News from Malawi and a request

28th October 2020

The good news!

Despite concerns regarding the spread of the virus through June, July and early August (the coolest months of the year), COVID-19 appears to be under control again in Malawi. Official figures suggest there have been fewer than 6000 cases and 200 deaths. Almost certainly this is an underestimate, if only because Malawi has one of the lowest testing rates in the world. However, it does seem clear that, like much of sub-saharan Africa, Malawi has not been nearly as badly affected by COVID as much of Europe and the Americas. We thank God for that! For once the developed world is suffering more than the developing world!

The less good news

To help avoid the potential spread of the virus, Malawi has had to live with restrictions on normal life. Although not a full lock-down, this has nevertheless had serious affects. Amongst them:

  • Economic activity has been hit. It is still anticipated that the economy will grow slightly in 2020 (contrast most developed economies!). However, given the fragility of Malawi`s usual economic situation, a small growth rate actually means serious numbers of job losses - and, as ever, these tend to be amongst the poorest in the land, especially the urban poor. Consequently there is increased financial hardship for many, on top of the usual hardship they experience.
  • As in the UK, schools and all educational establishments closed near the end of March and are only now beginning to re-open. Evidence appears to suggest this has been a social disaster especially for girls. One recent report has estimated there have been 35,000 early pregnancies and 22,000 early marriages in the last 6 months, largely because girls have no longer been attending education. Again these figures probably need to be taken with a pinch of salt but, even if half right, they are extremely grave.
  • As in the UK, COVID has of course required the population to be much more rigorous in its practice of hygiene. Unlike in the UK, however, the cost of this is a significant obstacle in Malawi. Just obtaining soap and sanitiser can prove a crippling cost for many. In particular, providing a ready supply of soap, water and sanitiser for all children in education is a very expensive issue for many Malawian schools - not to mention having to provide extra mattresses for boarding pupils who have previously shared mattresses.
  • Again as in the UK, church life has also been subjected to restrictions, including social distancing. And because churches are usually packed with people, this has of necessitiy led to significantly reduced numbers of worshippers. Also many people have stayed away from church services out of fear. So even though the number of services have been increased in some places, the numbers attending them have still been sharply lower. And that has meant significantly reduced income for the church because of course everyone gives by cash. One diocese has reported income down by 40% and has said `our next step would be to be pay half salaries and stipends and, if things don’t improve, then we will have to lay off workers, but what about priests?` Of course, the Church of England is not immune from this either. However, bear in mind that some priests in Malawi already have 15 churches, congregations of up to 1000 and no transport - so laying off priests in  Malawi would have even more dramatic consequences than in Birmingham.
The Malawi Task Group`s response    

Whilst we would like to support Malawi in every way possible, necessarily the Malawi Task Group has felt we have to be realistic and target particular needs. So our decision has been twofold:

  1. to help schools become more COVID secure. We have committed ourselves to supporting between one third and one half of the neediest schools in each diocese by means of enabling them to purchase buckets (with taps), soap and sanitiser. Many of these schools are deeply rural and are not receiving support from anywhere else;
  2. to help the church in ensuring its vital pastoral and priestly ministry continues. As ever, although relief and other agencies are sometimes willing to support social needs, rarely if ever, do they support the bread and butter pastoral and priestly ministry of the church. Yet, as Christians, surely we must see this as central to the needs of the people, not least at a time such as this.

Accordingly, the Task Group has sent initial tranches of money to Malawi for schools and has also committed itself to continuing to support the spiritual ministry of the church (subject to our usual policy of needing to see properly externally audited accounts before actually sending the money).

The response being asked for from Birmingham parishes

The Malawi Task Group has responded to Malawi`s needs in the above way despite money for Malawi (perfectly understandably) not yet coming in from the parishes in the usual way this year. In other words, we are hoping and praying money does come in from the parishes in the next 2-3 months! True, there are some reserves that can be drawn upon but the Task Group is hoping we do not have to draw upon these more than absolutely necessary! In short, we are asking every parish to consider carefully and prayerfully what response it can make:

  • to help schools in Malawi have buckets, soap and sanitiser
  • to help the pastoral and priestly ministry of the church to continue  

We know many Birmingham churches are facing extremely significant challenges themselves but we would encourage congregations, where possible, also to remember those facing arguably even more basic challenges.

All personal and parochial contributions for the Malawi Fund should be sent to Amanda Homer in accounts at 1 Colmore Row at the usual address.

With grateful thanks for your consideration of these matters

Paul Bracher
Chair of the Malawi Task Group