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Living on a Dollar a Day in Malawi

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Living on a Dollar a Day in Malawi

World

Living on a Dollar a Day in Malawi

Living on a Dollar a Day in Malawi

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Betty Phiri i

Betty Phiri, 60, swings a hoe in her maize field. Women in Malawi and in many African countries do much of the farming and other manual labor. Suzanne Marmion for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Betty Phiri

Betty Phiri, 60, swings a hoe in her maize field. Women in Malawi and in many African countries do much of the farming and other manual labor.

Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Faison Phiri i

Faison Phiri, 60, plants seeds donated by a government program, but spends much of his income on the fertilizer to grow them in Malawi's overworked soil. Suzanne Marmion for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Faison Phiri

Faison Phiri, 60, plants seeds donated by a government program, but spends much of his income on the fertilizer to grow them in Malawi's overworked soil.

Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Faison and Betty Phiri i

Faison and Betty Phiri stand in front of their home. Faison Phiri hopes to replace the crumbling plaster and leaky corrugated iron roof one day. Suzanne Marmion for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Faison and Betty Phiri

Faison and Betty Phiri stand in front of their home. Faison Phiri hopes to replace the crumbling plaster and leaky corrugated iron roof one day.

Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Martha Phiri forages for pumpkin leaves to make a free lunch. i

Martha Phiri, 18, forages for pumpkin leaves to make a free lunch. She dreams of continuing her studies one day if the family can find the money. Suzanne Marmion for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Martha Phiri forages for pumpkin leaves to make a free lunch.

Martha Phiri, 18, forages for pumpkin leaves to make a free lunch. She dreams of continuing her studies one day if the family can find the money.

Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Fish dinner i

The Phiri family's cat, Lion, begs for the fish on their dinner plates. He fends for himself, eating vermin in the house and fields. Suzanne Marmion for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Suzanne Marmion for NPR
Fish dinner

The Phiri family's cat, Lion, begs for the fish on their dinner plates. He fends for himself, eating vermin in the house and fields.

Suzanne Marmion for NPR

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than half of its population living on less than $1 a day. But the people of Malawi may have reason to celebrate. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have announced that 90 percent of the country's debt will be forgiven.

In spite of that good news, it will still be some time before Malawian families, like the Phiris, can relax their strict budgets.

In Central Malawi, the Phiri family begins its day at 4:30 a.m. — without breakfast.

In a maize field, a 20-minute walk from their house in Lifidzi, they use a handmade hoe to till the overworked soil. The soil is eroded so the Phiri family spent $15 on a bag of fertilizer that they hope will last them the year. Friends and family helped the Phiris purchase the fertilizer. Such generosity is not uncommon among Malawians. For example, even if it means going without food, neighbors will buy each other medicine for common diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

Running out of food is common in Malawi. Crops often fail when rains don't come. A few months earlier, the Philis had nothing to eat but unripe mangoes, which made the family feel sick. Every year for the past three years, starving people in Malawi's dry season have resorted to eating water lily tubers and even poisonous plant roots.

The Phiris have aspirations beyond scrimping and surviving, especially the daughter, Martha. She wants to be a reporter, or newsreader as they're called in Malawi. But Martha knows that her family will probably never have the money to send her for the training to be a reporter, let alone anything else.

In the evening, the family splurges 35 cents on a fish dinner to honor a guest. They spent a total $1.25 on this day. But the day's income was only 94 cents, including the 63 cents they received from relatives to help them out.

The Day's Accounting

The daily balance sheet for the Phiri family:

 

Income

Cotton: 7 cents

Donations: 63 cents

Tomatoes: 1

Bike taxi: 9

Goats: 10

Sugar cane: 4

TOTAL: 94 cents

 

Expenses

Maize flour: 45 cents

Soap: 4

Salt: 2

School fees: 10

Clothes: 8

Paraffin (for lamps): 17

Fertilizer: 4

Fish: 35

TOTAL: $1.25

 

Converted at 127 Malawian kwacha to the dollar.

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