that “institutions of higher learning must be roped in to offer innovation that climate-proofs the vital agriculture sector,” as the Zimbabwe Chronicle reported.

Higher-learning institutions can provide farmers and agricultural members with the knowledge of how to better cultivate the food they need. The institutions can also give resources for financial assistance, equipment access, lessons on nutrition and strengthening strategies within Zimbabwe’s food systems. With this strategy, the president believes that the agriculture system in Zimbabwe will be able to grow.

Boosting Zimbabwe’s Economy

As evidence suggests, the growth of agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe is the key to boosting the entire economy. President Mnangagwa explains that “the present economic blueprint” and the country’s agriculture and food systems development plans “situates the agriculture sector as having a critical role in the overall development and growth of the economy.” He says further, “This is anchored on food and nutrition security, import substitution, exports generation, employment creation and the raising of household incomes.”

The positive development of agriculture in Zimbabwe is the key to ending hunger and poverty throughout the country. Agriculture provides citizens with food security and boosts the economy with exports, sales and employment. Thus, if the president’s plan falls into place as described, it could bring about a positive change for Zimbabwe, contributing to reduced global hunger and poverty.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: pixabay

Malawi's SchoolThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to shut down globally, leading to a crisis of learning as countless students are left without in-person instruction. School reopenings in Malawi show this effect, where remote learning alternatives are not widely available. A week-long teacher walkout recently heightened the tension between education and public health in what has already been a rocky school reopening. While Malawi attempts to balance the safety of teachers with the learning of an already struggling student population, international organizations such as UNICEF have lent a helping hand.

Malawi Teachers Strike

On April 6, 2021, in-person education in Malawi was put on hold as the nation’s teachers left their classrooms and refused to return. The boycott was in response to a dispute between the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) and the federal government. The government failed to deliver the nation’s teaching staff a previously promised monthly stipend of MK50,000 (about $66) as additional compensation for the hazardous nature of their positions.

Malawi’s government has argued that it does not have enough funding to compensate its teachers, an expense that would cost the impoverished government $2.4 million each month. But, teachers refused to return to the classroom without their hazard pay, until TUM signed a deal with the government, which sent teachers back to work empty-handed.

Learning During the Pandemic

The teachers’ boycott in April was yet another interruption during an already fragmented school year. Malawi’s schools were initially closed on March 23, 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After months of closed schools and public outcry, Malawi’s president reopened the nation’s schools in a two-stage process in early September 2020. Unfortunately for Malawi’s students, the return to school was not long. Around mid-January 2021, Malawi’s schools closed once again as COVID-19 cases spiked throughout the country. It was not until February 22, 2021, that students returned to classroom learning.

Malawi faced significant difficulties in supplementing school closures with remote learning alternatives. During the initial closures, the government, in conjunction with UNICEF, implemented the Emergency Radio Education Programme (EREP). The EREP delivered primary school lessons to Malawi’s students over the radio. In total, the EREP delivered 400 lessons in English, maths and Chichewa to nearly two million primary school students. Furthermore, more than 70,000 high school students had access to online learning and 50,000 high school students received self-study resources.

But, these remote learning initiatives were not all-inclusive. More than 60% of primary and secondary students in Malawi did not have access to remote learning resources during school closures. These long-term lapses in learning have been devastating for students.

Malawi’s School System

Primary education in Malawi became free in 1994. Since then, 90% of Malawi’s school-age children have enrolled in primary schools. Yet, high enrollment has caused problems because Malawi’s education system does not have the infrastructure to support and teach such a massive student body.

While Malawi’s education system has met the rising demand for schooling, it has struggled to maintain quality schooling. A review of student performances in Malawi found low rates of comprehension in multiple subjects. Additionally, only about half of Malawi’s students complete their primary education. Furthermore, for those who do pass primary school, only 16% continue to receive a secondary education.

The frequent pauses in learning due to the pandemic threaten to degrade students’ already low rates of comprehension and completion. Malawi’s education system has received international assistance to avoid further issues.

UNICEF Assists

UNICEF has been a key ally to Malawi’s education system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from implementing Malawi’s Emergency Radio Education Program, UNICEF’s most substantial efforts have been to procure international funding for the education system’s COVID-19 response. This effort included $10 million from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and more than $300,000 from the Education Cannot Wait fund.

UNICEF has also helped to create health and safety protocols, which have guided the return of Malawi’s students and teachers to classrooms. Additionally, UNICEF has worked to distribute supplies to Malawi’s schools. For instance, the organization delivered 650 portable chalkboards to disadvantaged schools to facilitate outdoor learning for thousands of students.

UNICEF’s support has been vital to the reopening of Malawi’s schools during the pandemic. However, the recent teacher walkouts illustrate that the impacts of COVID-19 are persistent in Malawi. Malawi will need further international support for the country to fully revitalize its education system.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

drone engineersMalawi is a country in East Africa with 18 million inhabitants, many of whom will soon become drone engineers. The drones transport blood samples and HIV tests to laboratories. They also help on rescue missions in emergencies, deliver medical supplies to rural areas and monitor crops. Until now, Malawi lacked young people who had the qualifications to engineer this life-saving futuristic technology.

African Drone and Data Academy

In January 2020, UNICEF established the first African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. About 140 students from across Africa received a Certificate in Drone Technology from Virginia Tech upon graduation. They partnered with Virginia Tech as the university has delivered successful drone training workshops to Malawi for years. The future ADDA graduates, more than half of whom are women, will build and pilot the drones used for agriculture, health, natural resources monitoring and humanitarian missions.

ADDA students are learning the most modern approach to pressing challenges. Deborah from Malawi plans to use her degree to tackle environmental challenges. She will then be able to improve the living conditions and health of Malawians. By 2022, the academy will offer a free master’s degree program in drone technology. This is possible due to a partnership with the Malawi University of Science and Technology. The curriculum will highlight sustainable business models for using drones.

The Drone Testing Corridor

Africa must spend $75 billion more each year to sustain its quality of infrastructure and agriculture productivity. However, investing in drone technology would reduce the region’s expenses. In 2017, Malawi opened the first drone testing corridor to test the potential humanitarian uses of drones. It provides a controlled environment for local and international drone companies to explore how drones can deliver services. Some of these services are vaccines, blood transfusion kits, malaria drugs and antibiotics. The drone engineers generate aerial images of floods and earthquakes, test drone extension of WiFi to difficult terrains and survey water to find malarial mosquito breeding sites.

Direct Impact on Malawian Lives

For residents of Chizumulu, a small island in Lake Malawi, access to blood tests was limited as the ferry only came once a week. Now, residents receive a diagnosis in hours, thanks to drone service. In 2019, Cyclone Idai caused devastating flooding, forcing many Malawians to evacuate. Aerial drone photography identified the damage to buildings, bridges and crops, which revealed when families could return home and what they would need to fix.

Malawi’s rough terrain makes it difficult for patients to get blood samples before they expire and for hospitals to receive emergency medical supplies in time. Drones can transport newborns’ blood samples and HIV tests to laboratories, and fly the results back in less than an hour, 10 hours faster than normal. In Malawi, drone images help to create maps of areas that do not have basic hygiene infrastructure, identifying flood-prone zones and preventing cholera outbreaks. Additionally, artificial intelligence can classify drone photographs of crops to prevent malnutrition.

A high demand exists for qualified drone engineers in Malawi. Many young Malawians want to pursue careers in STEM, so the academy is a perfect solution. ADDA students have futures in which their passion for STEM complements their interest in humanitarian work. They will build drones using those technical skills and fly them to improve the lives of people across Africa.

Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Theresa Kachindamoto’s Activism
Malawi operates under a democratic chiefdom system, which has been in existence for hundreds of years. Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings and the mother of five children. She works as a tribal Malawian chief in the district of Dedza. This district consists of nearly 900,000 people and 551 headmen. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children stems from the cultural practice of child marriages.

Kachindamoto has been working to annul child marriages and ensure that the female victims of it can receive an education. In Malawi, one in two girls will marry before 18, preventing them from completing their education. Kachindamoto uses her voice to explain the practicality of arranged marriages with healthy boundaries. She also advocates for safe environments for the betterment of all parties involved. Here is some information about Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children.

Empowerment of Children

Some call Theresa Kachindamoto the terminator of child marriages. In fact, she has annulled over 1,000 marriages and immediately aided in getting individuals back to school afterward. Kachindamoto has said she will be chief until she dies, giving the children of Malawi a solid and long-term advocate. She is accomplishing change through the creation of a reliable support network to alter traditions.

U.N. Women has been a big supporter of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children and how she brings attention to the issue of child marriages.

Many young women end up having to enter child marriages since their families are in poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs. Benedeta Matinson talked about marriage and finishing school in a U.N. Women video before she received employment. She conveyed information about experiencing marriage and pregnancy at the age of 15. Benedeta stated that marriage not a suitable solution for the lack of basic necessities.

The Problem

Malawi is the sixth most impoverished country in the world. Girls who marry before the age of 18 make up 18% of the country. Kachindamoto has expressed that motherhood and wifehood often take precedence over girls’ education. Thus, the chief is working towards altering traditions. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children empowers young women. It grants the girls understanding of their value and what they deserve. This includes quality education before marriage arrangements.

Child marriages lead the way to more significant problems. An example of a problem is sexual initiation camps. These are places where young women learn how to sexually please men and understand their “duties” as wives. The tradition translates as “kukasa fumbi,” which basically means sexual cleansing. Girls either graduate the program by having relations with their instructor or go home virgins. Meanwhile, if they return home as virgins, their parents force them to lose their virginities to local men. This cultural practice makes girls more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV. In fact, statistically, every one in 10 Malawians becomes ill with HIV/AIDS.

With the teen pregnancy rate rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.2% of girls ages 15 to 19 are mothers. In addition, 63.5% of girls are mothers-to-be.

The Importance of Education

As part of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children, she created and signed an agreement for her district to end child marriage along with sexual initiation camps. This was the result of conversing with 50 sub-chiefs who gave Kachindamoto significant pushback. In response, she firmly said, “these girls will go back to school” and the other tribal members slowly worked towards sticking to the new law. In her reign, Kachindamoto raised the age of consent for marriage from 15 years old to 18 years old.

The Mpapa mothers’ group is an organization that seeks out victims of child marriages. Members go door to door in search of those who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, and they attempt to return the girls to school. Mpapa Primary School is a school that the girls then attend, where drop-out rates were at 6% in 2020 and attendance was at 87%. Nationally, only 51% of girls finish primary school.

The Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE) trains the Mpapa mothers’ group. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency supports the group as well. The group encourages to complete education by mentoring teens on pregnancy issues, marriage and their rights as women.

A 15-year-old girl and Mpapa Primary School attendee, Aisha Kayima, benefited from mentoring sessions two times a month. The mothers’ group has taught Kayima to be better informed about her choices so that she can have a quality future.

Looking Ahead

Putting a stop to child marriages can change the economic status of young girls while ensuring entire communities’ safety by inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children also helps reconnect girls with their warranted educational paths. In Kachindamoto’s words, “If you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future.”

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

malawian farmersAs a small, landlocked country in East Africa, Malawi relies mainly on agriculture for its economic stability and subsistence. In 2011, agriculture formed 31% of Malawi’s GDP and employed more than 80% of the workforce. Despite the bountiful resources that agriculture offers the people of Malawi, food insecurity is still a very present reality for a significant portion of the population. Farmers in rural villages struggle to attain the income needed to survive. To compound this issue, Malawian farmers heavily divide agricultural and domestic labor along gender lines, placing the brunt of domestic and farming burdens upon the shoulders of women. However, thanks to the efforts of researchers and global activists, educational programs have proven effective in getting Malawian men involved in the process of feeding the family, leading to increased gender equality within the household.

Poverty and Agriculture

Although Malawi has been on a steady upward trend toward increased childhood education and greater access to healthcare, half of the overall population suffers from poverty due to negative factors such as droughts, floods and lack of sustainable farming methods. A majority of Malawian farmers can produce only enough food to survive and cannot grow the extra crops needed for future food supplies or trading opportunities. Thus, rural communities often live from harvest to harvest without a stable supply of fresh food and produce.

The Role of Women in Malawian Agriculture

Within the small rural communities of Malawi, societal norms divide the household responsibilities along gender lines, with the men of the household taking charge in plowing the fields, tending to crops and performing other farming duties. In addition to taking on agricultural tasks, women within the community complete household chores and watch over the children. Although the amount of female participation in Malawian farming practices is commendable compared to other small countries with similar economic conditions and demographics, the farming system is strenuous on women, who must perform double duties to ensure that the household runs smoothly.

With the economic fragility of Malawi, patriarchal structures have proven detrimental to the well-being and security of the community. It is difficult for Malawian female farmworkers to reach their full production potential and devote their full energy to sustainable farming practices and education. Families cannot produce enough food to sustain themselves and others in the village due to unequal task divisions.

Supporting Women in Malawi

A team of researchers recently undertook an experimental project to subvert the rigor of gender roles in Malawi and take some of the economic pressure off of Malawian women, often affected the most by poverty. One practice that researchers implemented to dismantle gender roles is to change the public perception of cooking and food practices in Malawi. Due to the reliance on starchy grains and roots that must be cooked in the Malawian diet, processing and cooking foods take up most Malawian women’s time. Seeing this phenomenon, researchers developed cooking tutorials to educate men on how to cook and also converted cooking into a fun activity by proposing it as a kind of competition in which different villages could contest who had the best male chefs.

Dismantling Gender Norms

As Raj Patel recounts in his lecture on transparency in the food system, although the social experiment that researchers conducted in Malawi initially seemed like a trivial novelty, its impact carried through into the daily lives of Malawian farmers. This small change in daily habits encouraged the men to shoulder more domestic tasks and act beyond the scope of traditional gender norms. In the short four-year period that researchers observed, Malawian malnutrition decreased and the women surveyed reported feeling more fulfilled and supported in their homes. Although there is still far to go in destabilizing the patriarchal structures present in Malawian society, small steps in the food system are the key to achieving bigger milestones such as reducing poverty and promoting gender equality.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Malawi
In March 2019, Cyclone Idai submerged vast regions of Southern Malawi, displacing 86,980 people. Local fishermen in dugout canoes found families stranded in tree branches and brought them to the displacement camps that UNICEF built. Communities escaped the flooding in Malawi because UNICEF and the local population worked together tirelessly.

Paddling to Safety

Heavy rain and strong winds led to dangerous flooding in Malawi, resulting in the worst natural disaster in Southern Africa in 20 years. In just a few days, fishermen brought tens of thousands of people to safe, dry land. Once the floods came, one fisherman (a watchman at a port in Nsanje) paddled across a cyclone-induced lake and helped people who were stuck along the way. He found people stranded in trees or rooftops who were hungry and injured. Many of them lived in branches for days because the floods suddenly engulfed their farmland and village. He charged $1.37 per person but allowed people to ride for free if they could not afford the price.

When Maria’s village became inundated, she lived in a tree for several days with her child and five chickens. Finally, she saw a canoe on the horizon, and a fisherman came to offer his services. Maria could not save her belongings in the flood so she used all she had left, her chickens, to pay for the ride. Onshore, they traveled to a temporary shelter in Khungu Bwe Camp, one of 187 camps in Malawi where UNICEF helped those displaced by the cyclone.

UNICEF Displacement Camps

Children are at risk of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhea if they do not have sanitation and hygiene services. In the camps, UNICEF built temporary toilets, filtered the water supply and hired local actors to educate residents on hygiene, health and sanitation. One cast in Malawi performed a comedy skit about the dangers of open defecation for several hundred people. Through skits and community radios, UNICEF sent information about hygiene, especially cholera prevention, to 600,000 Malawians.

Updates

Fortunately, Malawians are returning home or resettling into safer areas. However, women and girls face additional challenges after the storm because their unpaid labor typically includes collecting clean water. Water points and sanitation facilities are farther away, which increases their commute and risk of gender-based violence. Additionally, women are extremely unlikely to legally own land, so they struggle to reclaim their farmland when they come home.

In Malawi, UNICEF holds “children’s corners” which foster children’s psychological support, play and recreation in the aftermath of traumatic events. By May 2019, 10,000 children participated each week.

The death toll in Malawi, 60 people, has decreased from the 2015 Cyclone Bansi death toll which almost hit 200. This reduction is due to lessons Malawians learned from the last cyclone and meticulous preparations for another disaster. UNICEF stockpiled supplies in flood-prone areas so it could relocate people faster than before. Most importantly, it involved the local community, creating a more efficient and knowledgeable response team. Cyclone Idai caused insufferable flooding in Malawi but it was no match for a team of local fishermen and humanitarian workers.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr