BLANTYRE - Elementary school children in Malawi, one of Africa's poorest countries, normally get free meals at school; but, when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close in March, families were left with the added cost burden. The international charity Mary's Meals, which runs the feeding program in one-third of Malawi's elementary schools, has started distributing food to poor communities to help them cope.
Mary’s Meals has been feeding thousands of children in the schools for the past 18 years.
The young learners receive hot porridge made from maize or soya bean flour mixed with salt and sugar.
The aim is to increase enrollment for children who might fail to attend classes because of hunger in their families, and to meet the nutrition needs of the students.
Bart Rombaut is the country director for Mary’s Meals in Malawi. He spoke to VOA by telephone.
“We normally work in around 1,116 primary schools in Malawi. And we have a focus on some special schools like children who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, and also disabled children, so those children receive special attention...So, approximately one million children in Malawi are covered by this action,” he said.
The closure of schools in March because of COVID- 19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, deprived students of this source of nutrition, posing a threat to their health.
Rombaut saif this has forced the charity to find new ways of feeding the children in compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures.
“We decided to make ready-made food packages that the parents collect at schools and take home. We want to limit interactions between human beings and at the same time make sure that the individual child receives our nutritious meal.”
Lizinet Kanamule said her two children are benefiting from the school feeding program.
She told VOA via telephone that although the meals are meant for her children, the whole family is benefiting.
She said, “This is helping us a lot, and because of this pandemic, things are not working. We are facing food shortages in our homes. So as a family the food stuffs we are receiving for our children are helping us because we are cooking porridge to cater to the whole family.”
Rombaut said the new program is expected to run through July when the Malawian school year normally ends.
He said prospects are high the initiative will resume should the schools remain closed at the start of the new school year in September.