University here I come! The impact of social cash transfers

William with his mom as she holds her families SCTP ID & ATM card.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi

William Lifa is a 19-year-old boy from M’bawa Village in Balaka.  He’s a happy boy, with a contagious smile. He also has a lot to smile about. He was lucky enough to get a visit from The Minister of Gender, Mary Navicha who came to congratulate him on his selection to University after passing his Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations with 10 points.  

William’s achievements are admirable and were made possible thanks to the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP). In his home district of Balaka, the SCTP is implemented with funding from the Government of Ireland. The SCTP provides cash assistance to ultra-poor families in all the districts across the country. The programme aims to reduce poverty and hunger, and to increase school enrolment.

William’s family was enrolled into the STCP in February 2013. This money has helped his single mother, Modesta Raja, in providing basic needs for her six children through the 8000 Malawi Kwacha she receives monthly.

William with his mom and siblings outside their home. The mom was able to build the house with SCTP money.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

A struggle each day

William’s father passed away in 2007, and Modesta separated from her second husband a few years ago. Like most Malawian families living in rural areas, Modesta does piece works on people’s farms to provide income for the family.

Her family experienced many challenges. Their family house was dilapidated, the children had no clothes, no soap, and having a meal every day was rare. Modesta recalls these tough moments like it was yesterday. “Life was not easy, my children would often skip school, and I struggled to pay William’s school fees,” she explains with a subdued voice.

SCTP assistance

With all these obstacles, being registered on SCTP gave the family a much-needed breakthrough. Modesta received 28,000 Malawi Kwacha in arrears and was able to buy two goats which reproduced two other goats. “I took it as an opportunity to pay William’s fees, as he was my only child in secondary school by then. I also kept some money in the bank for future school fees,” she says.

With the money from SCTP, William was able to enroll in the self- boarding facilities at his school, Namalomba Community Day Secondary School in Balaka, since his mother could now support him.

 “I went to self-boarding because previously I used to walk 5 kilometers to school. It was mostly difficult during the rainy season when I would often get to school late. I would end up being busy with punishments that my teachers gave me for not being at school on time instead of being in class,” William explains. “However, being in boarding school was great because it helped me with my study routine, and I always had time for extra discussions with my classmates.”

William proudly holding his 10 points MSCE certificate.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

10 points and admission to university

The enrolment to boarding school paid off as William attained 10 points (with the highest one can get being 6 and lowest being 54 points) in his MSCE examinations. Full of confidence, William smilingly explains how he got the 10 points. “I studied hard, had a good teacher, and my mom always encouraged me to work hard in school,” he says.

After his achievement, he thought it wise to sit for Malawi’s public university entrance examinations. He passed and was accepted to Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST). He was ecstatic, though his dream was to always study a Bachelor of Medicine.

Yet, even after his university offer, the issue of school fees would re-emerge. Bravely, William walked to the Social Welfare office in Balaka to find out any way he could get assistance. “A week after visiting the social welfare office, I received a phone call from them telling me that First Capital Bank will be providing me with a full scholarship to go to university,” he explains cheerfully. “I was happy when I heard this exciting news because I was so desperate to the extent  that I lost my appetite and couldn’t even eat nsima! I was so joyful when they told me everything will be paid for.”

While celebrating yet another breakthrough, William is glad the SCTP enabled him to finish secondary school.  “To me, SCTP is working because the money helps us with our needs and our welfare is taken care of. I see a bright future ahead of me, with the degree I’m going to pursue, I want to contribute to finding cures for various diseases,” William describes with joy.

Sulumbeje Dickson, one of many SCTP the beneficiaries from Balaka recieving money at a cash pay point.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

Williams mother has similar sentiments about the SCTP. She believes that it changed her life for the better and that it has enabled her children to go to school, buy them uniforms and other clothes. “I encourage other parents in our village to use the cash from SCTP wisely and put it to good investment, that way it can help to provide a better future for their children too,” Modesta illustrates.

Support from Irish Aid

The SCTP is being implemented by the Government of Malawi with financial assistance from the Government of Ireland and technical support from UNICEF. “The SCTP is helping families take their first step towards escaping the cycle of poverty and hunger. The money is able to assist beneficiaries with school supplies, investing in  business and other basic needs.” says UNICEF Malawi Acting Chief of Social Policy Nkandu Chilombo.

For Modesta Raja, the SCTP has made the impossible possible with her son on his way to university. Moreover, after receiving further arrears in 2016, Modesta was able to build a decent home for her family.

On the other hand, William is looking forward to starting the new chapter in his life at university. “My message to Irish Aid and UNICEF is that I’m very thankful for their assistance, and they should continue to help families in Malawi,” he says.

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