As in many other places, students returned to secondary school in Malawi in the autumn. Completing education is the best chance many of these students have to break the cycle of poverty that afflicts their communities. Joshua currently provides education bursaries to around 230 students who would otherwise be unlikely to complete secondary education. The bursary covers items such as school and exam fees, uniform, stationery and solar lamps.
Even with this support however, making the most of the opportunity to go to school is not always easy. In September, our staff in Malawi carried out interviews with students in schools in Chilaweni and Pensulo, exploring the barriers to studying outside school hours. We were struck by just how many of them reported hunger as the main reason they found it difficult to complete homework and give extra time to studies. Given the current food crisis, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by this. After two weak harvests, over 7 million people in Malawi are expected to need food aid by the end of the year and many families are living off one main meal per day.
Chronic hunger affects young people at school in a number of ways. Without enough food and nourishment, students don’t have enough energy to concentrate and study effectively. Absenteeism is common as young people are expected to carry out piece work or farming activities to bring in extra money. In lean periods of food insecurity, education is often seen as expendible, a luxury when the choice is food or fees.
Joshua’s sponsorship programme is hugely important given the current situation in Malawi.
Based on the feedback from students, we are exploring whether we can provide food to any particularly vulnerable students during the peak hungry season, from now until March. While children at primary school do often have access to a feeding programme, mostly thanks to Mary’s Meals, this is not the case at secondary level. However, even making sure school fees are paid can free up other family income for food.
It costs on average £120 a year to support a young person through their education – an investment that can make a difference for a lifetime. If you are interested in making a regular donation to support our work and help strengthen Malawi’s future, please visit www.joshuainmalawi.org.uk.