The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to its knees in the space of a few months.
The majority of media coverage has focused on the hot spots – China, Italy, Spain and now the USA and its epicenter of New York, but there’s a ticking time bomb that for the most part has gone unreported.
For some time now the World Health Organization has held grave concerns for the African continent, where health systems are far less developed.
Brisbane mum Donna Power has been supporting some of the world’s poorest children for almost a decade through her charity Project Kindy. The grassroots organisation raises funds for kindergartens in the eastern African country of Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations where over half of the population live below the poverty line.
With the majority of the country involved in some kind of agriculture, Donna told 96five that the industry was highly susceptible to weather shocks, leaving the people in a vulnerable state.
“They’re subsistence farmers for the most part, and in Malawi they only have one harvest per year. If the rains don’t come and they miss that harvest they’re in dire straits for the next 12 months.”
Donna first became aware of the desperate situation in the country through a friend; Sister Melissa Dwyer had been serving in the country with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. On learning that the kindy attached to Sister Melissa’s convent was going to close because of a lack of funds, Donna took it on herself to raise the monthly cost to keep it afloat.
Staggeringly it only costs $160 per month to fund a kindergarten of 40 children, including a daily lunch.
Project Kindy now supports almost 900 kindergarten students in eleven kindy’s across rural Malawi.
Lockdown in a Developing Nation
But as COVID-19 begins to spread in Malawi, Donna is convinced that the poorest of the poor will be impacted the most by any shutdown or restrictions.
“There’s no safety net or ability to dream of a safety net in Malawi. When the poor lose their customers, there is no compensation for that, so they go into further destitution.”
She’s not alone in her concerns, following the recent decision by the High Court in the capital Lilongwe.
After President Peter Mutharika announced a 21 day nationwide lockdown in mid-April, there were protests in the streets, strikes by doctors and nurses and legal action by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, who argued that the president had not set in place adequate protection for the poor. In what can only be described as a stunning decision, the court ruled against the president and ordered an economic safety net be put in place for those who will need it.
The social unrest in opposition to any lockdown measures in the country highlights the political instability in the country, with many having no faith in the president to lead the country through a crisis. This follows the Malawian Constitutional Courts decision in February to overturn his presidential victory of last year, ordering a new vote to be held in July.
But of course, a lockdown in third world Africa looks entirely different to what Western nations have experienced through their shutdowns.
Current restrictions have already closed Donna’s kindys, but the two big concerns that Donna has for her communities is the upcoming harvest and also access to water.
“If you’re not allowed to leave your home you can’t go out and walk the long distance that you need to in order to get water. Some of our families walk up to three hours each day to get water. Although we would consider it essential to go and get water there’s a lot of confusion over what will be allowed. My concern is that families won’t be able to access water, which they already can’t access locally.”
It’s this issue that Donna has now turned her attention to, with only five out of the eleven communities that Project Kindy supports having access to a local well.
Although there are some challenges in getting the building teams, materials and equipment out into the rural communities, Donna says it’s entirely possible but reliant on funds being available.
And it doesn’t cost as much as you would think with the average cost of a well to provide clean drinking water for a village coming in at around the $9,000AUD mark.
If you’d like to find out more about the work of Project Kindy, or contribute to the cost of building a well in a village that needs it you can do so at their website, or keep up to date with them via their Facebook page.