Mzuzu is Malawi’s third largest city and has a population of around 180,000. However, when its hinterland is included, this rises to approximately 1.7 million, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The surrounding region is predominantly agricultural with tea, rubber and coffee plantations. The city itself has considerable timber and manufacturing industries.
Life in the hinterlands of Mzuzu is very tough. Clean drinking water is often not available, there are long distances between settlements, schools and health centres and, consequently, many families lack any form of support. Children are particularly vulnerable, especially when they have lost parental care, or are at risk of losing it.
The consequences of polygamy
It is estimated that one in five women in Malawi is in a polygamous marriage, despite efforts to abolish the practice. In the fight to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, polygamy is of particular concern. In addition, when a man has several wives, and probably several children with each wife, it can be very hard to provide for them all, especially when there are school fees and uniforms or medical care to be paid for. Despite many efforts to educate people about its consequences, early and forced marriages are common for young girls and particularly prevalent in poverty-stricken rural areas.
Preventable diseases still endanger the population
The HIV/AIDS epidemic, chronic malnutrition, substandard health services and a lack of clean drinking water severely affect the population, and children are particularly vulnerable. Many get diarrhoea and abdominal problems from drinking unclean water from local wells. Poor health often prevents the educational development of children living in rural areas, where they have to walk long distances to get to school each day.
The difficult living conditions in the countryside drive many families to migrate to the city. However, Mzuzu’s lack of an adequate water and sewerage infrastructure means that living conditions in the informal settlements are little better than in more rural areas. It is estimated that up to 60% of the local population live in such settlements.
What are we doing in Mzuzu?
Our SOS Children’s Village
Our second Malawian Children's Village was opened in Mzuzu in 2002, providing homes for up to 150 children in 15 families. Our SOS Nursery and Primary School take care of their early years needs and education. Both facilities welcome children from the surrounding community – our nursery provides a safe and constructive environment for around 90 babies and young children, while our school provides a high standard of education for over 300 pupils. Our older children attend local secondary schools, thus ensuring that they maintain their connection with the wider community.
Alleviating hardship in the community
Our SOS Social Centre manages our community work, which is aimed at struggling families. Its purpose is to alleviate hardship and maintain family stability so that the families can stay and grow together. Children’s needs are central to our work and we offer access to essential health and nutritional services alongside schooling. Parents are able to learn or improve their income-generating skills and we work with other local organisations to support community-based programmes.
We also offer guidance on parenting, counselling and psychological support where appropriate. Our support continues beyond education when our young people are ready to move on to more independent lives. Our youth programme supports them as they learn the skills and attitudes which will take them into adulthood.
Our work in Mzuzu enables the region's most vulnerable children a second chance with a new family. By helping the community to support itself, we are working to create a better environment for a new generation.