Following a good harvest in 2017, Malawi’s hunger crisis has eased for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time until the next drought or flood. In the village of Kunja, a UNICEF installed solar powered water pump is helping local communities prepare for the next natural disaster.

 “I used to drink water from the shallow wells,” says thirteen-year-old Lucy as she emerges from a classroom after completing her end-of-year math exam. “I had diarrhoea so many times. I would stay at home for around two weeks until I got better. I missed a lot of lessons, but I always tried to catch up by copying notes from my friends.”

© UNICEF/UN0119447/Chagara

© UNICEF/UN0119447/Chagara

Even when Lucy was well, water was a problem. She took turns with her mother walking 5 km to collect water from the nearest standpipe. “There were so many people waiting at the well,” she says. “Sometimes I had to wait all day and would come home in the dark. I was afraid the village hooligans would attack me. Once I got tired and dropped the water bucket, and my mother scolded me for coming home without any water."

During the regular droughts that hit the area, things got even worse for the family of maize farmers. “Last year we only harvested three and a half bags of maize. It’s not enough for a family of five. I tried not to skip class, but I had nothing to eat. Going out was too much, I had no energy.”

In 2015, things began to look up for the village. UNICEF contractors arrived to install the solar powered water pump. A solar-powered pump can go much deeper than a hand pump so even during a drought, when the water table drops, water can be reached. “I was so excited when the pump came because I knew I could drink safe water,” Lucy says.

The solar pump has transformed life in this remote community. As well as the school, it provides water for all of Kunja village and another nearby village, Chamba. The water pump can keep working through droughts and the community understands the value of safe water, and is dedicated to protecting it.

© UNICEF/UN0119422/Chagara

© UNICEF/UN0119422/Chagara

“The learners have water to drink and to wash their hands after using the toilet,” Headmaster Kapalamula says. “Our school grades have improved because of better attendance. We’re attracting better teachers and they stay for longer. Our school has become a desirable place to work, because of the pump.” The number of children at Namera Primary School has increased from 300 to 449 as a direct result of the pump.

For families like Lucy’s the change has been even more profound. She hasn’t been sick once since the solar pump was installed. “It feels so good not to be ill,” she says. “And I don’t have to walk to the next village to get water. I’m doing much better in school. I would like to go on to secondary school and become a doctor to help my fellow Malawians.”

Our Check Out for Children partnership is helping to provide clean water and sanitation to children across Africa and the Middle East and with continued access to safe water, Lucy has every chance of making her dream a reality.