Over the past decade, tremendous progress has been made in terms of increasing access to education for all, which has led to increased enrollments, especially for young girls. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has, in many ways, crippled development in various areas of the world and the education sector has not been spared.

Back to all stories | Posted on 10/11/21 in Blog

Large numbers of girls dropping out of education is likely to be a reality in many parts of the globe, including Malawi and Zambia. According to UNESCO, 11 million schoolgirls across the world will not be returning to school post-pandemic. This is an alarming situation and prudent measures must be put in place to ensure that the right to education for female children is protected.


Schools in Malawi closed in March 2020 following the rise of Covid-19 cases. Keeping girls in school has always been a challenge for the country, as cultural practices often hinder girls’ plans to continue with their education. For those parents and guardians who do not value education, the pandemic presented an opportunity to have girls married instead of continuing with school.

After the closure of schools last year, many girls found ways of fending for themselves, especially in households that could hardly make ends meet. Since there was no porridge every school day when schools first had to close, girls often found themselves in situations with older men presenting false promises of providing a happy life in terms of money and security. Many of these girls are young, naïve and easily influenced, and by the time they realize the promises will not be delivered on, find themselves pregnant.

For the families that find it hard to provide all meals of the day for their children, it is very common to find that the absence of school meals drives these girls into early marriages or pregnancies. Having school meals ensures girls focus on their education and concentrate better without having to worry about not having enough food at home. They know the porridge they eat at school sustains them.

Maoni Primary School in rural Blantyre is one school where the number of girls enrolling has risen (previous enrollment for girls at the school was 735, and the current enrolment is 837). Feeding at this school commenced around 14 years ago and, looking back, Mary’s Meals has encouraged many children to come to this school.

Vitola Madalitso, a learner in Standard 8 at the school, tells us that many girls in her community are realizing the importance of education and Mary’s Meals means they will go back to school, even after the pandemic. She has friends who at various points dropped out of school, but with the presence of Mary’s Meals, many return, especially after giving birth. Also, even girls who have gotten married are re-enrolling after seeing how they can benefit from staying in school.


Since the onset of the pandemic in Zambia in March 2020, Mary’s Meals has gone to great lengths to ensure the effects of hunger amongst learners in its operational areas are reduced during this time of crisis.
Our delivery model has always relied on the community members to prepare the meals at the schools, but schools were empty – learners were at home until further notice. In less than two months since the government announced the closure of all pre-schools and primary schools, Mary’s Meals devised a way of distributing dry food rations to the learners to help feed them in their homes. We implemented a system of working with parents of enrolled children in numerous food distribution points in the schools we operate in. This activity was carried out until schools were opened in September 2020.

Mary’s Meals has since reverted to providing meals to school-going children at their places of education since the reopening of schools. More than 300,000 children continue to receive hot meals in the Eastern Province of Zambia, half of whom are girls.

Despite the challenges faced by young girls every day to get an education, coupled with the effects of the pandemic, many are determined to stay in school and gain an education. Anna Banda, a 14-year-old, Grade 7 pupil at Chikokola Primary School in Chipangali District, explains about the challenges of staying at home because of school closures caused by Covid-19.

She said: “When school closed because of Covid-19, I had little time to study at home as my village has no electricity. I could not read after dark, lessons were interrupted by Covid-19, and I thought that was the end of my education.

“When schools reopened, I did not hesitate to go back to school. I was very happy because at home there was hunger; my parents could only afford to feed us once a day and that made it hard for me read my books.

“I really missed school because when I go to school, I am assured a cup of porridge every school day and this gives me hope to complete my education. My responsibility now is to study hard in class and focus on my goals of completing my education with good grades.

“Mary’s Meals is helping me to focus on my studies, so that I can have a brighter future. My favourite subjects are Cinyanja and English. Someday, I want to work for Mary’s Meals. Each time I see Mary’s Meals workers come to our school; I admire them very much.”

• In Malawi, schools reopened in August and children are receiving daily meals at their place of education.
• In Zambia, schools had closed because of a spike in Covid-19 but reopened in August and in-school feeding is once again taking place.