COVID-19 awareness campaign at social cash transfer pay points

Educating families about COVID-19

By Gregory Gondwe
Besina Phingo, a single mother of four, and a Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) beneficiary poses with her children, Christopher Jerald, 16, who has just sat for the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations, right, Anderson Mphambo, eight years old and in Standard three,near left, and Chikondi Mphambo, 13, who is in Standard Four, far left, at their home Kunyungwi Village, Sub Traditional Authority Tsikulamowa soon after coming back from receiving her monthly cash lot of Social Cash Transfer Prog
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Amos Gumulira
22 December 2020

The grass-thatched house owned by Bessina Phingo, 39, was ever deteriorating as rains would fall through the roof, leaving her and her family with soaked beddings. Things even got worse when she got divorced in 2016. She had to raise her family of four sons, aged between eight and 20 years.

The future would have remained bleak if she had not become a beneficiary of the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP). But Phingo almost lost hope again in March, 2020, when the government announced lockdown measures to deal with COVID-19.

It was, however, a relief for her when the government decided to continue with SCTP alongside awareness messages on Coronavirus.

Ever since health officials started disseminating COVID-19 awareness messages during social cash transfer payment days in her area, Tsiku la Mowa, Phingo has put to good use all what she has learnt.

When her husband left, she started doing piece work. But work was hard to come by and she found herself destitute and compelled to beg for food for her family.

So when she became a beneficiary of SCTP she says it was like “God had answered my prayers.” She started getting an average payment of K8000 per month. And when  her elder son turned 19 the payment came down to K7200.

Christopher Jerald, 16, who has just sat for the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations, stands outside his home carrying notebooks that he mother bought through cash transfer allowances
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Amos Gumulira
Christopher Jerald, 16, who has just sat for the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations, stands outside his home carrying notebooks that he mother bought through cash transfer allowances

Besides using the money to feed her family, she also used it to provide for her children’s educational needs.

She also uses it for savings, through contributions to her village bank. Through these savings, she has managed to buy iron sheets which she used to transform her house. She no longer becomes desperate when the rainy season comes.

At the place Phingo she gets the money, she also receives awareness messages which have information on coronavirus preventive measures.

 “We observe sitting a metre apart, wearing masks is a necessity, and avoiding shaking hands when greeting people at the meeting,” says Phingo.

“This has also literally become my take home message which I imparted to my children, especially my second born son who has just sat for his standard eight examinations and had to go to school earlier than the rest of the learners,” she explains.

The son, 16-year-old son Christopher Gerald, agrees with his mother that her involvement in the programme has been “an abundant blessing.”

“If she had no such access to this money, I would not be talking of sitting for my exams,” he says.

During his school time, his mother used the money to support his studies. “You talk of clothing and all educational needs. Even the examination fees that was required, she paid with this money.”

An employee from the Social Welfare Department fixes a COVID-19 awareness banner at an SCTP pay-point in Kunyungwi Village in Ntcheu
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Amos Gumulira
An employee from the Social Welfare Department fixes a COVID-19 awareness banner at an SCTP pay-point in Kunyungwi Village in Ntcheu

“When we went back to school we were placed a metre apart. The school had hand washing facilities and no-one was allowed in the campus without a mask,” says Christopher who now wants to get into Dedza Secondary School and then become a soldier.

“My mom used her resources to educate me. I would really like to complete my education to take care of her as well.”

With resources from Irish Aid, UNICEF is funding COVID-19 awareness, hygiene and prevention messaging amongst SCTP beneficiaries in the districts of Ntcheu and Balaka.

The district teams are leading the awareness and education campaign with the support of SCTP National Secretariat staff from the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare.

UNICEF provided water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and information, education and communication materials for the campaign, and resources for training key SCTP stakeholders at the district and community level.

Health surveillance assistant, Monica Kasapha, who is also a community social support committee member, says she talks to people about COVID when discussing SCTP.

“We have been informing SCTP beneficiaries, what it is [COVID-19], how it is spread and how to prevent it. We also tell them how they can stay in their homes in full observations of the preventive measures and how to correctly wear a mask.,” explains Kasapha who works at Sister Theresa Community Hospital.

Flocy Mussa, a social protection worker in the area, says she has been in the forefront teaching members of different households how to adhere to COVID-19 preventing measures.

“We encourage social distance, we sensitize them how the coronavirus spreads, wearing masks and washing hands with soap,” she says.