21 March 2023 - Malawi

Nearly half a million children in Malawi unable to attend school due to Cyclone Freddy

save the children logo and the words 'press release'

Nearly half a million children in Malawi unable to attend school due to Cyclone Freddy

LILONGWE, 21 March 2023 - In Malawi more than 490,000* primary and secondary school aged children – about 5% of children - are unable to attend school due to the damage caused by Cyclone Freddy, Save the Children said, with many schools likely to be closed for the next four weeks at least.

The government has closed all schools in the affected southern districts, as classrooms and toilets have been deemed unsafe as the result of heavy rains, floods and landslides, following Cyclone Freddy, which made landfall in Malawi on 11 March.

About 230 schools which withstood the cyclone are now being used as temporary accommodation for some of the 362,000 people who have been displaced. Roads also need to be cleared so children can safely travel to school.

Schools were due to open on 20 March, but this wasn’t feasible, so the re-opening of schools is now scheduled for four weeks later on 17 April. This comes on top of school closures at the start of the year as a result of a cholera outbreak.

Jane* from Mulanje district is in Grade 8. She was due to sit for her final exams on 10 May, but without the vital books and infrastructure, it looks unlikely. Jane said:

“A lot of people died here, including a lot of pupils from the school. Ours was a really good school but now all the property and books are gone. These exams will be difficult and it makes it difficult for some of us to pursue our dreams.”

The Ministry of Education will run targeted early childhood development radio programmes, which have been developed in partnership with Save the Children. Electricity has been cut off in parts of the country, and people have lost property, including radios, so Save the Children will be distributing solar powered radios at camps for displaced people.

Almost 140,000* children are directly impacted by the floods, with many now living in camps. More funding is urgently needed for the humanitarian response, including education.

Save the Children’s Malawi Country Director, Ashebir Debebe, said:

“In the aftermath of a disaster like Cyclone Freddy, children still have a right to an education, but sadly it’s rarely viewed as a priority. The cyclone damaged many schools across the southern districts of Malawi and as a result funding is urgently needed to rehabilitate schools and roads. Children in Malawi have been through so much, with the cholera outbreak, followed by Cyclone Freddy. They need to get back to the classroom.”

When schools do re-open it will be essential that they offer free school meals to children. Many families have lost their homes and livelihoods in these floods, and as a result caregivers are struggling to feed their children, and themselves.

Teachers also need urgent support to re-build their lives, as many have also lost their homes. 

Pearson Makasu, is a headteacher at a primary in Mulanje district where three of the seven teachers’ houses, including his own, were washed away. He said:

“People here have lost everything; livestock, crops, property and family members. Currently the school shelters people that are destitute. If we are to open, where will they go? Teachers and pupils have to cross rivers to get here, but with bridges and roads washed away, how will they get here?”

Save the Children is distributing food and other essential items, in addition to providing much needed psychosocial support for children affected by the floods.

Save the Children has been in Malawi since 1983 and currently works in 20 of the country’s 28 in areas of education, health, food and livelihoods security and child protection.


*Name has been changed

*490,000 figure comes from the data being collected in schools through the ongoing Interagency rapid assessment on Cyclone Freddy.

*Almost 140,000 children directly affected,  as of 21st March, data source comes from Ministry of Education



For further enquiries and media spokespeople please contact Delfhin Mugo: Delfhin.Mugo@savethechildren.org

Our media out of hours contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

Please also check our Twitter account @Save_GlobalNews for news alerts, quotes, statements and location Vlogs.

Ruby Wright l Media Manager


Email: ruby.wright@savethechildren.org

Phone/Whatsapp: +44 (0) 7969983222

Our media out of hours (BST) contact is media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

Twitter:  @save_globalnews www.savethechildren.net

We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.