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Boy from Malawi smiling in red and white jacket
26 September 2023

You could be the reason a child graduates

Child Sponsorship means Mike no longer has to choose between food and school

When you’re 11, it’s hard, even at the best of times, to keep your head in the game at primary school. 

Where Mike lives, in Malawi, it can be such a challenge that many learners give up altogether.  

But not Mike. 

“I love school,” he says. “If everything was burning down, I would save the school, because I believe it will transform my life for the future.” 

Of course, that doesn’t mean school is easy. There are 147 students aged nine to 16 in Mike’s class, and they all sit together on the concrete floor of their classroom, sharing a textbook between three or more. 

School on an empty stomach 

School begins at 7.30am. Normally the children eat before they arrive then return home for lunch – ravenous – when classes finish at 2pm. 

But these aren’t normal times. 

Mike’s teacher, Nelson Njaweta, says that today most students arrive at school without having had breakfast. They have to learn as best they can on an empty stomach. 

This is because there simply isn’t enough food at home for a morning meal. 

Boy from Malawi standing with open book among fellow classmates
Mike, 11, says he loves going to school

The “hardest time” 

Nelson grew up in the area and has been teaching at the local school for eight years.  

“This is the hardest time I have ever experienced in all my life living here,” he says. 

“Prices have risen more than 200%. Fuel prices just went up 40% just last week. In a short time, things have gotten much harder.”  

Global grain shortages, triggered not only by the Ukraine conflict but a number of crop-destroying cyclones, have pushed essentials out of reach for many people in this part of Malawi. 

The result is that more and more children are quitting their education in a desperate bid to find work and escape family poverty. Few who leave ever return to school.

READ MORE: The link between climate change and poverty

“Prices have risen more than 200%... In a short time, things have gotten much harder” - Nelson Njaweta

"I wanted to be able to provide for my family myself"

Mike’s dad, Mike Andrew, remembers how things used to be. 

“There was a time when we were married and we already had children, we had no business, we had no income,” he says. 

“There was an El Nino pattern and it was very dry, so we couldn’t grow much food. We could only have one meal a day. It was so difficult, because I wanted to be able to provide for my family myself.”   

The boost of sponsorship 

Life is different now, says Mike Andrew, and it’s because Mike and three of his four sisters are sponsored. Mike feels thankful that he has access to education, and that he gets to eat before going to school. He knows things weren’t always so good for his family. 

Their sponsors’ support helped get the family back on their feet. And it’s still helping them – to get the books and other supplies they need for school, as well as to boost production of the vegetables they grow to eat and sell. 

Together, sponsors are removing the barriers to education and providing a stable source of nutrition.  

“World Vision gave us some supplies during that time and that helped us get through,” says Mike Andrew. “They taught us how to make manure fertiliser, and we did it as a family, so when the rains came in, our soil was ready and we could plant on time. 

"When the crops grew, it was a bumper yield, and that helped us to get back on our feet.” 

Boy in Malawi pictured leaning against a tree with one of his family’s goats
Goats have helped Mike’s family establish a regular source of income

The power of goats and trees 

Growing food will always be a challenge for Mike and his family because their land lies in a rain shadow

To help their family establish a reliable source of income, sponsors also gave them two goats along with training on how to care for them. They can then breed the goats and sell one when they need cash for school fees or house repairs. 

At the same time, the Child Sponsorship programme is working with the whole community to reforest the area, stripped of trees by generations of people selling firewood to get through the dry times. These have become more frequent as a result of local deforestation and climate change

Today, lush pockets of green break up the community’s arid landscape, managed and protected by local people.  

The trees are helping to improve water retention, soil quality and rainfall, and they’re also providing new income opportunities. Now people trim branches and sell them for firewood, and the community has made a foray into beekeeping, which has proved to be a profitable source of income. 

Changing mindsets 

Sarah, Mike’s mum, says that the most important improvement Child Sponsorship has helped their community achieve is people’s attitudes. 

She says, "There’s a slogan we talk about in the programme that says a change in how we think changes our mindsets, and if our mindsets improve, our pockets will also improve. 

"So even though we still have hard times, our life is better now than before sponsorship came here.” 

Change begins at home 

Mike knows that his family has come a long way, and he’s determined to help continue their upward trajectory.   

“When I’m an adult, I hope that people no longer lack basic things in their life.

"I believe change begins at home. If I achieve my dreams, I will be able to fix the challenges that my family faces.” 

Making a difference

Child Sponsorship is making it possible for Mike and his family to weather the storm of hunger and food instability.  

As a child sponsor, you could be the reason a child like Mike has enough to eat and can stay in school until they’re ready to graduate. 

Sponsor a child today and become part of something bigger than you, creating greater change and making a long-lasting difference to children’s futures. 

Learn more