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School Breakfast Keeps Ambitions High In Malawi

A daily bowl of corn-soya porridge is enough to keep September Mzondi in school in central Malawi – and to feed his ambition to travel the world as a pilot.

MDZOBWE -- There is not a flicker of uncertainty in 13-year-old September Mzondi’s eyes. Not the slightest hint of doubt in his smile.

“I’m going to be a pilot for Air Malawi,” he says.

This is not just a naive conviction. September knows there is a long, difficult road ahead. But he also knows that he will soon take one of his most crucial steps – graduating from Mdzobwe primary school in central Malawi, located roughly 30 kilometres from the capital Lilongwe.

“My education is my future,” he says. “I am now in Standard 8 and this year I will pass my exams and next year I will go to secondary school."

Moving ahead

For a teenager born into a poor and poorly-educated farming family in rural Malawi, it is an impressive achievement – even for a boy as obviously bright and motivated as September.

And even more remarkable since he usually eats just two simple meals of maize porridge and vegetables at home each day.

Normally, this diet would leave children far too hungry to concentrate in class. Or even to attend school regularly. But September never misses a day.

“The porridge we get here every morning makes me come to school because we don’t eat breakfast at home,” he says, referring to the free cup of corn-soya blend handed out to Mdzobwe students. “Without it, I would not be able to work and I would not be so healthy.”

Student body doubles

School feeding began at the Mdzobwe school in 2001 under a programme run by the Word Food Programme in conjunction with Malawi’s Ministry of Education. Since then, the student body has more than doubled, jumping from 1,200 to nearly 3,000 pupils, even as the dropout rate has plummeted.

Remarkably, not a single student in Standards 5-8 -- the last four years of primary school -- has dropped out of Mdzobwe school this year.

Unlike their parents and so many other children before them, these students can now dream of going on to secondary school and of better lives ahead – as teachers, nurses or doctors. Or airline pilots.

“One day I am going to fly to the Netherlands,” says September. “And to the United States. And Asia.”