Before and after drought in Malawi

By Charles Kabena, World Vision Malawi Communications Officer

Fanny, 49, cannot stop smiling. Her youngest daughter, Gertrude, has just started Grade 1. For her, this is a great turnaround. Fanny and her six children were once facing hunger, poverty and desperation in a rural and remote community in Malawi. 

In mid-2015, Fanny, a single mother, and her children worked bent over in the hot sun, pulling weeds, planting seeds and watering plants in other people’s gardens. For their labour, Fanny and her children were paid in mangoes. Watching her six children feed on mangoes for breakfast, lunch and supper was a nightmare she never dreamed of.

Her son,10-year-old Lojasi, had been sick and in pain. Without proper food, Lojasi’s body was gradually losing strength. “He wakes up and sleeps there every morning,” said Fanny at the time. “I don’t know what to do. I try my best, but it’s just not enough.”

“We are just waiting for God to touch him,” said his elder brother Leonard, who in the absence of a father in the house had assumed the role at an early age.

The hunger season in Malawi had just begun then. Fanny and her six children were among nearly three million people who were desperate for food. Fanny and her community had seen 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 worked day and night supporting his mother to bring food to the table.

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

“When I am in class on Wednesdays, my thoughts are always with mum and my little brothers and sister and what she is doing, what we will eat,” Leonard said, 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.

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

“I want to be in class every day,” said Leonard.

Luckily, Fanny was registered in a Food for Assets project implemented by World Vision with support from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), where they have been planting trees and creating fish dams, among other things. 

This is a three-year Disaster Risk Reduction project. In return, every month, since December 2015, they received a 50kg bag of maize, five kgs of beans and two litres of vegetable oil. A total of 3,200 households benefitted from the relief project.


Fanny and Gertrude.

Now, fast forward to September 2016.

Lojasi’s health has improved and all the children have returned to school. Fanny also moved a step forward by starting a small business cooking and selling banana fritters by the road close to their home. Slowly but surely, her sales picked up.

On the first day, she managed to sell all her fritters. The following day, she purchased flour from the market and cooked some more fritters which she took to the roadside for sale. Just like the first day, the second one was equally a hit and she sold them all for a total of 300 kwacha (77 cents).

“So, every morning I have been cooking my fritters and taking some to the forest conservation site where I start selling before heading for the roadside,” said Fanny.

As a proof of the gains she was making from the small business, Fanny counts one of her greatest joys as the day she bought her children pairs of plastic shoes. 

“I told myself that we can do better with our situation and maybe help the children,” she said. “You see, in a village like this I do not dream of having a lot of money,” she said. “I just want my children to eat good food and go to school.”

Today, the project is still working with those 3,200 households that have almost 17,000 people benefiting. The Food for Assets project has also been implemented in another community where 1,599 households have been helped – almost 9,000 people.