What if you were the reason a child never had to choose between getting an education and finding their next meal? What if you could help a whole community to boost their income - and rediscover hope?
When you’re 11, it’s hard, even at the best of times, to keep your head in the game at primary school. In Mpama, Malawi, it can be such an almost impossible challenge that many learners give up altogether.
But not Mike.
“I love school,” he says. “If everything was burning down, I would save the school, because I believe it will transform my life for the future.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean school is easy. There are 147 kids between the ages of nine and 16 in Mike’s class, and they all sit together on the concrete floor of their classroom, sharing each textbook between three or more kids.
School starts at 7.30am and normally, children eat before they arrive and go home for lunch – ravenous – when classes finish at 2pm. But these aren’t normal times.
Mike’s teacher, Nelson Njaweta, says now most kids arrive at school without breakfast and have to learn as best they can on an empty stomach. There’s simply not enough food at home for a morning meal – and the dry season hasn’t even arrived yet.
Nelson grew up in the area and has been teaching at the local school for eight years.
“This is the hardest time I have ever experienced in all my life living here,” Nelson says. “Prices have risen more than 200%. Fuel prices just went up 40% just last week. In a short time, things have gotten much harder.”
Global grain shortages triggered by the Ukraine crisis and the fallout of crop-destroying cyclones in early 2022 have combined to push everyday essentials out of reach for many people in this part of Malawi, and communities all over the world. The result in Mpama is that more and more children are quitting heir education in a desperate bid to find work to help their families earn money. Many find jobs at the market delivering goods for a few coins, and few who leave ever return to school.
Mike feels lucky he gets to access education, and eat before going to school. He knows things weren’t always so good for his family.
Mike’s dad, Mike Andrew, remembers how things used to be. “There was a time when we were married and we already had children, we had no business, we had no income,” he says. “There was an El Nino pattern and it was very dry, so we couldn’t grow much food. We could only have one meal a day. It was so difficult, because I wanted to be able to provide for my family myself.”
But life is different now, says Mike Andrew, and it’s because Mike and three of his four sisters are sponsored. Their sponsors’ support helped get the family back on their feet. And it’s still helping them to get the books and other supplies they need for school, as well as to boost production of the vegetables they eat and sell. Together sponsors are removing the barriers to education and providing a stable source of nutrition.
“World Vision gave us some supplies during that time and that helped us get through. They taught us how to make manure fertilizer, and we did it as a family, so when the rains came in, our soil was ready and we could plant on time. When the crops grew, it was a bumper yield, and that helped us to get back on our feet.”
But growing food will always be a challenge in Mpama, which lies in a rain shadow. To help their family establish a reliable source of income, sponsors also gave them two goats and training on how to care for and breed them. By breeding the goats, they have a source of capital and can sell one when they need cash for school fees or house repairs. It’s part of a livestock ‘pass on’ project – the first kids born to Mike’s goats were passed on to another family in the community so that they could breed them too, and they will do the same.
At the same time, the child sponsorship programme is working with the whole community to reforest the area, stripped of trees by generations of people selling firewood to get through the dry times – which have become more frequent as a result of local deforestation and climate change. Today, lush pockets of green break up the community’s arid landscape, managed and protected by local people.
The trees are helping to improve water retention, soil quality and rainfall, and they’re also providing new income opportunities. Now people trim branches and sell them for firewood, and the community has made a foray into beekeeping. Sarah, Mike’s mum, is part of the beekeeping committee, which cares for three hives, and is hoping they’ll be able to expand in the coming years because honey has proved such a profitable alternate income.
But among all the improvements child sponsorship has helped their community achieve, she says the most important has been in people’s attitudes.
“The biggest difference in our community since sponsorship came here has been the change in people’s mindsets. There’s a slogan we talk about in the programme that says a change in how we think changes our mindsets, and if our mindsets improve, our pockets will also improve. So even though we still have hard times, our life is better now than before sponsorship came here.”
Mike knows that his family has come a long way, and he’s determined to help continue their upward trajectory.
“When I’m an adult, I hope that people no longer lack basic things in their life. I believe change begins at home. If I achieve my dreams, I will be able to fix the challenges that my family faces.”
You could be the reason a child like Mike can get access to education, and stays in school until they are ready to graduate. There’s no better reason to sponsor a child today.