Are you interested in the developing world and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? Then you should get to know Malawi. Located in sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi is one of the poorest nations on earth. Challenges in Malawi include poverty, hunger, health and well-being, quality education and gender equality. With a will to persevere, Malawians are on the path to progress.
Poverty in Malawi
Depending on the poverty statistics you’re considering, Malawi is either the poorest nation on Earth or not far from it. Even in a region that is one of the poorest on earth, Malawi lags behind its neighbors economically. The World Bank claims that Malawi had the lowest gross national product (GDP) per capita on earth in 2014: $255, or roughly a tenth of Honduras’ GDP.
Each day, the average Malawian survives on what you would consider to be pocket change. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, roughly three out of four Malawians live on less than $1.25 per day while nine out of ten live on less than $2.00 per day.
This extraordinary level of poverty is the result of a distinct lack of foreign investment, a history of corrupt governing and stolen aid, and a largely rural population bereft of transportation or employment options.
Not Just Money: Lack of Access
Rural Malawians also lack easy access to just about everything you could imagine. Many must walk miles to reach schools, clean water, food, healthcare and economic hubs.
This, along with many other limiting factors, forces Malawians to choose between necessities. Because of the opportunity cost and stress of having to walk miles to and from school, 57% of Malawians do not finish primary school. A lack of education limits many Malawians’ potential to improve their lives.
Education and Gender Inequality
The difficulty of travel hits girls especially hard in Malawi, increasing their school dropout rates. Girls have many more domestic duties, even as young teenagers, than boys do. In families that must choose, most would prefer for their sons to go to school rather than their daughters, as boys are seen as a better investment.
Many Malawian girls have children at a young age or have to spend their days caring for younger siblings. In 2014, a staggering 14% of girls aged 15-19 gave birth in Malawi. That number is one of the highest in the world and almost six times the rate in the United States. When Malawian girls give birth, they are unlikely to go back to school as they either do not have the time or fear not being accepted back.
Compounding these girls’ responsibilities is the fact that many young mothers are abandoned by their children’s father, resulting in a 61% likelihood of them becoming single mothers by the age of 45. Roughly a fifth of Malawian women will be single mothers by the age of 20.
Unfortunately, this is a typical life for many African girls across the region. From a young age, many Malawian girls see their educational potential stymied through social norms and expectations that do not have the same impact on boys. This contributes to systemic gender inequality. The U.N. identifies equal access to education as a key requirement for achieving gender equality, as the two issues are so intertwined.
Hunger and Health in Malawi
A lack of resources, rural isolation and a high dropout rate put Malawian children in a vulnerable position, susceptible to hunger and health issues. Child hunger is an especially serious problem in Malawi. According to UNICEF, almost 13% of Malawian children are either moderately or severely underweight. Rural children are 30% more likely to be underweight than their urban counterparts. This lack of nourishment early in life creates many future health issues.
One reason why food security is such a widespread problem is because most Malawians are dependent on the food they can grow themselves or obtain through government subsidies. Markets are often too far away for rural Malawians who have no transportation options, and many cannot afford to buy food at market prices anyway. When drought, flooding or a reduction in government funding occurs, millions of Malawians are at risk. This happened in 2012, when there was a widespread food shortage in the country.
The lack of transportation in rural Malawi also impacts healthcare. Healthcare workers have trouble reaching rural patients and roughly 10% of Malawians have HIV or AIDS.
World Bicycle Relief’s Purpose in Malawi
By launching an education program in Malawi, World Bicycle Relief is determined to put 2,000 bicycles into the hands of rural Malawian students. The average Malawian student spends approximately 4 hours a day walking to school. These bicycles will mobilize them to travel to and from school more efficiently. Students with bicycles are more likely to stay in school, using the extra time and energy they save from cycling for studying.
Our Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP) targets two thirds of bikes for girl students. Often facing sexual assault, harassment and vulnerability while walking to school, girls with safe, reliable bicycles may more readily avoid teen pregnancy.
With bicycles as tools, rural Malawian students — both boys and girls — are able to empower themselves as well as their communities. When not in use for school commutes, these bikes enable a student’s family to travel farther distances for trade and healthcare. These communities gain access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. Through The Power of Bicycles, the enduring Malawian people can improve their quality of life and progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development goals.
In the words of 15-year-old Sheila, a future bicycle recipient in Malawi, I’m positive, when bicycles are here, we are going to go far.