In Malawi, 18 per cent of children are orphaned or vulnerable (OVC). Some are supported by extended family or community members, but many go on to live on their own.
Meet the Namuonas
Left to right: Davie, 15; Rabecca, 6; Omega, 8; Chikondi, 4; Ruth, 11; and Susan, 13. The children’s mother died in 2007 and their father left two years later when illness made it difficult for him to care for his children.
A helping hand
The children help one another get ready for school. Susan, Ruth, Omega, and Rabecca all attend school near their home in the Blantyre township of Bangwe.
Chikondi rests while her older sisters prepare for school. The under-developed four-year-old was born four months before her mother died and has AIDS. She requires a nutritious diet but the children often go without breakfast.
Omega collects her English workbook from the bedroom she shares with her four sisters. The family’s home is sturdy, but the outdoor shower has collapsed and the bathroom is sliding down the hill.
The children’s grandmother, Edda, lives just a few houses away, but at 65-years-old she is unable to practically or financially assist her grandchildren. However, when the girls are at school and Davie is at work, she keeps an eye on Chikondi.
Bangwe Hill overlooks the village graveyard where Davie’s mother and cousin are buried. Davie was working at a market selling eggs from 7am to 7pm, but when his cousin died from malaria, he took two days off to attend the funeral and was laid off. He is now looking for work.
Davie tends to domestic duties, which include collecting food from the family’s plot high up on Bangwe Hill. The few handfuls of pumpkin leaves he collects today will provide both lunch and dinner.
Susan, who is in Standard 8 (Grade 7), has now surpassed her brother at school. Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) are not only less likely to attend school than other children, but their attendance and attention are often compromised by the need to generate an income.
In the classroom
Although her Standard 3 (Grade 2) class is overcrowded, Omega, like her sisters, is relieved from duties at home for a few hours.
Susan washes the family’s clothes in a nearby stream. While the siblings share chores, Davie and Susan, as the eldest, take care of the most grueling tasks, such as doing laundry or collecting water.
The cost of living
Rabecca looks on while Davie and Ruth de-spine the dried fish they will eat for dinner. Davie earns 50 MWK ($0.33 CAD) per day selling eggs – the food in the bowl cost him 100 MWK ($0.66 CAD). Maxwell Matewere, Executive Director of Eye of the Child, explains, OVC often end up in exploitative situations to support their familes with many resorting to petty crime, prostitution, and street begging.
Waste not, want not
Omega stirs maize kernels using an old cob to stop them from burning. It’s harvesting season and while maize is abundant, no part of this staple crop goes to waste – even the cobs, stripped of their kernels, are used to build fires in place of wood.
Part of the routine
A jar of petroleum jelly balances on top of Chikondi’s antiretrovirals (ARVs), which she takes twice a day. These life-prolonging drugs are provided by the government and are collected by Davie at the Bangwe Health Center.
By the light of a small cooking fire, Susan makes nsima, a pounded maize meal that is cheap and filling. Blanketed by darkness, Bangwe settles in to a quiet evening and the Namuona family, plus two – their neighbor’s children – settle in for a meal together.