Malawi update: A tailor-made solution keeps kids in school

By Lauren Amadei, Program Resources Team

When I think back to my own primary school days in country Victoria, I grimace at the thought of my daggy, forest-green school uniform. For Falida, in rural Malawi, however, the thought of her new school uniform fills her with pride.

I am part of World Vision Australia’s Program Resources Team, and our work involves sending much needed resources like fabric to countries in southern Africa such as Malawi, where many Australians like you sponsor children.

Resources like fabric are often scarce in poor rural communities. Distributing fabric can have a number of positive flow on effects such as allowing people to learn how to sew, thereby promoting economic development as well as igniting children’s interest in attending school, by receiving a school uniform (often for the first time in their lives). As a team we are always careful, however, to only send high quality resources like these in large quantities, also ensuring that they won’t negatively disrupt the local market but have the best possible impact.

One community to receive fabric recently was in rural Malawi, located 60km southeast of the capital Lilongwe. 382 rolls of fabric were sent to various communities in Malawi in this shipment.

“We were given 56 rolls of fabric as a community to benefit our poorest children by making clothes,” said Batumeyo Matchado, chairperson of the education network in the community.

School committees, parents and teachers were tasked with identifying people who should receive the fabric, based on economic need. Through this process Falida was chosen, along with 239 other students from her school. “With this new uniform, I don’t have to wear my only other dress every day,” said 11-year-old Falida, who is in grade seven and aspires to become a journalist. “I listen to the radio quite a lot and I really want to be a news journalist.”

According to Maxwell Kamchira, Head Teacher at Falida’s primary school, the fabric came at the right time, as many families could not afford to buy their children new clothes due to the poor harvest season. In Malawi, more than one million people have been affected by hunger due to prolonged dry spells and then flooding.

As Falida is not the only child whose family cannot afford a uniform, all those who received the fabric in the community came together to employ tailors who were stationed at the school to sew clothes for the children. “We did this to ensure that we can easily monitor the usage of the fabric as well as ensuring that they deliver right on time,” said Maxwell, who revealed that every parent had contributed tailoring fees of roughly A$0.93 each. Many parents who were able to contribute happily did so, some paying extra for struggling families.

The rest of the fabric in this shipment was sent to other parts of Malawi. In another community, for example, the fabric was used by mothers who were training as tailors so that they could sew underwear and reusable sanitary pads for their daughters. Sanitary items are often hard to come by in these communities, and lack of access to them often causes girls to miss a week of school every month due to cultural taboos about menstruation and lack of menstrual hygiene facilities available in schools.

Donations such as these can have a profound influence on the lives of children such as Falida and remind people like me that I should always appreciate resources that are easily taken for granted, even if it’s a daggy, forest-green uniform.