Notes from Site Visits to Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa

Thursday, December 10, 2015
Dr. Jaime Meza-Cordero​ and Ms. Lauren Lochocki on site in Malawi surrounded by schoolchildren.

Dr. Jaime Meza-Cordero​ and I on site in Malawi surrounded by schoolchildren. I am wearing a chitenge, which is a traditional skirt worn in the villages.


By Lauren Lochocki, Analyst, Labor Division 

In August of 2015, the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT) contracted with IMPAQ International to conduct a rigorous final evaluation of the Child Labour Elimination Actions for Real Change (CLEAR) program.

The CLEAR project was implemented in three tobacco growing areas of Malawi—Mchinji, Ntchisi, and Rumphi from 2011-2015. The CLEAR project had two strategic objectives: 1) to protect all children (ages 5 to 17) from exploitative, hazardous, and the worst forms of child labor in tobacco growing and 2) to protect legally working children (ages 15 to 17) from hazardous work in tobacco growing.

The CLEAR project attacked the multi-faceted issue of child labor in a holistic manner by combining efforts at national, district, and community levels through a consortium of four implementing partners, all with distinct expertise. The project provided a comprehensive package of services, addressing child labor demand and supply factors, as well as the diverse needs of child laborers, at-risk children, and their families.

The consortium worked on the following range of activities: identifying working children; improving access to education; raising awareness; enhancing food security; building capacity; and ensuring occupational safety and health.

Our evaluation proposed a mixed-methods approach consisting of an impact analysis and implementation study. Using baseline and endline survey results of households and children in the project areas, we found that the CLEAR project had a significant impact on reducing incidences of child labor in tobacco related work, seen in figure 1, below. 

Figure 1. Percentage of Children Involved in Tobacco Related
Work Across the Districts


The qualitative component of our evaluation required a site visit to Malawi to:

1) conduct in-depth interviews with government stakeholders, social partners, and project implementers;

2) have focus group discussions with members of the communities; and

3) observe schools and areas that the project was operating in.

Dr. Jaime Meza-Cordero and I traveled to Malawi from October 12-25, 2015 for the site visits. This also happened to be our first times in Malawi, known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.” One of my favorite memories of our site visit included the role of the “Special Group,” which was referred to frequently in our focus group discussions.

We soon found out what the Special Group meant to the CLEAR project and the central region of Malawi. The Special Group—otherwise known as the Gule Wamkulu—is a secret society consisting of Chewa men (the Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi) who perform dance rituals while wearing masks. The practice is common in the central areas of Malawi, especially in the CLEAR project areas of Mchinji and Ntchisi. People believe that during the ritual, members of the Gule Wamkulu become spirits of the dead.

At the start of the CLEAR project, many people feared the Gule Wamkulu—especially children. The Gule Wamkulu also provided distraction to the children who were in school when the Gule Wamkulu would begin performing—drawing the children away from school. Additionally, they would sometimes chase the children away from school with sticks.

Upon the implementation of the CLEAR project, members of the Special Group were sensitized to the importance of child going to school instead of working. The Special Group accepted the message and changed some of their practices into actually facilitating children going to school. In some communities, the Special Group now escorts the children to school and assists in paying for school fees and uniforms.

During one focus group, a member of the Special Group identified himself and asked whether Jaime and I would like to see the spirits perform, to which we answered with an emphatic, “Yes!” Soon after, members of the Gule Wamkulu came out of the trees and began dancing and chanting in high pitched voices, which represents their role as spirits. As shown in the picture below, children are highly interested in their dances.

The men’s green shirts were given to them by the CLEAR project. They are directing the Gule Wamkulu and playing the drums for the ritual dance.

School children enjoy watching the Gule Wamkulu perform. A woman with a CLEAR project chitenge is dancing alongside.

Throughout our site visit, we met more than 300 members of the communities, all united in their goal to eliminate child labor. Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” for a reason.

Other highlights of our trip included welcoming receptions through song and dance by members of the Mothers and village savings and loans groups, eating chambo (the local fish from Lake Malawi), visiting Lake Malawi, a trip to the Wildlife reserve to see lions and monkeys, and generally taking in the beautiful culture of Malawi, seen in the pictures below.

I was fortunate enough to return to Lilongwe, Malawi to present with Dr. Ye Zhang, Project Director, the results of our evaluation in early December. The results of this study will directly inform our randomized control trial (RCT) evaluation of phase II of the CLEAR Project, which will begin in 2016. I am looking forward to visiting Malawi in the future and reconnecting with the beautiful people and culture there.

By Lauren Lochocki, Analyst, Labor Division 


Members of the Mothers and Village Savings and Loans Groups sing and dance to welcome us to the school where we were conducting focus groups with various committee members.

Jaime is checking out the variety of offerings at a local market in Mzimba on our way to Rumphi district. One bin of tomatoes costs about $2 USD.

Fish and chips…Malawi style! Chambo is a tilapia-like fish that comes from Lake Malawi. It is said that if you eat the head, you will be smarter.

This mountain is known as Elephant Rock, found in the northern region of Malawi.       

Jamie and I were assisted by an interpreter who spoke Chewa to focus group participants. 

We took one day off to see Lake Malawi—home to more species of fish than any other lake.

Animals—including cows, chickens, goats, and monkeys—crossing the road resulted in frequent stops!        

Children enjoying their lessons at school.