Children in Malawi and Zambia push to change school calendar in response to climate change

Schools currently close for winter in the two countries between mid-August and September as many classrooms don’t have heating. However, changes in the climate have meant winters are getting colder and children want the holidays brought forward so they can stay at home where they have a better chance of keeping warm.

Average temperatures in June and July in the two countries range from 9°C to 23°C. While not considered freezing in many parts of the world, the southern African nations are not accustomed to such temperatures, and houses and schools are not built with adequate heating or insulation. While winter climate data on Zambia and Malawi is scant, across Southern Africa, there has been an increase in the frequency of extreme cold events induced by changes in regional climate patterns, such as the number of cold fronts which move over South Africa.

Since the start of winter in June, children in the Southern Africa countries have been complaining of extremely cold days taking a toll on their lives and stopping them from enjoying their right to education.

Faith, 13, a child rights campaigner from Malawi, is passionate about climate change and how it is impacting children. She told Save the Children that she has noticed a change in the weather pattern in the past few years.

“The cold was there, but it was not like this one we are experiencing now. It was cold, of course, but sometimes the sun could be there. But this cold we are experiencing… it’s hard to withstand.”

Malawi and Zambia are among the countries most vulnerable to climate change, with the full impact of the climate crisis already being felt in the form of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and landslides. They also topped the list of the world’s underreported crises in 2021.

Earlier this year Save the Children said Zambia is experiencing a slow and silent climate crisis that has driven about 13% of the population into severe food shortages, with 1.58 million people – including an estimated 821,000 children – facing an underreported environmental disaster, including late rains, prolonged dry spells, extreme high temperatures, devastating insect swarms, and floods. In Malawi, a third of the population – 5.4 million people out of 16.6 million – is on the brink of extreme hunger driven by poverty and climate change-induced shocks to the food system.

But as parents struggle to feed their families, children like Faith are struggling to stay sharp in class and to keep their dreams alive.

Faith said: “Climate change is affecting me a lot because I’m skipping classes and my right to education is being disturbed because I’m not enjoying my education as I used to. And another thing (it) is affecting is my right of aspiration and inspiration of what I want to become … I want to become the president of Malawi.

“It’s a cold time, of course, but the cold is beyond because it reaches the extent where children don’t go to school and I’m learning at a boarding secondary school. And then it happens that we have to bath with cold water. It’s too much for us to handle so we skip classes sometime.”

Pohamba, 14, lives with his mother and brother in Lusaka, Zambia. He said that he has noticed a rapid change in the weather pattern which is affecting children in many ways, including those living with disability like himself.

“In Zambia weather patterns have really changed … maybe from seven years ago. I was young, but I still have a bit of a memory of what was happening. When it was raining, it wasn’t raining as it is raining now. And when it is summer, it wasn’t this hot. The weather right now is just changing.

“People that have disabilities are affected by climate change in a lot of ways. When it comes to school as I said, it’s cold or it’s too hot and it’s hard to concentrate. They (extreme weather events) could get worse if we don’t start treating our environment the right way.”

At last month’s inaugural African Children’s Parliament in Zambia, Faith called on her government and other African governments to revise the school calendar so children are given a winter holiday in June and July. Her message was greeted with a huge round of applause by fellow children in what could set the precedent for other nations in the continent.

Jo Musonda, Save the Children Country Director in Zambia, said:

“The extreme weather conditions including the cold seasons have become regular for Southern Africa and a cause for concern for families and children. Save the Children stands with children in their quest to have the school calendar revised and we will pick up this call and include it in our on-going advocacy and dialogue with the Ministry of Education and look forward to achieving positive outcomes for children.”

Save the Children’s Country Director in Malawi, Kim Koch, said:

“We know that climate change affects children first and worst and stands in their way of enjoying their basic rights including the right to education. With the number of climate-related disasters tripling in the past 30 years, frequent and recurring climate shocks – such as flooding, and cyclones – are repeatedly putting the lives and dreams of children, our future generation, at great jeopardy.

“We are calling on African governments and world leaders to listen to children and give them a seat at the table in decisions that affect their lives now and, in the future.”

Save the Children has been working in Zambia for nearly 40 years, running health, nutrition, education and protection programs across the country. In response to the climate crisis, Save the Children is supporting children and their families impacted by drought and floods, providing education support, emergency cash and voucher assistance and school feeding programmes.

In Malawi Save the Children works in 25 of 28 districts, delivering programmes, advocating for children’s rights and building capacity to respond to emergencies.

Through partners Save the Children is empowering children to become child right campaigners and support with advocacy on a number of issues affecting children in Zambia and Malawi including climate change.

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