Housing Programmes in Malawi

Famous for the vast beauty of its landscapes, the southern African country of Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa”. But Malawi also struggles with widespread poverty and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS.

Since the 1990s, Malawi has ranked as one of the world’s least developed countries, according to the Human Development Index. Over half of the population lives on less than US$1 a day.

4 out of 5 families live in substandard homes with little hope of ever being able to afford a decent house. A typical village hut in Malawi is built of mud bricks with a dirt floor and thatched roof, requiring frequent repair. This means that families are at constant risk of disease from leaking roofs that make the house damp and mud floors that attract insects.

We have been working for years to provide shelter to contribute to the elimination of poverty in Malawi and to improve the lives of orphans and other groups of vulnerable people. Our programmes also provide complementary services to targeted households, including trainings about malaria, HIV and property and inheritance rights, along with construction of sustainable and user-friendly facilities for water, sanitation and hygiene.

Homes for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Malawi

Through the construction of new homes, and the renovation of existing ones, our “Orphans and Vulnerable Children” programme in Malawi strives to improve the living conditions of children that have lost their parents and caregivers due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Meet Rhoda Kameta (25), caring for her sister’s orphaned children

Rhoda’s Story

Rhoda has been caring for her nieces (Janet & Christina) and nephew (Victor) since both her sister and her husband died of HIV/AIDS related sickness. Rhoda’s own son passed away in 2010, and her husband abandoned her. Rhoda and her adopted family live on the little income she earns doing odd jobs around the village, like cultivating her neighbours’ land for $2 a day whenever they need the help.

“Being a mother is more about what you do to care for the kids, than it is just about having given birth to them. The fact that these are my sister’s children is what keeps me going. I had to take care of them even though I couldn’t meet all their needs. – Rhoda

When Habitat first came across Rhoda and the children, the family were living in a precarious structure with a mud floor and leaky thatch roof. After moving into her new home Rhoda said:

“I was hoping that we would be blessed, which has now come true. I was in a bad house before, but now I have a good house.” 

Meet Maggie Gambatu (12), caring for her grandmother

Maggie Gambatu rises early each morning to fetch water and tend to her family’s small garden. At 12 years old, she works very hard to care for her younger siblings. They have been living with their grandmother Marita since they lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.

Marita is unable to walk and therefore cannot earn an income or help much with household work. She finds it uncomfortable to use a chair or cane and usually crawls from the bedroom to the veranda each morning. Through partnering with Habitat for Humanity Malawi and recieving a new home, some of Maggie’s burden has been lifted.

“We used to live in a house that leaked because it had a bad roof. I love this new house because of the cement floor and the metal roof. We are now safe because we don’t get wet when it rains.”

Many children served by our orphans and vulnerable children programme live with a single parent, or an elderly, sometimes disabled, relative  for support. In other cases, the oldest sibling has become the head of the household. For these children, there is little hope that they will be able to improve their situation.

Through the construction of new homes or the renovation of existing structures, we strive to improve the living conditions of families, thus improving their overall quality of life. This increases their attendance and performance at school, and helps set the foundations for a brighter future.

Meet Suzan Chimaliro, focusing on school again

“When I heard that a house would be built for us, I was so excited I gave my friend a high-five!” 

At just twelve years old Suzan Chimaliro has already  experienced  loss. Six relatives have died over the last few years. She misses all of them dearly and wishes they could have experienced a better life with her in her mother’s Habitat home. With a new sense of comfort and stability, 12-year-old Suzan has been able to refocus on school and has been studying the subjects she loves.

“I like reading the Chichewa language, social studies, life skills, and a bit of English. When we were living in the old house, we worried rain would ruin our things — especially our uniforms. But we don’t worry about that anymore. Our school performance has improved since we moved into the new house.”

Fighting for homes, land and a healthy life

In addition to construction and renovation, we also invest in the long term  future of each family. This includes comprehensive training for new homeowners on:

  • Health and hygiene (e.g. prevention of malaria, cholera and covid19 )
  • Ensuring legal ownership of their home by securing land rights
  • Through all these efforts many families have regained a sense of stability and hope.

Bertha's Story

“When it rained, we used to pack up all our things as if we were going away. We did this to protect our belongings from getting wet.”

Limited housing solutions for the homeless

The moment Bertha’s life changed

One day in 2008, Bertha Likeke woke up thinking it was going to be just another day for her husband and their five children.

Her life changed dramatically when her husband died. Due to local customs, Bertha and her five children were left homeless and destitute.

With the loss of the family’s sole breadwinner, Bertha had to return with her young children to her birth village, Nthiramanja, and accept whatever accommodation the community was able to offer. What they got was a one-room mud-brick and thatch structure.

Bertha and her children had to sleep and cook in the same room. To make matters worse, their goats slept with them and the mud-floor house was impossible to keep clean making illness a fact of life.

The family was constantly sick with diarrhoea and malaria.

And when it rained the thatched roof would leak. The rainy season in the Mulanje district in the south of Malawi generally lasts four months, bringing with it heavy downpours and seasonal flooding.

Rain, pouring through the leaky roof, soaked the children’s school books, ruining them completely. Unable to use their books or uniforms, the children eventually stopped attending school. The rain took its toll on the mud-walled toilet pit latrine, too. The toilet floor rotted away and finally, the toilet collapsed completely. It was a life of constant stress.

Our programme identifies the most vulnerable people in an area by consulting with local chiefs. Chief Nthiramanja felt Bertha and her children were in the most need and recommended them for the Habitat programme.

Hearts full of joy

Bertha could not believe the four-room house was hers until she was handed the keys and spent the first night there. She says just having a toilet that is clean, safe and dry is a miracle to her. “When we received this gift our hearts were full of joy” she said.

“We won’t stop taking care of the house. We’ll treat it as a child.”

In January 2015, only a month after the construction of Bertha’s house, southern Malawi was devastated by floods, with some areas hit by up to 400% higher rainfalls than normal.

“When the floods came, I was in the new house. I wasn’t worried because the rain couldn’t come inside the house. That made me feel secure. With this house, we had no problem, right until the floods ended.

Less disease, more school attendance

A secure home has enabled the Likeke family to rebuild their lives. For Bertha, the biggest relief is that the children are back at school. The new house provides a space that allows her son, Alick, to study and keep his books dry. A cleaner environment to live and sleep in also means less disease and more frequent school attendance.

We went through health, sanitation and malaria training,” Bertha recalls. In addition to the information, we give three insecticide-treated mosquito nets to each family. Malaria infects almost 5 million Malawians annually and is one of the leading killers of children under the age of 5. Since receiving the nets, no-one in the Likeke family has had the disease.

Improving land rights: a key solution to homelessness

A vital part of the Malawi’s OVC programme is its property and inheritance rights training. In traditional societies, many women just like Bertha are regularly disinherited after the death of their husbands.

Children, too, are vulnerable to dispossession and homelessness on the death of their parents. Our teams ensure continuing security for children by giving them ownership of the house.

“I knew I could be at peace because the kids own the house.” Bertha said. “I am so happy because I know the children are secure, rather than if I were to die, leaving them without a proper house. This great gift we’ve been given is for the kids.”

Writing a Will

With our help, Bertha also drew up a will for the first time and is now safe in the knowledge that her children will receive her most valuable belongings. One copy of the will remains with Bertha, another with our office and a third with the local government authority. “People from the outside can’t just make decisions for us,” Alick said, “because the papers specify what belongs to whom.”


Better educational and professional prospects

The impact of our team in Malawi work is noticeable. Emory University conducted a health-impact study in northern Malawi   and found that children under 5 living in Habitat houses had 44% less malaria, respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases compared to children living in traditional houses. Other important aspects that improve significantly for families in Habitat houses include:

  • Physical safety
  • Education
  • Job prospects

More evidence has also shown that providing a secure home gives a family an increased sense of pride and confidence in the future and very often a raised status in the community, enabling family members to participate in community activities at a higher level.

Our collective action can save lives.

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