Teacher Helped by School Meals Inspires Girls in Malawi

by World Food Programme | World Food Programme
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 11:58 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Alice Kankhwala was one of the first students to receive WFP school meals in 1999. Fifteen years later, she is now a teacher, inspiring young girls to follow her example and complete their education too.

Alice Kankhwala could have been like many Malawian girls who never get an education. She could have been married young in country where half of the girls are brides by their 18th birthday. She could have been sent to work to help her farmer parents.  

"Growing up, we were never sure if we would even have a meal at all," she says. 

But life changed for Alice when she became one of the first beneficiaries of WFP's school meals programme in 1999. The promise of a hot meal motivated her to attend school every day - and the food helped improve her concentration in class.  A take-home ration of maize provided during the hunger season further encouraged her parents to keep her in school. Alice's attendance actually ensured the family had enough to eat after their harvested food had finished.  

Alice went on to secondary school and now teaches at Mtakataka Primary School - the very school she once attended as a pupil. Alice credits the school meals she received for her success today. 

Role model

"I wouldn't have finished my primary school if there had been no school meals," she says.

Alice takes her teaching outside the classroom, advocating for girls' education whenever she speaks to parents in the community. She became a teacher to serve as a role model and to empower young girls through knowledge. 

"I want the girls to avoid getting married and pregnant early," she says. "I want them to know it isn't worth losing their education." 

Thanks to contributions from donors including McGovern-Dole, UKaid and Canada, and private donors such as PostNL and the Caterpillar Foundation, WFP is able to reach over 800,000 boys and girls in nearly 700 schools in Malawi with school meals every day. 

Economic impacts

While school meals are an important incentive for families to educate their children, they bring particular benefits to young girls. Every year a girl stays in primary school boosts her future wages by up to 20 percent (World Bank 2002). 

According to the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, this has broader economic impacts as women and girls reinvest the vast majority of their income - up to 90 percent - back into their families.  Keeping girls in school gives them a better education and raises the age at which they marry and have children, opening up real opportunities for the future.