Investing in the Children of Malawi

04/14/2013 07:00 am ET

In the East African nation of Malawi, one million children have lost at least one parent. Experiencing an unprecedented orphan crisis, the nation's children depend on the innovation and support of their community.

At goods for good, we currently focus our work in Malawi, where the needs of the people are great, but the entrepreneurial spirit is greater. Our mission is to build the financial capacity of African communities so that they can sustainably and independently care for their orphans. We do this through "community enterprise," or small businesses that not only help finance orphan care programs, but also create jobs for adults and stimulate the local economy. We work hand in hand with our partners to strategically and thoughtfully launch each business in a sustainable and economically empowering manner.

In Mchezi, Malawi -- a community supported by goods for good -- we recently launched a chicken farm enterprise. As a result of the infrastructure that we've built, the adults at Mchezi now have jobs and are running a successful poultry business, winning large contracts and selling chickens to local catering companies for a profit. But launching programs such as this takes time. Meanwhile, 50 percent of Malawian children drop out of school by the fourth grade because families and orphan care centers cannot afford the basic supplies required to enroll, including a uniform and shoes.

That's where strategic partners like TOMS come in. goods for good has distributed new shoes to children in Malawi since 2011, integrating new shoes as part of its community enterprises and school uniform distributions.

In Malawi, a child's future is almost entirely dependent on the opportunity to receive an education. According to UNESCO, every year of school can increase a child's future earnings by 10 percent. While primary and secondary school tuition is free, uniforms cost $3, and shoes are a requirement. In a country where the average income is $870 per year, this often prevents orphans from receiving an education. However, goods for good is able to distribute new shoes to orphan children to help eliminate the barriers to an education, and thus create an opportunity for a better future.

We work with partners who are committed to integrating their support into comprehensive health and education programs. We've seen that shoes are critically important to children in developing nations, but that the context in which they are provided is equally as important. Shoes help young children walk many miles to school without contracting diseases or getting injured. One pair of black shoes can often be the difference between a child continuing his or her education and being forced to drop out.

goods for good distributes shoes as part of an innovative education program for orphans, and then we take it a step further.

As part of our community enterprise program, we train older, vulnerable orphans in tailoring. As a graduation requirement, they sew uniforms with donated fabric. These uniforms are given to orphaned children alongside new shoes. Not only can children go to school, but also their adult relatives, siblings and neighbors are gaining marketable skills and job opportunities.

goods for good has seen school enrollment and attendance increase among its orphan care programs, and this finding can be common. In fact, a study shows that providing school uniforms, which can often include shoes, to children who cannot afford them can increase school attendance by up to 62 percent.

This One Day Without Shoes -- the annual day TOMS encourages the world to go barefoot to bring global awareness to children's health and education -- we're taking off our shoes to commemorate the accomplishments of our partnership in Malawi. We hope you'll join us.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and TOMS, in recognition of One Day Without Shoes, an annual day to bring global awareness to children's health and education
by going without shoes. For more information, visit

Melissa Kushner is the founder and Executive Director of goods for good, a nonprofit organization dedicated to economically empowering African communities to transform orphan care.