Message from the representative
Grandmother Sonia, who does not know her age, but I guess is about seventy years old, made a huge impression on me. She lost her own child, probably to AIDS and now has to bring up her three grandchildren alone. Yet her attitude is positive and she is wisely spending the little money she receives from a cash transfer programme, carving out a life full of promise for her grandchildren.
With the money from the cash transfer scheme, the grandmother was able to buy government-subsidized fertiliser and seeds, farming tools and hire labour to cultivate her small plot. She told me with a beam that it was the first time in her life that she is not worried about having enough food for her family. She can now send her grandchildren to school with food in their stomachs and shoes on their feet. Her eldest grandchild is even at secondary school, a feat she regards as major.
Sonia is not the only one with a story to tell. There are hundreds of other Malawians, many of them extremely poor, whose lives are being transformed as much needed services reach their communities and doorsteps. Whether it is cash transfers, immunization or a borehole, their stories are the same: communities can do wonders with just a little bit of help.
On this website, you will read about these transformations through the stories of children and women. The stories are uplifting, even the most desperate ones, for they not only demonstrate the extraordinary resilience of those who live through such miseries but they also point to the generosity of those who have given their lives, time and money to helping the poor.
Today in Malawi, already fewer babies are dying from preventable and treatable diseases than ever before and are now surviving to celebrate their landmark first and fifth birthdays. The infant and under five child mortality rates are coming down, representing tangible progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Some of the credit for this must go to the amazing dedication of the 12,000 or so Health Surveillance Assistants, health extension workers who educate families about how to better care for themselves and their children and treat children in village clinics with affordable, easy-to-use remedies like oral rehydration salts.
A lot more work needs to be done. Too many women in Malawi continue to die from largely avoidable pregnancy-related complications and a large number of babies die in the first weeks of life from neonatal diseases and conditions. Even here though, we have seen some progress. Little by little, tragic deaths are being avoided with intensified educational campaigns, community outreach, and the provision of motorcycle ambulances which have significantly eased transport challenges faced by expectant women.
Chronic malnutrition remains a challenge, with half of under five children stunted. Efforts to prevent moderate malnutrition have been stepped up through the school-feeding programme, which we jointly support with the World Food Programme, and the community therapeutic care programme ensures that malnourished children can be treated at home.
Undoubtedly, one of the most encouraging developments in Malawi has been the dramatic difference that free anti retroviral (ARV) treatment has made to the lives of everyone, not just those who are living with the virus. Today, Malawians living with HIV are not only able to carry on caring for their families, but they are also able contribute to the development of their country. ARVs have prolonged lives and enabled children who could have been orphaned by now to continue enjoying life with their parents alive. More children are on ARV treatment now than was the case in 2005 when the unite against AIDS campaign was launched.
You will also read about how HIV positive pregnant women are successfully preventing the transmission of the virus to their babies and how young people are taking the lead in HIV prevention both in school and in their communities.Girls have taken the centre stage as peer educators, talking to other young girls - who are the most vulnerable to HIV infection - about avoiding behaviour that exposes them to HIV.
Orphans continue to need more assistance. About one in every six children is an orphan in Malawi, half of whom have been orphaned by AIDS. Community-based care centres, or CBCCs as they are commonly known, are offering invaluable help to orphans and other vulnerable children. More than 400,000 children attend these centres, receiving psychosocial counselling, a nutritious meal, and basic life skills training for the older ones. Those aged below five engage in early learning activities that make them better prepared for school. We continue to work tirelessly with the government to improve the quality of services offered in these centres.
We are also proud of our ongoing work with the Malawi Police to provide protection to vulnerable children through “Victim Support Units”. The units offer a safe place to children and women who have survived domestic violence and the police officers manning them provide counselling and ensure that perpetrators have their day in a court of law.
Though the government abolished schools fees in 1994, only a third of children manage to complete primary school. Among the reasons are overcrowding in classrooms (on average 107 pupils), inadequately trained teachers, social-cultural practices like early marriage, and absence of water and sanitation facilities.
Another visit I made to a village that had declared itself “Open Defecation Free” stand out in my mind. The village had witnessed a remarkable drop in diarrhoea and for me, it showed that lasting change only comes about when communities realize they have a problem and decide to do something about.
There are numerous stories on this website which show how children and women in Malawi, with a little help, are gradually turning their lives around for the better. I hope you can join us in creating a better Malawi for all children.