Critics of aid say that it disempowers communities, that it’s short-term and that it doesn’t reach those most in need. But these arguments couldn’t be further from the reality I saw recently in Malawi.I visited three transformative programmes that are boosting local capacity for the long-term, changing attitudes and using the latest technology to reach the most vulnerable.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. The majority of the population are subsistence farmers, reaping one or two maize harvests a year to feed their families. The vulnerability of these households has been further compounded by the El Niño weather system, resulting in a crippling drought.
Austin, a father of three, told me he usually harvests 20 bags of maize, but this season he’s only been able to yield four. He was deeply worried about feeding his children, and how he would cover school and medical costs.
Securing a future
In response, through funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid, Save the Children has supplied vulnerable families like Austin’s with cash transfers, seeds and irrigation supplies to ensure their next harvest is a success.
Farmers also receive training to improve their planting and irrigation techniques so they can be confident of a more reliable crop. With communities in Malawi so reliant on agriculture, this kind of help will change lives for decades to come.
Save the Children has also helped communities realise the potential they have to educate their young children. As a result, groups have built children’s centres from their own resources, recruiting volunteer teachers and learning how to provide a safe, fun and healthy place for children to learn.
It was fascinating to see children taking part in interactive lessons transmitted through national radio directly into classrooms. This ground-breaking programme – the first of its kind – not only ensures that children in remote areas get access to a quality education; it also enhances the skills of volunteer teachers.
Removing barriers for girls
Girls’ education has long been mooted as the most powerful way to address global poverty. While investment has been, and must continue to be, directed at providing better school infrastructure for girls and training for teachers, little has been done to work with the men in communities who hold girls back from their education. Teenage girls spoke to me about the violence they experienced and pressures to marry early, get pregnant or find work.
This is why the male champions initiative within the Keeping Girls in Schools project is so pioneering. The project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, recognises the integral role men have in securing girls’ education.
Men are selected for their passion for girls’ education and are then empowered through training to tackle the barriers facing girls in their areas. It’s just one of the ways UK aid is changing lives and attitudes – ensuring that girls get the same opportunities as boys.
UK aid and donations to Save the Children are directed at many projects like these – raising the capacity of people through training and technology, people who are desperate to find ways to improve their communities. We should all feel proud of the incredible impact aid is having in countries like Malawi – I know I am.