Mango for lunch again

It is 12 noon and time for lunch. For little Janet in Zomba, Malawi, that means another meal of boiled mangoes. This has been her breakfast, lunch and supper for the past two weeks and it is not clear when she may get to eat anything else. 

Fanny, her mother, is given mangoes as payment for the work she does.

At the far end of the veranda Janet’s 10-year-old brother, Lojasi, is lying in pain. He has been sick for more than a week now and Fanny, 48, does not know what to do. “We are just waiting for God to touch him”, says his elder brother Leonard, who in the absence of a father in the house has assumed the role at an early age.

The hunger season in Malawi has just begun. Fanny and her six children are among nearly three million people who are desperate for food

Without proper food, Lojasi’s body is gradually losing strength. Janet carries a mango to her sick brother who smiles in appreciation but sadly cannot eat.

“He wakes up and sleeps there every morning,” says Fanny. “I don’t know what to do. I try my best, but it’s just not enough.”

The hunger season in Malawi has just begun. Fanny and her six children are among nearly three million people who are desperate for food, according to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC), an independent team responsible for assessing food availability in the country.

Fanny and her community saw their gardens washed away during the floods early in the year.

“Honestly, we harvested almost nothing from the garden and the maize did not even last us a week, after which we had to get back to working for food,” said Leonard who works day and night supporting his mother to bring food to the table.

"We harvested almost nothing from the garden and the maize did not even last us a week, after which we had to get back to working for food."

Fanny and her children have had to work for food since March. For a family that was already struggling life is getting worse. And since the floods disrupted the economic life of the village, life in Ngwerero community is becoming a nightmare.

“The people we used to depend on in the past years are also hungry today. Some of them only have a little food which they cannot share as they are also not so sure of tomorrow,” said Fanny.

“It is difficult to be in class knowing that my mother is working to feed us,” says Leonard. “When I am in class on Wednesday, my thoughts are always with mum and my little brothers on what she is doing, what we will eat,” he adds, before breaking down into tears.

Fanny’s family is full of children with great dreams about their lives. Lojasi wants to be a pilot while Ulemu dreams of being a professional driver. For Leonard, he just wants to go to school and find a job that will liberate the entire family from poverty.

Many children look malnourished and rains to help crops grow are not expected until the new year. 

Unfortunately, contrary to his dream, Leonard and his siblings are perennial school absentees. They attend classes just once a week, four days in an entire month.

“I want to be in class every day,” says Leonard who is in grade five. “They chase us every day because we have no school uniform; I and my brothers are chased everyday and we only go there on Wednesday,” he explains. Today, all that Leonard does is wake up and follow his mother to the next destination for work.

Walking around the community, the dryness of the ground is threatening. Many children look malnourished and rains to help crops grow are not expected until the new year. It is also feared the effects of El Nino could lengthen this current drought.

Christina Chimala, Chairperson for the local Area Development Committee, says the food insecurity has reached alarming levels for many, and children are hit the hardest.

“We have had food problems in the past, but this year is something else."

“We have had food problems in the past, but this year is something else. Every day I have people visiting me and other leaders requesting for support which we can’t provide as well,” she explains.

“We fear for the children who are now getting malnourished. We fear that something far beyond malnutrition may happen if help is long in coming”.

World Vision has started an emergency food aid response in the community in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Malawi Government.

This is Janet’s hope for survival.