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The beautiful nation of Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa, boasts rich red soil, expansive skies, lush vegetation, and the longest and most fertile lake (Lake Malawi) on the continent. Malawi is among the world’s least developed and most densely populated countries. The economy is heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population. Malawi has traditionally been known as “the warm heart of Africa,” so named for the relational warmth of the people. However, in recent decades the HIV/AIDS plague, which has caused excess mortality among a single parental generation, has given birth to a new nickname: the Orphan Nation.
Malawi's population is made up of several African ethnic groups, with descendents of the Chewa tribe making up the largest demographic. There are very small populations of Asian and European people living mainly in the cities.
Malawi’s official language is English, though Chichewa, the most predominant tribal language, is spoken by over 57 percent of the population.
Eighty percent of Malawi’s population are followers of Christianity, with the Catholic and Presbyterian churches making up the largest Christian groups. Around 13 percent of the population is Muslim. Atheists and those who practice traditional African religions make up approximately 4 percent of the population, with other religious groups making up the remaining 3 percent.
Malawians are storytellers with a long-standing oral tradition. Dance is also an important part of their culture.
The Way of Life
Malawi is a very poor nation, but one of great scenic beauty. Most of the land consists of plateaus of different altitudes, resulting in a variety of climates. Malawi is pleasantly cooler than many other African countries, but the climate of the lowlands is hot, humid, and tropical.
Traditional rural homes are round, mud-walled, thatched-roof huts. These are gradually being replaced by mud-brick houses with tin roofs.
Ninety percent of Malawi’s population live in small villages in rural areas making their living from agriculture. Although the soil is rich, only one-third of the land is suitable for farming because of mountains, forests, and rough pastures. The staple diet is nsima (ground white maize) eaten with vegetables and, on occasion, fish or meat.
Malawians typically live with their extended families in huts that are clustered together. A spirit of cooperation prevails as family members share both work and resources. Malawian families are often large because they are highly valued. A large family means more hands to help on the farm and assures parents will be cared for as they age.
Life is difficult for many Malawian families, as much of the population lives in poverty.
There is a high adult prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that about 1 of every 10 people have the disease. There is also a very high degree of risk for major infectious diseases, including bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and malaria—diseases which claim lives daily because they are left untreated due to little access to medical care.
The high orphan population has created an undue burden on extended families that are barely able to provide for their own children, let alone children of their deceased relatives. Widows and elderly grandparents are often left no choice but to take in children they cannot properly provide for. Many orphans are taken advantage of, abandoned, rejected, and in some cases left to fend for themselves.
Many heads of households are widows, who are often the sole provider for a dozen or more children. Orphan-headed households are not uncommon.
More than a quarter of all Malawians are illiterate. In 1994, free primary education for all children was established by the government, which increased attendance rates, but academic performance and secondary-school enrollment continue to decline.
Environmental challenges such as extreme weather changes, ranging from drought to heavy rainfall, cause poor crop yields and widespread famine.
COTN’s Involvement: Raising children who transform nations
Taking into their care the most desperate children, COTN raises them out of the dust of powerlessness and gives them the opportunity to live, learn, laugh, and someday, to lead. In Malawi we are beginning to see our vision come to fruition. Through Village Partnership Programs and Children’s Homes, COTN has established a daily presence in the communities we minister to, providing resources (including schools, medical clinics, feeding centers, health initiatives, etc.) that empower Malawian nationals to raise their own children.
COTN is committed to seeing all of our children in Malawi succeed. Our goal is to empower children to become all their potential will allow. Our children will be among those who transform their nations and liberate future generations from the victimization of poverty and the ravages of pandemic illnesses. Working together with the people of Malawi, we strongly believe that reaching our objective of seeing our children grow into well-balanced, self-sustainable, proactive individuals is possible.