Helping Grandparents in Malawi Raise the Next Generation

December 14, 2020

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Days are full for Wilson Kamwana, 84, who lives in Kasale 1 village in Malawi's Ntcheu District with his wife, Rachel, their grown daughters and four grandchildren. Kamwana makes bamboo mats and sells them for a living, and tends a small crop of maize, the staple food in the village. His extended family is among Malawi's ultrapoor households who can just barely make ends meet, even in the best of times. 


"Our life is full of struggles, but the little we get, we manage to share," says Kamwana's daughter Ndekhani. 


In May 2020, Kamwana's household began receiving an unconditional monthly payment — the equivalent of $7 a month — through a UNICEF-supported social cash transfer program known locally as Mtukula Pakhomo. "‘I can see a real difference with the cash grants," he says. "We have money to afford necessities like salt, sugar and soap. I also buy my grandchildren school materials they can use in their studies."


Kamwana used part of the modest monthly payments to purchase fertilizer for his maize crop, and to grind the maize into flour at the mill so the family can make nsima for their daily meals. "This helps me to have a good maize crop harvest and I cannot lack food," he says. 


Flexible funding allows each household to use the money where it's needed most: nutrition, education, health care. During the pandemic, soap has beome more important than ever. Kamwana reminds his grandchildren to wash their hands regularly with soap, and to remember his favorite proverb: "An angry person is like a fool and people avoid him because he feels all knowing, yet humility elevates a person."


Wilson Kamwana’s granddaughter Final Chisi, 18 months, outside the family's house in Kasale 1, Ntcheu District, Malawi. © UNICEF/UNI364669/Khanyizira


 "My grandfather advises me not to be naughty in class," says 9-year-old Hiza. "My grandfather, he's my role model," adds Florah, 16. 


"Living with grandchildren is good," Kamwana says. "Education is important and I encourage my grandchildren to concentrate on their studies in order to build a good character and to have a better life than me." 


In 2020, around 291,322 households in Malawi have benefitted from unconditional social cash transfers; 134,593 of those households are headed by the elderly.  


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Learn more about how UNICEF is helping children in Malawi through the Kids In Need of Desks (K.I.N.D.) Fund initiative, a partnership between UNICEF and MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell. 


Top photo: In Malawi's Ntcheu District, Wilson Kamwana, 84, far right, and his extended family use the $7 a month they receive from a UNICEF-supported unconditional cash transfer program to pay for basic necessities like soap, salt, sugar and school supplies. © UNICEF/UNI364682/Khanyizira