Florence Chinang’ombe has struggled to raise four children unaided since her husband migrated to South Africa in 2002.
“The man left us without help. The boys and I lived in a small round hut. We had to work like donkeys to get food, clothes and other basics. The children painfully walked to school barefoot, dirty and hungry,” she narrates.
The donkey work included ridging crop fields of well-off neighbours in Kaziputa Village, Traditional Authority Njolomole in Ntcheu District, for K5 000 per acre. This used to take 20 days unless the children skipped classes to come to her aid, says Chinang’ombe.
Chinang’ombe was devastated when her firstborn, Dumisani, dropped out in Form Two and the second quit Form One because she could not afford her school fees.
“I wept,” she recalls. “Their futures were shattered.”
Chinang’ombe felt relieved in July 2018 when the female-headed household started receiving monthly cash transfers to cushion them from dehumanising poverty.
Four years on, she is all smiles as Frank, her third-born, sat the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations at Kampanje Community Day Secondary School in the shadow of Kirk Range. The 24-year-old was in Form One when the household started getting social cash transfers.
“Frank dreams of becoming a police officer or a motor vehicle mechanic, so I’m utterly pleased that he has completed secondary education. This is a big win for us. May his big dreams come true,” Chinang’ombe states.
Frank’s triumph over adversity personifies the benefits of social cash transfer.
His family now lives in a new three-bedroom brick house with iron sheets and solar power for lighting and charging phones.
“The social cash transfers brought a huge relief to my family. They helped me learn in peace. Previously, we were skipping classes to help mom do slavish piecework. We often went to school hungry, lacked uniforms and wore dirty clothes because we couldn’t afford soap. We couldn’t concentrate on lessons because there was no hope that we would find food when we return home,” says Frank.
His youngest brother, Aubrey, is on the cusp of going to secondary school. The 17-year-old sat Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations in July.
Their mother is delighted to be among eight social cash transfer recipients in her village.
Government rolled out the Social Cash Transfer Programme in Ntcheu and Balaka Districts with support from the Government of Ireland in partnership with Unicef.
Unicef Malawi social protection specialist George Juwawo says: “We believe that social protection programmes like social cash transfers are an investment that supports households to meet their daily needs and build human capital for sustainable development.” When Chinang’ombe received the cash transfers for the first three months at once, she instantly paid Frank’s school fees for two terms.
“Education is almost everything in the struggle against poverty,” she explains. “The remainder went towards milling grain and buying soap so the learners don’t go to school hungry and dirty.”
Chinang’ombe used subsequent monthly cash-outs to buy fertiliser for her barren maize and beans fields.
A big boost came in January when each social cash transfer beneficiary in Ntcheu received a top-up of K20 000 per month to beat hunger which bites hard from October to March.
“In January, we received K60 000 at once. I used the lean season top-up for three months to buy iron sheets for the new house and invested the remainder in shares in our village savings and loans group,” she says.
Chinang’ombe has deposited K49 000 with the group she terms her “village bank”. This gives her the ease to save and get soft loans for pressing needs, including nutritious food and her children’s educational needs.
In February 2022, she bought four piglets at K10 000 each. As the animals grow and multiply, the determined breadwinner envisages selling piglets at K15000 to K20 000 each.
Besides, the fledging pigs produce manure for her rain-fed crop field that produced about two tonnes of maize amid prolonged dry spells in the 2021/22 growing season. She also uses manure for winter cropping in Kaziputa Irrigation Scheme, where she grows maize and beans mostly for sale.
“After harvesting, I sold three pigs to buy more iron sheets for my house. The largest fetched K65 000, the smaller one went at K45 000 and the smallest was sold at K35 000,” she narrates.
Looking forward, the woman plans to use the proceeds of piggery to buy window glasses for her new home.
However, nothing excites her greater than seeing children staying in school to make their dreams work.
She explains: “Education is our main mtukula pakhomo because it helps children from poor families to break free from poverty, take positions of influence in society and lift themselves and their people.
“Children left behind because of poverty need to learn to take positions of power dominated by their peers from wealthy families.”
Rodwell Chunga, Ntcheu district social welfare officer, says the desired change is visible as many beneficiaries are accumulating vital assets, including livestock, decent housing and furniture.
He states: “To break the cycle of poverty, they are able to send children to school and support their education needs using the social cash transfers.
“Electronic payments are deepening a culture of saving as the recipients now save and spend according to their needs.”