|Sella Kawonga was born in 1996, and she is one of
a family of 5 children. The family is Christian and they speak Tumbuka,
the language most commonly spoken in the area. Sella and her family live
in a house that has walls made of mud and has a thatched roof. Most homes
have one or two rooms but the kitchen is separate and outside.
Agriculture is the main source of livelihood. However, yields are insufficient and families experience a five month food shortage every year. Problems include erratic rainfall, no irrigation facilities, poor farming techniques and insufficient government support. Sella's staple diet is Nsima (a thick porridge made from maize flour) and vegetables. Meat is for special occasions only. Some families keep livestock, mainly to use for future dowries. HIV/ATDS, which has a prevalence rate of 15% in the area, affects the productive generation, meaning the farm work is left to the elderly or children.
Children have to walk for more than an hour to reach school. Classrooms lack basic necessities and teacher numbers are declining due to AIDS related illnesses. Sella goes to the local state school where she is learning to read and write. Many children will not complete their education – girls as young as 10 years old are married, and boys leave school to find work. The majority of families cannot access safe, clean water, which means waterborne diseases are common. There is also only one health centre, which takes over an hour to reach.
Women have no voice, men make all decisions in the home and community, yet women are responsible for the majority of day-today chores. It is common for a man to have many wives. This makes women particularly vulnerable to HIV.
ActionAid Malawi is working in Chitipa in partnership with the
community and local organisations to tackle their causes of poverty, including
HIV/AIDS, lack of education and discrimination of women. Together, we
will also work to improve livelihoods, access to safe, clean water and
Malawi - the land and the people
The people of Malawi are among the poorest in Africa with a gross national product of only US $190 per head per annum and a population of over 11 million. Eighty five per cent of rural dwellers face absolute poverty and more than half of children under five are malnourished.
The vast majority of rural farmers are small holders growing only subsistence crops of maize, sorhum, cassava or rice. Only a minority of farmers have enough land to grow some cash crops as well. Rural poverty and land pressure are among the most serious problems facing Malawi.
The child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, with more than one in every five children dying before their fifth birthday. Government resources are limited and cannot adequately fund an extensive primary healthcare programme, which means that killer diseases such as malaria are prevalent.
The spectre of HIV/AIDS in Malawi is a growing problem that has only recently been recognised, but it is one that the Malawi government is now taking seriously. It is estimated that around 16 per cent of the adult population are HIV positive.
As with many other African countries, responsibility for providing all school buildings lies with the already impoverished local people. They are torn between providing more resources for education and investing what little they have in improving their potential for growing cash crops. Many children do not start school until ten or eleven years old, when they can walk the long distance to the few available schools. There is a high dropout rate as children are needed to help their families at home. Adult literacy is very poor in Malawi, 40 per cent of adults cannot read or write.
Despite the many problems experienced by people in poor communities, there is hope. ActionAid is working with communities to help them resolve these issues and bring lasting improvements to the lives of peoples in Malawi.