Meet George, who is 21-years-old, and lives in a rural village in the Salima District of central Malawi.
Growing up, George faced many difficult challenges and spent most of his teenage years living without a permanent place to call home or parents to care and provide for him.
Regularly on the move, George would stay with relatives, friends and other members of his community. However, this lack of stability left him at an increased risk of isolation and neglect.
“Before my business, I was so vulnerable. I would wake up without knowing what I would do or eat,” George explained.
Unfortunately, Malawi’s limited social protection means that George’s situation is all too common. A 2021 UNICEF survey estimates that there are almost one million orphans in Malawi, an alarmingly high number given that around 51% of the population of 19.6 million people are under the age of 18 (UNFPA, 2018).
Malawi is also one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 169th out of 191 countries on the UNDP’s 2021 Human Development Report, with around 70% of the population living below the $2.15-a-day extreme poverty line in 2021.
For children living without the care of an adult, the challenges faced by those living on a low income in Malawi are compounded, and make achieving a consistent income above this extremely difficult.
In 2020, George was identified by members of one of the eight Kids’ Clubs that we currently organise alongside our partner in Malawi, MPC Nkhoma, who then introduced George to our Child Headed Households Programme.
Through the programme, we aim to directly and sustainably tackle the complex issues that child-headed households face in a truly holistic and empowering way. We do this through four key steps, implemented and developed across three years, that address both the social and economic challenges faced by young people like George.
The first step is to train volunteers in their community as guardians who are responsible for visiting them regularly to provide guidance, counselling, protection and a helping hand in their homes. Their guardians help them to feel less isolated and lonely, and encourage, motivate and represent them in their communities.
George, pictured with his guardian, Lois.
We also provide households with the tools and training to safely earn an immediate income. This means they can quickly afford necessities and begin to improve their standard of living.
For George, this meant supporting him to set up and run his own market stall, supplying him with pots, pans and chicken meat. Since 2020, this business has gone from strength to strength as George has added to his menu, and he is now earning a reliable income of 21,000MWK (£16.50) every week.
The programme also supports households to set up their own food gardens, providing them with training and tools. In his first harvest, George was able to grow 10x50kg bags of maize and 4x50kg bags of groundnuts. This gave him a supply of food as well as added income as he sold his surplus for a profit.
The fourth step is to provide households with livestock and teach them how to safely care for and nurture them. Livestock are valuable commodities; they not only provide a source of both food and manure that can be used for fertiliser, they are also an economic safety blanket as they can be sold for a substantial price during difficult times. George is set to receive a goat as part of an animal pass-on scheme involving another child-headed household.
In his first year with the programme, the profits from George’s businesses amounted to 324,000MWK (£256). In his second year, during which he began saving as part of a community banking group on our Village Investors Programme, George grew this to an incredible 1,292,000MWK (£1,025).
By quadrupling his income, he has been able to buy the materials and land to build his own house!
“I am an independent person and I attend to all my necessities myself.”
George and Lois in front of his new house.
And he has not stopped there.
During construction, George invested in a solar panel which has not only given him access to electricity, but also a further source of income as he has started a new business charging people’s phones for a fee.
Alongside the success of his new businesses, George has developed as a person. His guardian, Lois, explains: “George has been really diligent and hardworking, he listens to my advice and he is a different person to the one I first met. He’s much more confident and focused on his future.”
From an incredibly challenging situation, facing severe isolation and desperation and living without any dependable income or support, George has pushed himself above the $2.15-a-day extreme poverty line and totally transformed his life.
“Everyday I see positive change,” George said.