Restoring Hope and Improving Livelihoods Among Poor Households in Malawi Through Social Cash Transfers

  • Many households in Malawi are benefitting from social cash transfers, using it to pay school fees and improve livelihoods.
  • Nearly 140,000 households benefitted from a special COVID-19 Urban Cash Intervention (CUCI) to help cope with health and economic effects.
  • The Social Cash Transfers project has now embraced Climate Smart Public Works component for climate adaptation and restoration of Malawi’s degraded landscapes.

LILONGWE, Malawi, 29 June 2023 -/African Media Agency(AMA)/- On the morning of August 7, 2022, Medson Kayuni made his first trip beyond the hilly district of Rumphi to catch an overnight bus that took him on a 650km trip to Zomba where he would start his studies at the University of Malawi. As the bus drove down the hills toward Zomba, he was gripped with excitement and anticipation for this new lease on life.

This journey almost wasn’t taken because Medson was on the verge of dropping out of secondary school. His parents struggled to pay his tuition fees for years. The tuition at Mhuju Community Day Secondary School in Rumphi district was K15,000.00 ($13.00) every three months.

“My parents were happy when I made it to secondary school, but they were also visibly worried about the financial burden ahead. They were already struggling to feed us from one harvest season to the next,” recalls the 18-year-old, who has become an example of triumph over adversity.

The nighttime bus took him to Zomba City where he is studying for a degree in social science at the University of Malawi (Unima). He has become the proud first child in a family of three sons and three girls to step into the corridors of a university.

Cash transfers – Time to study

While struggling to pay for the fees, his parents were enrolled in the social cash transfer program financed by the World Bank through the Social Support for Resilient Livelihoods Project. The nationwide program protects the well-being of families in poverty, especially through support of education for their children. The project supports 147,000 households country-wide, including 4,600 beneficiaries from Rumphi district.

Every month, Medson’s family receives social cash transfers amounting to MK11,500.00 (nearly $10.00) which help protect vulnerable households from poverty, hunger, and inequality. With this amount, they have been able to pay for Medson’s school fees and school supplies and meet other household needs.

As a result of this support, Medson stopped having to escort his parents to low-paying piecework in well-off neighbors’ fields. He now had time to study and do school assignments.

University life and aspirations

“Opon arrival at Unima, I closed my eyes in joy and disbelief because this was my first trip beyond the Northern Region. I then asked myself if this was real,” recounts Medson.

Without the monthly cash transfers, he would have dropped out of secondary school.

“Back home, life wasn’t easy,” he says. “I lacked pens, notebooks, school uniforms, and other basics. My parents spent months working in neighbors’ fields, leaving our own farm idle.”

Medson aspires to obtain a statistical job.

“I want to change my life, together with the life of my family and village so every child can get inspired and go to school and dare to dream big,” he says while smiling.

Equally excited and optimistic are his parents, Fanny Mushani, 46, and Augustine Kayuni, 52, who have also used the cash transfers to pay school fees for other children and bought a pig which has raised three piglets. They also rent out a boar in exchange for one piglet. They sell the young pigs for “supplementary cash” too.

Just before Medson went to university, they sold two pigs, one at MK55,000 ($46.00) and the bigger one at MK60,000 ($50). The money was used to buy a bag, a blanket, a mobile phone, and soap for Medson, and pay for bus fare and his rent. The family plans to buy iron sheets to improve their home, but not before Medson gets his first degree.

The Social Support for Resilient Livelihoods Project

The seven-year Social Support for Resilient Livelihoods Project (2020-2027) is designed to improve resilience and build human capital among poor and vulnerable populations through social cash transfers (SCTs), livelihoods support, Enhanced Climate Smart Public Works, as well as an option for scalable financing for SCTs reach more disaster-affected households in times of weather-related disasters. At full scale, the project is expected to expand support from the current 490,984 beneficiary households to 778,000.

“Providing vulnerable households with modest amounts of cash at a time when they are making difficult decisions amidst recurring climatic and economic shocks, protects household welfare, helps them build human capital and avoid negative coping mechanisms,” says Chipo Msowoya, Senior Social Protection Specialist and team lead for the project.

The project has become a major tool for addressing multiple and overlapping crises in Malawi. In 2021, nearly 140,000 households benefitted from the project’s special COVID-19 Urban Cash Intervention (CUCI) designed to help the urban poor population cope with the health and economic effects of the pandemic. The intervention was implemented in the poorest hotspots of four cities in Malawi.

In 2023, approximately 214,000 households were provided with cash transfers in response to acute food insecurity caused by droughts across 20 districts. Starting in July 2023, the project will support households that have been affected by Cyclone Freddy as part of a recovery plan.

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