More uniforms equals more children in school

When Mphika started primary school four months ago, he had no school uniform. His mother says some children at his school used to laugh at him.

In Malawi, 20.1% of the population cannot afford to meet basic needs and are classified as ultra- poor (IHS4). The Government of Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Programme, which was introduced in 2006, supports the poorest families in all 28 districts. Families receive a monthly allowance of an average $7, with an additional amount given to families with children who are in school.

Within the SCTP, the Dutch Government supports the Linkages and Referrals component in 8 districts to bring essential services closer to SCTP beneficiaries.  Extension workers have been trained to link beneficiaries to appropriate services such as health, education and agriculture.

Rosena Chakwathu is a health surveillance assistant (HAS)at Nsanje District Hospital in southern Malawi. She provides health services to under-five children in villages around the hospital. Rosena has worked in Nsanje for 27 years. She has been trained to support the delivery of development programmes, including the SCTP. Rosena believes that one of the biggest challenges in the district is children dropping out of school.

Rosena links SCTP beneficiaries to education, health and other services
Rosena links SCTP beneficiaries to education, health and other services

She assists in selecting the deserving families to be registered in the SCTP. Rosena explains that a lot of people are poor, but some are poorer than others. “You can see that a family is very poor by just looking at their house and whether they have a radio or livestock. The poorest families will only eat once a day and they can’t afford school supplies to keep their children in school,” says Rosena.

A uniform goes a long way

7-year-old Mphika Fackson is a quiet child who hardly ever smiles, even when found playing with his friends. Mphika has two younger brothers; 4-year-old Thita and 2-month-old Gamphi. Their mother has been unwell lately and often sits at home while her husband goes off to look for work, mostly farming or working on construction sites.

Like 280,486 other families in Malawi, Mphika’s family is being supported to meet their daily needs. They receive about $12 every month under Government of Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Programme with UNICEF support.

When Mphika started primary school four months ago, he had no school uniform. His mother says some of the children at his school used to laugh at him. His clothes are worn and made him feel out of place at school, where hundreds of other children wore the blue and white uniform.

7-year- old Mphika in his new school uniform
7-year- old Mphika in his new school uniform

On a routine follow up with the family, Rosena Chakwathu, discovered that Mphika was missing school a lot. His mother said it was because he did not have a school uniform. Rosena took up the matter with Mphika’s school who linked him to a local organization which mobilizes funds for uniforms for children who cannot afford it. Mphika now has a school uniform thanks to this referral.

“Poor people are often excluded from critical information and services in the community. The combination of cash and the linkages to essential services like education, which the Dutch Government supports in Malawi, is more effective in achieving the desired impacts of the cash transfer programme,” says UNICEF Malawi Chief of Social Policy Beatrice Targa.

A 2018 World Bank study in Kenya found that receiving school uniforms reduced absenteeism by 37 percent. In Mlangala village, Mulanje, 12-year-old Mary Masubi’s situation is no different. She lives with her grandmother Merida Dinala who has been a cash transfer beneficiary for four years. Mary grew out of her old uniform a year ago and this affected her attendance at school. “Most of my clothes are not good enough to wear to school,” says Mary.

The SCTP case manager in Mlangala village referred Mary’s case to a local organization and she has now received a school uniform, a torch and notebooks. Mary is happy with this new package “The new uniform fits me perfectly and I use the torch to study at night. I want to be a teacher and teach other children what I am learning now,” she says.

Doreen Chirambo, Social Services Support officer in Mulanje says there is high demand for education services among SCTP beneficiaries in the district. The most commonly referred education services include school uniforms and bursaries.

Written by
Rebecca Phwitiko
Communications Officer
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Children’s Fund