Project #12441

Support school costs for children in rural Malawi

by Partners In Health (PIH)
Nandi Bwanali / Partners In Health
Nandi Bwanali / Partners In Health

(Above) Rachel helps her grandmother pump water from their well in Ligowe, Malawi.

Thank you for your support! With your help, Partners In Health is able to reach more children in rural Malawi with the medical care and social support that they need to thrive.  Children like Rachel—whose story is featured below.  I hope you take a moment to read about the lives that have been transformed because of your generosity.  

Rachel lives with her mother and grandparents in Ligowe, Malawi, in the remote district of Neno. The young girl, who turns 6 next month, helps her grandmother at home and pumps water from a well in their garden. When she’s not with her grandmother or at school, the cheerful first-grader plays with other children in their compound.

Her grandmother never thought Rachel would reach this age. At 2, she was HIV-positive and severely malnourished. With antiretroviral therapy and a peanut-based, high-calorie food provided by Partners In Health, she quickly recovered. But last year Rachel was readmitted to the hospital, malnourished and infected with tuberculosis. With more treatment, she eventually became well enough to return home. In all, Rachel has been hospitalized six times for malnutrition.

This is not uncommon. Most rural Malawians are poor subsistence farmers and grow maize outside their homes. If a family isn’t able to harvest enough maize to last them the year, they go hungry.

Without food, an individual’s immune system weakens and the body becomes more susceptible to disease; malnutrition therefore goes hand in hand with diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and HIV. Illness can then worsen malnutrition, compounding both problems.

This year is likely to be harder than usual for Rachel and others in rural Malawi. January, February, and March—a period known as nthawi ya chilala, the “hunger season”—are often when people run out of food they harvested the previous May.

But the hunger season is expected to come much earlier this year. Excessive rains last January caused devastating floods in many parts of the country and washed away crops and fertilizer, such that maize production has decreased by 28 percent, according to government estimates. The Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development predicts that 3 million people—17 percent of Malawi’s population—will not be able to meet their annual food requirements.

PIH is already seeing the effects. Dolifa, an elderly woman with failing eyesight, came to have her eyes checked at a recent health screening in Matope. PIH clinicians diagnosed her as malnourished. “A lot of people have no food; our crops were washed away,” Dolifa shrugged. “We are just trying to make ends meet day in and day out, letting tomorrow’s worries remain tomorrow’s worries.”

Another patient, a father named John, came to the screening with a persistent cough and learned he was also malnourished. “I am not surprised,” he said. “My family and I usually go days without eating. When we have food to eat, we spare bigger portions for the younger ones.”

PIH provides malnourished patients with bags of blended corn and soy flour, and cooking oil. Patients suffering from severe malnutrition receive nut-based formulas that are high in calories, and they are referred to clinics for further care and medication. If patients are suffering from additional diseases such as tuberculosis or HIV, PIH incorporates nutritious food into their treatment. To prevent malnutrition in HIV-positive mothers and children, PIH provides them food in addition to antiretroviral therapy.

For Rachel and her family, it will be an ongoing challenge to stay healthy. But they’re hopeful. Rachel’s mother, 24-year-old Mphatso, thinks back to a year ago, when she feared she would lose her daughter.

“I remember sitting on the hospital bed and seeing other children die. I was scared Rachel would also die,” she said. Now, Mphatso thinks her daughter will go far in life. To inspire hope in others, she often tells Rachel’s story.

Blessings Banda, PIH’s nutrition manager in Malawi, has watched Rachel grow from a toddler to a young school girl, and helped care for her each step of the way (read more about his friendship with Rachel and her family here and here).

“We track her and act quickly to ensure we support her in all ways possible—both medically and nutrition-wise,” he says.

Photo by Lila Kerr / Partners In Health
Photo by Lila Kerr / Partners In Health

(Above) Cecilia Kanjadza, a student supported by PIH, displays her admissions letter from Mzuzu University in Malawi. She is the first girl from a public high school in her district Neno to be accepted to university.

Cecilia Kanjadza Reaches University from Rural Malawi

Cecilia Kanjadza, 19, scanned the local newspaper in Neno, Malawi, for her name while standing in Partners In Health’s office. It was a moment she wanted to share with PIH staff. Earlier that day she had received a phone call letting her know she had been accepted to college. The newspaper, containing university admissions, would confirm this.

Edwin Kambanga, a PIH officer, laughed, recalling her delight when she found her name listed under Mzuzu University’s degree program: “As soon as she saw her name in the newspaper, she screamed, clapping her hands. She said, ‘This is wonderful!’”

The chance to pursue a bachelor’s degree is truly something to celebrate for Kanjadza and PIH. She is the first girl to be accepted to university from a public high school in Neno, a remote and poor district in the south of the country with a population of 150,000. Families struggle to help their children reach high school let alone university—a pipe dream for most, and certainly for girls without private schooling. Kanjadza is exceptional, both because she worked hard despite significant challenges, and because through a PIH program she was able to pay for her schooling.

Kanjadza’s victory is preceded by many difficult years for her and her family. Her father passed away when she was four and all his possessions went to his relatives. Kanjadza and her brothers and sisters—she is the fifth of six children—were left with nothing. Her mother decided to leave the country’s second largest city, Blantyre, population 1 million, and move the family to Neno, where they live in a small village called Kambale. For six months the family survives on maize they grow in their garden. The rest of the year, her mother must try to find work on nearby farms.
To have the financial stability to look after her mother was Kanjadza’s greatest wish. Although she doubted she would go to college, she let herself dream about it. She excelled in math and science classes. Her favorite teacher, Emmanuel Soko, spotted her talent and encouraged her to continue her education.

Doing this would require resilience as well as brains. Schools don’t always have enough teaching materials; libraries and laboratories are a luxury; and for most students, studying ends when the sun sets (95 percent of the population does not have electricity, according to the 2010 Malawi Demographic Health Survey).

Facing these difficulties and financial problems, parents are forced to withdraw their children from school. In PIH’s view, this is a devastating outcome for poor families who, without education, face worsening job prospects and have little hope of improving their situation. Without the money to live safely and comfortably with adequate housing and nutrition, their health will inevitably suffer.

This is why PIH began POSER, the Program on Social and Economic Rights, which addresses social problems that impact an individual’s health. Kanjadza and her siblings receive support from POSER, which she says was the reason she was able to stay in school. POSER supported 2004 students last school term, including 948 girls. With uniforms, exercise books, and school fees paid for by PIH, Kanjadza excelled in high school.

Kambanga, who works closely with Kanjadza and other families through POSER, knows what this means for Kanjadza’s future. “What we like to see when we support students is that their lives change,” he said. Once they go to university, they get a good job and are able to sustain themselves and their families."

It’s a shared victory for PIH and Kanjadza. After that initial phone call about her university admission and a dance of joy in her house, Kanjadza was quick to come to PIH’s office. “If there were no PIH, I could not have got into university,” she said. “I wanted to let POSER staff know.”

Amidst the excitement, there is the hope that Kanjadza’s story will become more common. Members of her community, intimately aware of the challenges she has faced, are now hopeful for other students. “I would like to encourage more girls to follow her example,” said Reuben Menyere, the district education manager. Younger girls have already approached her for advice on reaching college. Proud to be a role model for her community, she beams and advises them to work hard and believe in their goals.

Photo by Lila Kerr / Partners In Health
Photo by Lila Kerr / Partners In Health

(above) NENO, MALAWI - APRIL 14, 2015: Mercy, 17, a POSER beneficiary, standing in front of the maternity ward at Neno District Hospital, where she hopes to work as a nurse one day. 


Thank you for supporting Partners In Health and our work to provide social support to children living in rural Malawi. Your generosity creates opportunities for vulnerable children to get to school, helping to break the cycle of poverty and disease.  Please take a moment to read about what your donation has helped to make possible over the last school term:

In total, 2011 students (985 girls) were supported through this program, receiving funds to cover the cost of school and examination fees as well as school supplies. 

Student profile:

Mercy (name changed for privacy) is a seventeen-year-old girl currently in Form 3 at Chikonde Secondary School in Malawi’s Neno District. Her father passed away some years ago, and her mom supports their family by farming maize, peas, groundnuts and vegetables. Unfortunately, the income that they earn from selling vegetables has not always been sufficient, and Mercy’s education was interrupted whenever her family could not afford the school fees or supplies. That changed when POSER (Program on Social & Economic Rights) began supporting the family: now, Mercy’s school fees are paid, and she has the supplies that she needs. When she graduates next year, she will be the first member of her family to complete secondary school. Her favorite subject is biology—she especially loves conducting experiments related to human anatomy and physiology—and she dreams of becoming a maternity nurse. Ideally she would like to return to Neno following university so that she can serve as a role model to other girls in her community, but she would also like to explore other places throughout Malawi. She is very thankful for POSER’s support, and is eager to use this opportunity to support her family and her community.

We are very grateful for your support of Partners In Health and our Malawian sister organization Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU).  With your partnership, we've been able to continue supporting students in rural Malawi with economic assistance to help pay for costs associated with attending school. During the period of December 2013 – November 2014, we are delighted to report that:

  • 2,016 total students benefitted from POSER. These students are receiving social support from PIH/APZU staff, as well as help with uniforms/shoes, school materials (books, pencils, backpacks, etc.), and tuition/examination fees.
  • 14 female students and 35 male students have received vocational training at Neno Vocational Training Center, where students learn skills in carpentry or sewing/tailoring. Of the 49 total students who have been enrolled this year, 26 have already graduated from the program. Upon successful completion of the carpentry program, graduates receive a set of tools, including hammers, saws, clamps, and other supplies that they’ll need to begin their own carpentry businesses. Sewing/tailoring students can continue to work in a local clothes-making co-op. Since the training center opened in July 2011, most of the students have come from HIV-affected households—either infected with HIV themselves, caring for patients, or orphaned by the disease.


POSER Recipient Profile: Alinafe

Alinafe is fifteen years old, and lives in Neno with her parents and eight siblings, including a twin brother. They are a family of farmers—they grow maize—but Alinafe aspires to be a doctor so that she can serve the people of Neno.

This dream was nearly derailed when she reached secondary school. In Malawi, primary school is free, but secondary school requires students to pay tuition. This cost is prohibitive for families like Alinafe’s, contributing to the fact that just 8% of women in Malawi have completed secondary school or beyond.

With POSER’s help, Alinafe has been able to continue her education. Her tuition is paid, and she receives a school uniform and learning materials, as well. Alinafe is thriving as a Form 3 student at Chiwale Secondary School, where her favorite subject is English, and her favorite teacher is Miss Chifwa, who teaches Bible Knowledge. She’ll graduate next year when she completes Form 4. She is appreciative of POSER’s support, and knows that without Partners In Health, she would not be in school.

POSER bolsters PIH/APZU’s (PIH’s sister organization in Malawi) clinical efforts by providing social and economic accompaniment to families and individuals in the greatest need. To ensure our efforts are integrated with broader development goals, POSER, like all of APZU’s departments, works closely with various government ministries. We’ve partnered with the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology to equip students with necessary school supplies.

With your support, children like Esther continue to benefit from the program, gaining access to essential resources and materials for attending school.

Esther, a seventeen-year-old student in Form 2 at Chikondi Secondary School, lives with her father and mother and 6 siblings in Helani village, 2 km from Neno boma in rural southwestern Malawi. Five of her 6 other siblings are girls as well and her parents, who farm maize, are both HIV-positive. For several years, the family members have been beneficiaries of the Program on Social and Economic Rights at AZPU. Types of support range from housing, cash transfer, and psycho-social to school fee payment for older students like Esther and school material provision for younger primary school students like her sisters.

Esther, whose favorite subjects are English, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences, says “had it been without POSER, I would not be in school now. Before I started getting support from POSER (towards the end of primary school in Standard 8), I would absent myself because I had no materials.” She goes on to say that “my vision is to complete secondary school and if I do not make it into college, I would like to work within POSER, to identify other needy people in the community… I am from the village, so I know how people are struggling I would like to be on the team bringing interventions to the community.”

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Organization Information

Partners In Health (PIH)

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Project Leader:
Laura Soucy
Annual Giving Coordinator
Boston, MA United States