It is a typical morning in rural Malawi. Women wearing colorful red, yellow, and blue patterned dresses carry large metal buckets, many balancing them on their heads, and often with young infants strapped to their backs. To get fresh water for their families, most travel an average of two miles on unpaved, meandering roads. At present, 30 percent of rural Malawians do not have access to safe drinking water.
“The lack of safe water access is just one of the many disheartening statistics that contributes to Malawi’s widespread poverty,” said Paul Kwengwere, one of the Ash Center’s five Ford Foundation Mason Fellows for the 2011-12 HKS academic year. “When I first traveled outside of Malawi to Kenya and then later to the UK and US, I was shocked by the dramatic gap between the poor of other countries and the poor of mine.”
Nearly 40 percent of Malawi’s population lives below the poverty line. Kwengwere notes that Malawi’s per capita income, currently at $300/year, has made relatively little progress in the last three decades . While 70 percent of the population are considered literate, only 30 percent have a formal education. Despite the country’s implementing free primary education in 1994, 20 percent of school-aged children do not attend school.