Malawi is a landlocked country located in Southeast Africa and is about the size of Pennsylvania (click the “map marker” button on the top right of this page to see a map of Malawi). It is referred to as “The Warm Heart of Africa” by both locals and visitors for its friendly spirit and welcoming people; but behind the optimism of its culture, Malawi is one of the poorest places on earth.
Poverty continues to be chronic and widespread in Malawi, which is ranked 170 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (UNDP, 2015). According to the United Nations Development Programme, over 60% of Malawians live on less than $1.25 per day. The country’s development is hindered by a fast growing population, limited arable land, natural disasters, food insecurity, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and a high incidence of malaria.
Malawi is home to approximately 19.2 million people and 67% of the population is under the age of 25 (CIA World Factbook, 2017). Furthermore, almost 50% of the population is under the age of 15, meaning that a large number of Malawian children are living in poverty. Poverty threatens children’s most basic rights to survival, health, nutrition, education and protection from exploitation. Millions of children, particularly in rural areas, face unimaginable living conditions. They remain without access to running water, decent sanitation and medical facilities. Malnutrition is devastating and the single biggest contributor to child death in Malawi (UNICEF).
Malawi is heavily affected by HIV/AIDS; tens of thousands die each year because of AIDS. The HIV prevalence rate is more than 9% and over 1,000,000 people in the country are living with the disease. The extent to which the disease affects the country’s children is beyond compare. More than half of Malawi’s estimated one million orphans, have lost one or both of their parents to HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS, 2016).
While primary school is free in Malawi, costs such as uniforms, pencils, notepads and shoes often prove too great for struggling subsistence farmers and make even free primary school too expensive for many families. Secondary school (high school in the US) is not free in Malawi and school fees are unaffordable for many. Although secondary school education remains a basic public service in many countries across the world, many children in Malawi will never have the opportunity to experience a secondary education at all.
While Malawi is a poor country in terms of wealth, it’s also a friendly and welcoming one. As a subsistence economy, most Malawians live in rural villages along the crystal clear waters of one of the world’s largest and most beautiful lakes: Lake Malawi. Malawi is 90% Christian and 10% Islamic and religion is quite important in dealing with the struggles of everyday life. Malawi is a functioning multiparty democracy and its people boast of the peace that is inherent in their culture. For all of the hardship, hunger, disease, lack of education and lack of opportunity, the people of Malawi remain optimistic and continue to strive for advancement through hard work and honesty.