Food program keeps girls in school

Food program keeps girls in school
Pictured: Jessy smiles as she carries her books to her new high school 


Across the hills of Malawi’s popular lower shire region, cows graze along the plains. Overhead, the sun is shines harshly over the dry community. People are returning from their gardens where armyworms have destroyed their maize and millet. It does not look like a promising year anymore. 

Anne’s husband passed away after a long fight with tuberculosis; a loss she is still in grief. Seated under the only surviving mango tree on her compound, she slowly peels her pumpkin leaves for today’s lunch.

Anne sits outside her home with some food she has purchased thanks to World Vision's cash and food programme

“We have harvested very little,” she told me. When people are supposed to be eating maize and millet from their gardens, Anne found her older sons and relatives boiling and eating watermelons for breakfast, lunch and supper. 

“I learnt not long after that my daughter Jessy had passed her high school entry examinations and was selected to a secondary school,” she said, smiling. “I have to source for school fees, buy her school uniforms and exercise books. It outweighed the joy of the news that she had made the grade”, she added sadly.

Jessy thought her dream of being a nurse would fade from hunger and poverty. Anne proudly told me her daughter was ambitious, hardworking and good at mathematics and social studies.

When their meagre maize supply ran out, Ann went around the forests picking firewood and selling them for food. A bucket of maize costs 1200 kwacha (NZD$2.10) and would last for two days shared with her grandchildren. 

Soon after, World Vision reached her community through a cash assistance programme to support families going hungry. Anne used her money for food such as maize, beans and vegetable oil but saw a use beyond that too. Out of the 11,000 kwacha (NZD$20) she received, she spent 2,000 kwacha towards Jessy’s school fees and costs.

Arnold Tsalayekha, World Vision’s Programmes Manager for the district, discovered many more parents were putting part of the money towards school fees. Out of over 280 students in the area, the cash and food aid program helped nearly two thirds of children.

Tsalayekha worried many girls would be forced into early marriage due to the food crisis. The region Jessy lives in has one of Malawi’s highest rates of child marriage, with roughly one out of two girls married before age 15, some as young as 12. “With every food crisis, these issues often come out. But it is such a joy for us that here, girls have stayed in school and the classes have been often full”, he said.