Finding time to be children in Malawi

Alinafe lives in Malawi and is the head of her family at just thirteen years old. She tells us more about her life and the importance of education within it. 

Thirteen-year-old Alinafe looks after her two younger siblings in a basic, one-roomed mud house in Malawi. 

Having lost both parents at a young age, a lot of responsibility rests on the teenager’s young shoulders. She rises at dawn each day to take care of household chores and help her little brothers prepare for the day ahead.

All three children receive likuni phala (porridge) at Kogolo Primary School from Mary’s Meals, which goes a long way in keeping them healthy amid Malawi’s worsening food crisis.

Alinafe says: “My parents left a piece of land which we tried to grow millet on. We managed to harvest five basins which we used up a long time ago.”

Since then, Alinafe has started running a small charcoal business on the weekends. She and her siblings collect firewood from various mountains, chop it up and burn it to make charcoal, which they then sell. 

The process is difficult as they are all very young, so Alinafe offered a job to an older boy in the village, who she gives food to as payment. However, the business doesn’t always mean the children can achieve their hopes of eating at least one meal each day together at home.

“I sell charcoal for 5,700 kwacha which I buy five basins of maize with. It’s been two weeks since I have earned that much", Alinafe says. “Last week someone owed us money for the charcoal. They didn’t pay us on time so we went the week without food.”

The children work extremely hard, sacrificing their childhoods to make ends meet. They worry about sleeping alone without an adult, and securing enough food to eat – but still they work together as a family to survive. 

Alinafe tells us: “I am very worried about the hunger situation and the house we live in leaks. It scares me at night that one day it may fall on me whilst I’m still sleeping.  

“My life is very difficult, I don’t have any clothes other than these ones and another pair and it is the same for my brothers… I don’t have any help except for my friend who helps me to collect water after school. Otherwise, I do all the chores before and after school.

“I make sure my brothers don’t go too far when they are playing, so that when we eat food we eat together and not separately. We are a family.” 

At school, the three siblings can take some much-needed time to be children – enjoying a nutritious meal and learning their lessons.

“I like school very much because it gives me knowledge", Alinafe says. “I love reading books because they make me smart. I know if I work hard, I’ll be able to get a good job and take care of my siblings.”