By Blessed Kwanjana:
Mwayi Mwale, 17, was going through tough times in her education. She lacked what are considered as simple items—pens and exercise books.
The girl, from Chimbwanda Village, Traditional Authority Nthondo in Ntchisi, is a standard seven learner at Kwezani Primary School in the area.
Her father died in 2016 and the incident shattered her dream of becoming a nurse.
With her mother staying at Mponela Trading Centre, about 20 kilometres from their village—where she earns too little to support her family with—Mwayi has to fend for herself and her six siblings.
“I often miss classes because of hunger. It is difficult to pay attention to lessons on an empty stomach,” she says, holding back tears welling up in her eyes.
But some hope has been reignited for the little girl.
She was among 32 learners at her school who recently got exercise books and pens from Kwezani Mother Group, a local charity association in the area.
“I admire nurses so much that it is my dream to, someday, be like them. I am determined to achieve that dream,” Mwayi says.
The 10-member mother group comprises tender-hearted women who are not rich themselves.
The passion to see children progress in their education is what pushes these women to mobilise the little they can manage to meet the learners’ immediate needs.
The exercise books and pens may seem small to some people, but learners such as Mwayi feel they will go a long way in inspiring them to work harder than before.
“They are huge building blocks for my future. They will ease my learning,” Mwayi says. Her school records indicate she is well disciplined, hardworking and a dreamer.
The return of a school feeding programme at Mwayi’s school has further buoyed her prospects of forging ahead with her education.
Kwezani Primary School head teacher Jonas Chimpango has seen learners absconding classes or dropping out altogether after their families get hit by hunger.
Now, the mother group prepares meals to keep the children in school.
Kwezani Mother Group Chairperson Lenias Chithomba is optimistic that the meals will further reduce cases of malnutrition among learners.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says 37 percent of children in Malawi are affected by stunting.
In rural locations, more children are likely to have malnutrition due to poor diet, low income and difficulties in obtaining food.
WFP says stunted children are more likely to drop out of school and repeatedly experience low productivity in life.
“Four of every 10 children are affected by chronic malnutrition,” says Benoit Thiry, WFP Malawi country representative.
According to Unicef, globally 129 million girls are out of school, including 32 million of primary school age.
Although cases of girls’ school dropout are mainly attributed to early marriages, malnutrition is also one of the reasons, directly and indirectly.
To deal with the problem, Savers from the Heart (SFTH), a local non-governmental organisation, introduced a ‘Kids Kitchen on Wheels’ School Feeding Initiative that seeks to reduce malnutrition in school going-children in rural areas.
The initiative further aims at helping children who dropped out of school due to hunger to return to class.
SFTH Executive Director Evelyn Chibambo says about 10 percent of 811 learners at Kwezani Primary School are recorded to have malnutrition.
“Malnutrition and lack of school items are some of the major challenges the learners face. These are young citizens who hold dreams to transform their communities and the country if they become educated.
“But looking at these challenges, one wonders if they will really become what they want. It is from this background that SFTH started this initiative to bail them out,” Chibambo says.
Kwezani Mother Group was selected to help run the feeding programme.
The selected women were also trained in soya milk production for business in conjunction with Feed the Future.
Part of the money realised from the sales of the milk is given to the school in various forms including procurement of writing materials for less privileged learners.
“We, as a mother group, have a role to placy in assisting vulnerable learners so that they can learn with peace of mind,” Chithomba says.
Chimpango asserts that the initiative has helped change people’s mindset about education and nutrition.
“Malnutrition levels have dropped while school attendance has improved. Community members, particularly mothers, are also working hard to assist vulnerable learners,” Chimpango says.