MDZOBWE -- Abigail Kagwa can tell you exactly how many days she has spent at school this month.
“Today is my 18th day,” she says with a broad smile. “That means I will get a bag of maize at the end of the month to take home to my family.”
So will hundreds of other girls at Mdzobwe primary school in central Malawi, where farmers tend small plots of maize and vegetables.
As an incentive for parents to keep their daughters in class, the World Food Programme provides a monthly take-home ration of 12.5 kg of maize to any girl who attends school for a minimum of 18 days each month.
The results are remarkable.
When the programme began in 2001, far more boys attended Mdzobwe than girls. Most poor parents could only afford to send their sons to school. Daughters stayed behind to work in their homes or fields.
Today, Mdzobwe’s 1,600 girls easily outnumber boys, accounting for more than half the student body. Indeed, there are 400 more girls than the total number of pupils before school feeding started.
Abigail’s story is played out in many of the other 678 schools across Malawi, where WFP runs this programme in conjunction with the Ministry of Education – with rising numbers of girls attending and succeeding.
More than just a ration
But 12-year-old Abigail is not only interested in collecting her monthly ration.
“There are seven people in my family and we normally don’t have enough food to eat breakfast at home,” she says. “So the meal I get at school every morning helps me a lot.”
Every pupil receives a daily bowl of hot, nutritious maize porridge, providing them with another reason to turn up for school and the nutrition they need to concentrate in class.
“I want to be a nurse when I am older so that I can help people suffering from diseases,” Abigail says. “But I can only become a nurse if I stay in school and if I work hard.
“Without this food, it would be very difficult for me to do that.”