Lilongwe is Malawi’s capital and its centre of government. President Joyce Banda is both the country’s and southern Africa’s first woman leader. The capital takes its name from the River Lilongwe which flows into Lake Malawi. The city is exceptionally green, with trees and patches of grassland covering a great deal of its land.
HIV/AIDS is widespread in Malawi, and, shockingly, 50,000 Malawians lose their lives to it every year. It is estimated that 11% of those aged between 15 and 49 are infected. In the capital, the figure is closer to 17%. Life expectancy across the country is 55 for both men and women. Despite increased efforts to improve living conditions, life in the capital is very tough for thousands of its 780,000 citizens.
Poor harvests and food shortages
Several years of poor harvests caused by a combination of drought and late rains means that the price of food has increased. For example, the price of maize in December 2013 was 159% higher than the five-year average. This means that the local community is malnourished and poor families are seriously short of food. Parents, especially single mothers, often go without eating for several days at a time so that what little food they have goes to the children. When parents are under-nourished, it can mean that they are unable to do household chores and care for their children.
Over and above food shortages, many of the poorest citizens live in shacks made from scraps of wood and plastic, and lack proper sanitation. Potable water is often unavailable, so that drinking water is untreated and comes from unprotected sources. Immunity against common diseases, such as colds, diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses quickly becomes compromised in these conditions. If the household is HIV positive, then immunity is compromised further. These conditions seriously endanger their children’s future, and in many households, eventually lead to the loss of one or more parent.
What are we doing in Lilongwe?
Our SOS Children's Village
Our Children's Village in Lilongwe was established in 1994 and was our first in Malawi. It currently has 12 family homes where we take care of over 100 children, all of whom have lost one or both parents and have no relatives who are able to look after them. Education for both the children in our care and those who live in the wider community is provided by our three schools. Our SOS Nursery provides a safe and constructive environment for close to 200 babies and young children, our SOS Primary and Secondary Schools provide quality education for over 1,000 students in total.
Once our young people have finished their secondary education, they have the opportunity to continue their development at our SOS Vocational Training Centre. This centre teaches them practical skills which are needed in the local area, and has room for almost 150 students. By this stage in their lives, our young people are ready to take the first steps towards independence, and our youth programme supports them through the transition to adulthood.
Our work in the community
Alongside our Children’s Village and educational facilities, our SOS Medical Centre offers treatment to up to 60 patients every day. We offer HIV/AIDS screening and treatment, run vaccination programmes and provide other preventative measures. Our therapy centre provides speech, physio- and occupational therapies to 1,000 disabled children whose parents also benefit from practical and psychological support.
Our community programme, run by the team at our SOS Social Centre, supports around 2,000 people living in the local community. Working with local organisations, the aim of this programme is to support families who are struggling to provide food, education and other necessities for their children. We offer guidance on income-generating skills, good parenting practice and counselling. We also provide practical support in terms of food, clothing and education. In particular, our work in the area is directed towards families affected by HIV/AIDS.
Today, we are a key part of the community in Lilongwe, providing care to the most vulnerable children and ensuring young people across the capital enjoy the best possible family life.