Overcoming water problems
Too little. Too much. Both equal disaster. But Child Sponsorship is a lifeline.
Safe access to clean water is essential for children to grow up happy and healthy.
Each World Water Week, we share a story about how water – or lack of it – impacts children’s lives. Children like Leon in Malawi, where Child Sponsorship is easing the effects of drought, flooding, and economic disaster.
The “biggest challenge”
As a girl growing up in southern Malawi, 12-year-old Leon is used to challenges – but the last couple of years have redefined what difficult can really mean for her family.
First, there was the drought.
Droughts aren’t uncommon where Leon lives, where rainfall is a key factor in the rise and fall of the family’s income. Leon’s mum, Alefa, makes a living by selling vegetables, which she buys from a wholesaler. The money she makes provides for the family.
“Water is the biggest challenge here,” Leon explains. "Sometimes we run out of water in the dry season, and then we have to walk kilometres to the river, or to another village to use the borehole there.
“There wasn’t enough rain,” she continues, “so there is not enough food. Sometimes I have to go to school without eating because we don’t have enough food.”
Then there was flooding.
Over a four-month period in 2022, three cyclones hit Malawi. Flooding wiped out thousands of hectares of crops and once again threw the family into turmoil, making it hard for Alefa to find vegetables to resell, much less for the family to eat.
These disasters – along with global economic pressures, triggered by the conflict in Ukraine – had a devastating effect on Malawi’s agriculture industry. National production of maize – a staple food and export crop – dropped by almost 20% for the year.
Drought, flooding, and the rising cost of fertiliser took a heavy toll. They drove up the price of the tomatoes Alefa buys, slashing the family’s income with reduced sales and profit.
“I’m a single mum and life is hard; we don’t have enough money,” says Alefa.“I sell tomatoes or okra that I buy. But right now, I can’t sell as much as I need to, and so I don’t make enough money.”
In March 2023 – barely a year later – Malawi was hit with another cyclone.
Cyclone Freddy, one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones on record, spun back and forth between the southern African coastline and Madagascar for more than a month. It caused more than 1,000 deaths and displaced over 2 million people. Homes, roads and other essential infrastructure were lost as floods and mudslides swept over the country. Meanwhile, thousands more lives were threatened by the deadliest outbreak of cholera in Malawi’s recorded history.
Walking for water
For girls like Leon, this wave of disasters threatened not just her present, but also her future.
“It is affecting lots of kids at my school. Lots of children don’t come to school because they are hungry, so they just stay at home instead,” Leon says.
While disasters affect everyone, they don’t affect everyone equally. Women and girls face greater risks to their lives, security and livelihoods.
In disasters like droughts, girls are more likely to miss school because they are expected to collect water. The long distances they need to walk for this increase their risk of sexual assault.
“Child safety is a problem here,” says Leon. “Some children have to walk long distances to get to school, and then it is very dangerous for them. Sometimes they are attacked on the road.”
Additionally, as caregivers, women and girls are more likely to sacrifice food and other things that are scarce during disasters. They are also more vulnerable to domestic violence, child marriage, sexual assault and female genital mutilation – all of which can increase in times of disaster.
Each one of these threats can have tragic consequences for a girl’s life.
But Leon and her family don’t face their challenges alone.
Leon is sponsored, and it is a lifeline for her family – and the whole community – during difficult times like this. It means that when disaster strikes, World Vision is there to help them get back on their feet with essentials like clean water and sanitation.
Because of child sponsors, Leon and her community have access to safe drinking water. Child sponsors have also provided Leon’s family with four goats to breed and sell. This will diversify their income and build financial resilience. Other families have received goats too, and each household agreed that the first goat born would be gifted to another family, helping the whole community become more financially secure.
Sponsorship has also provided agricultural training, seeds to boost food harvests, and nutrition training to help families improve their diets and health.
“World Vision has talked to us about lots of important issues through community meetings. There were many things we did not know,” says Alefa.
Leon and the other kids are learning important skills too.
“Before, I didn’t know how to protect myself, but now I have learned about child protection and my rights,” she says.
“I join in a youth group where we talk about these things, and also meetings where World Vision volunteers and staff come and talk to us at school to teach us things, like why we should avoid child marriage.
“We are learning how to look out for each other, and [how to] report it when something bad happens to children.”
Changing for the better
Despite all the troubles that the last few years have brought – not least the droughts and floods – Leon and Alefa can see things changing for the better. It’s a change that Leon wants to see continue, and she is determined to do her part.
“I want to be a journalist when I grow up, so I have to work hard in class,” she says. “I want to tell the stories of what is happening in my community and other places, because I want to see things change.”
Girls like Leon are first to suffer when disaster strikes, but you can fight for their rights.
Sponsor a girl today and give a vulnerable girl power over her future.