School Enrollment Rates for Girls in Malawi
Malawi’s average literacy rate for adults 15 and older stood at 62% in 2015, according to the latest available World Bank data, which is lower than its neighboring countries. According to the latest estimates, Tanzania’s literacy rate stands at 78% and Mozambique’s literacy rate equates to 61%. In addition, the average literacy rate across sub-Saharan Africa stands at 66%. In 2014, Malawi noted a male adult literacy rate of 75% in comparison to 55% for females of the same group. Due to these gender disparities in literacy rates, several initiatives are working to improve school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi.

Reasons for Female School Dropout Rates in Malawi

In sub-Saharan Africa in general, roughly 33% of school-aged children do not attend school. Furthermore, for every 100 male sub-Saharan African students out of primary school, there are 123 female sub-Saharan African students not attending primary school. In Malawi particularly, research shows that female students are more likely to drop out of school than male Malawian students. Data indicates that “Malawi has one of the highest school dropout rates in Southern Africa.” Among females particularly, “three in every [20]” Malawian girls leave primary school “between Standard 5 and 8.”

According to a 2018 Malawi Government’s Education Management and Information Systems (EMIS) survey, girls in Malawi drop out of school for several reasons. Among these reasons are circumstances of poverty, child marriage, early pregnancy, “parents’ negative attitudes toward the education of girls” and household responsibilities. According to the survey, about 7% of female students abandoned their education due to marriage and 5% due to pregnancy.

Another factor is poor academic performance, which links to low quality of education. Living far away from schools also plays a role — 82% of Malawians live in rural areas, which often have few schools in close proximity. A lack of female teachers in schools means female students do not have female role models within the education sector. A 2015 study noted that “female teachers who also act as role models” to female students help keep girls in school. Poverty plays a significant role too as many impoverished families cannot afford school expenses and tend to prioritize the education of male children over female children due to societal perceptions.

Programs to Improve School Enrollment Rates for Girls in Malawi

In 1994, the Malawian government made primary education free to increase enrollment rates, especially among girls. The issue arises with secondary education, which is dominated by boys because many girls drop out before fully completing high school. Girls’ completion of secondary education is one of the most effective ways to combat other problems in Malawi, such as child marriages and early pregnancies.

The Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (ISEM) program is a four-year initiative running from 2017 to 2021, “which is supported by the European Union and implemented by GENET in partnership with OXFAM.” ISEM aims to improve secondary school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi, among other goals.

The program has funded school attire and learning supplies as well as bursaries. For rural students who walk long distances to reach school, sometimes more than two hours, ISEM donates bicycles as a transportation method. By eliminating these long travel times to school, ISEM aimed to improve the energy levels of students, increase punctuality and improve school performance while maintaining students’ interest in attending school. Fifty-one girls at Chibanzi Community Day Secondary School received these benefits through ISEM’s provision of bicycles. In the Golong’ozi Community Day Secondary School, the program has helped 177 girls who, thanks to this project, are able to continue their secondary education.

ASPIRE Project

Save the Children created the Girls’ Empowerment through Education and Health Activity (ASPIRE) project in 2015 with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In Malawi, the ASPIRE project seeks to improve literacy levels and reduce school dropout rates while improving school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi. ASPIRE achieves this by teaching mothers the importance of girls’ education. By doing this, mothers prioritize girls’ education more and are less likely to force their daughters into early marriages. Mothers are also then more likely to encourage girls to go back to school after pregnancy. Data shows that, in 2015 and 2016, 786 students re-enrolled in schools in three particular districts that the ASPIRE project covered, “suggesting an impact from the ASPIRE project.” Female students accounted for 504 of these students.

Education is not only a fundamental right but is also a proven pathway out of poverty. For this reason, several organizations are committing to improving school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi, recognizing that education is the basis of global development and gender equality.

– Ander Moreno
Photo: Flickr

Patricia Arquette and Mohammad Ashour Conferred 2017 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian AwardActor, writer and activist, Patricia Arquette, received a 2017 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award on September 23, 2017. Arquette received the Lifetime Achievement award.

Arquette created the charity, GiveLove, a U.S. based skill-training non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the instruction and promotion of Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) and compost sanitation. Arquette founded GiveLove to assist after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurred approximately 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

GiveLove works in emergency and development contexts to introduce low-cost, decentralized sanitation systems based on container-based sanitation and human manure composting approaches. Specializing in dry toilets, known as, “compost toilets,” GiveLove’s industrial partners operate in areas with high demand and dry areas to provide safe options for latrines dug in challenging environments.

GiveLove has implemented training programs in Haiti, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uganda, Kenya, India and the United States. The charity partners with NGOs, local community associations, schools, youth groups, universities and governments. GiveLove provides technical skills training, program design and support, staff training, monitoring and evaluation and design consultancy. GiveLove also instructs local organizations to advance sanitation in high-risk communities. Arquette’s company trains licensed sanitation builders, as well as district technicians, to apply and manage projects.

The Center bestowed a second 2017 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award upon Mohammad Ashour.

During his acceptance speech for the Conviction Principle Award, Ashour promoted universal healthcare and condemned racism. Ashour’s enterprise, Aspire, operates in Ghana and the United States.

Aspire raises food-grade crickets on a commercial scale and actively works to normalize the consumption of insects in the western world. Ashour’s company, based in Austin, Texas, created a massive farm to raise crickets used to make mainstream snacks. The Center honored Ashour with the 2017 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for pursuing his goal to produce a high-grade source of protein, while also reducing the carbon and land footprint that stems from farming cattle. Crickets are a healthy source of protein and offset the harmful effects that come from the reliance on beef production.

At the onset, employees fed the crickets. However, this system proved inefficient and ineffective, as humans work during daylight hours and crickets are nocturnal. Aspire subsequently incorporated a robotic system that provides the ideal amount of food to the crickets. These adjustments to the cricket’s diet created a better product.

Inside Aspire’s newest building, a robot feeds millions of crickets 24 hours a day. This facility is a 25,000-square-foot research and development center. Aspire plans to duplicate this technology on an additional farm that is 10 times the size of the present plant. It’s a scale that Ashour believes will propel crickets as a mainstream food in the United States. For an insect’s diet to meet its sustainable promise of supplying protein without the carbon and land footprint of beef, Aspire must increase production, making cricket protein widely available and affordable. Mohammad Ashour believes Aspire’s endeavor will make that possible.

According to The Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the 2017 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award honored and extolled the valuable contributions of people from around the world.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

HIV PreventionNearly 1,000 sub-Saharan young women are infected with HIV every day. Women accounted for more than half of the 25.8 million people living with HIV in 2014.

From 2012 to 2015, more than 4,500 women participated in two distinct open-label studies designed to test a new HIV prevention method. ASPIRE was designed to determine if dapivirine, an experimental antiretroviral drug, could safely and effectively prevent HIV infection. The International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) developed the dapivirine silicone vaginal ring. Each ring carries 25 mg of dapivirine and slowly releases the drug over a period of time.

The ASPIRE test was conducted at 15 sites in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe where 2,629 women enrolled to participate. ASPIRE’s sister study, The Ring Study, enrolled 1,959 women aged 18 to 45 in six sites in South Africa and one site in Uganda. Data revealed that when consistently released and replaced every four weeks, the dapivirine ring reduced the risk of acquiring HIV by 37 percent.

In women 25 years and older it reduced the risk of infection by 61 percent. Although more successful than anticipated, analysis found that sub-Saharan young women appeared to use the ring less consistently than older participants.

ASPIRE’s follow-on trial, HIV Open-Label Extension (HOPE) is currently under way. It is designed to determine how the ring could fit into women’s lives, any relationships between adherence and HIV protection, and why dapivirine will work for some women and not others.

Last but not least is the USAID-funded Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) Initiative. DREAMS is set to reduce HIV infection in women ages 15 to 28 in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. By the end of 2017, DREAMS will achieve a 40 percent reduction in HIV incidence among adolescent girls and young women.

In addition to providing sub-Saharan young women with the new HIV prevention method, DREAMS will provide HIV counseling and testing, education subsidies, post-violence care, access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and parenting and caregiver programs.

With the continued development and implementation of programs like these, young women in sub-Saharan Africa will be able to live empowered, independent lives free from disease and with opportunities for prosperity.

Tiffany Santos

World Hunger_Edible Insects Ghanian entrepreneur, Sofia, does not keep cows or pigs on her farm, nor does she grow edible plants. Instead, her farm is contained to three buckets held in a covered shed. Her livestock is “akokono” otherwise known as Palm Weevil Larvae, and farming these edible insects could be a necessary step to fight world hunger.

The adoption of new, efficient and sustainable nutritional practices grows ever more crucial as we struggle to end malnutrition in impoverished communities. According to UNICEF, malnutrition leads to the death of about 3 million children under five every year. Bodies that lack nutrients are unable to properly fend off infection, and often, going hungry can make common infections fatal. Additionally, in Ghana 76 percent of children under the age of two are anemic and 20 percent of maternal deaths are caused by anemia.

Organizations like PATH and Aspire are making strides in reducing malnutrition and iron deficiency rates by taking Sofia’s example and helping women establish home-based akokono farms. The large, cream-colored grubs have been a staple in Ghana for many years and are chock full of protein, iron and fat. In the past, workers harvested these edible insects while collecting sap to make palm wine. But as the use of pesticides rose, the populations of akokono fell, making them a less frequent meal in current day Ghana. However, insects are being put back on the table with the help of starter kits delivered by Aspire. The starter kits include a few larvae, a bucket, a screened lid and feed.

Not only do these micro farms provide food for a family, but they can also provide a means of income if the grubs are taken and sold at local markets. While there are many who turn up their noses at the idea of eating insects, the co-founder of Aspire, Shobhita Soor, believes that the cultural norm will change,“We definitely think it is the food of the future. I think the economics of food and the global constraints on the environment speak to that.”

Jordan Little

Photo: Flickr

palm weevil
To many in the developed world, insects are nothing more than a 
nuisance. They ruin perfectly fun summers, spread dangerous diseases and can wreak havoc on crop production. They are pestilent almost anywhere, but in some tropical and sub-tropical areas, insects are diverse, plentiful and an excellent source of protein.

One such bug, the palm weevil, is even considered to be a super food by the standards of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Now a new social enterprise is working to commercially farm the nutritious bug to combat food insecurity.

Aspire, a startup social enterprise that won the prestigious Hult Prize in 2013, is looking to bring insect-based meals to the impoverished masses in Ghana, Mexico, Kenya and Thailand. Originally a five-member team of MBA students from McGill University, the group is now growing in size and has an official partnership with the FAO.

In Ghana, the palm weevil is a culturally accepted staple of the Ghanaian diet, but commercial production of the insect is nonexistent. At the same time, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are pervasive in Ghana, and developmental issues such as growth and mental health in children are growing as a result.

The palm weevil offers an interesting solution to the lack of nutrition in the Ghanaian diet. Whereas producing one pound of beef requires 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and 1,345 square feet of land, producing one pound of crickets (similar to producing palm weevils) requires only one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and 134 square feet of land. Insects like the cricket and the palm weevil are much more cost effective to farm and offer comparable levels of protein to beef production.

But unlike beef, palm weevil protein is also rich in essential micronutrients like iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorous. Growing commercial volumes of the bug for food production is cheaper than growing beef, offers more vitamins and minerals and can promote food security in Ghana quite effectively.

Mohammed Ashour, one of the founding members of Aspire, says farming the insect is easy and straightforward. “The process of farming itself isn’t overly complicated. Someone who is uneducated but industrious can do it and get it up and running in a short amount of time,” Ashour told CNN.

The enterprise is in its earliest stage, having only started in 2013. It will need to grow substantially and learn from its current projects to impact food security globally. Entomophagy, the human consumption of insects for food, is as old of a practice as humans themselves. Perhaps economizing the practice is the way to promote stable and nutritious diets for the world in the future.
– Joseph McAdams

Sources: Aspire, CISR Blog, CNN, World Bank
Photo: LGCNews