Lesson Plans

Cash Transfer Programs in Malawi

Two Malawian school boys who have been selected to receive cash transfers sit in front of their secondary school. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Monica Nagwengwe, 30, outside her home in Khombedza, a rural village in central Malawi. Nagwengwe is the recipient of a monthly cash transfer that she uses to support herself and the six children who live with her. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Villagers arrive in downtown Salima to take part in the process of selecting cash transfer recipients. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Some of Monica Nagwengwe’s neighbors at work making kachasu, a type of beer made from maize. Brewing gives Nagwengwe and her neighbors a small stream of income. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Khombedza is approximately 40 kilometers from the nearest large town, Salima. There are few steady employment opportunities in villages like this with the exception of small businesses that dot the main roads. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Sakaniza Chipote, 20, is the head of a household of five. She takes care of her 4-year-old son and three other children. Her family receives 4400 kwacha, slightly less than US $14, a month through the social cash transfer program. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Muphe Chimpesa, a cash transfer recipient in Khombedza, uses plastic to patch her roof. Chimpesa is chronically ill and unable to work. She lives in this house with six children. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

The house where George and Jenet Jeremiah live with their three daughters. With the cash transfer they were able to repair and rebuild parts of their home. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

George Jeremiah, 35, stands proudly in front of his house. He and his wife Jenet are both blind and were struggling to take care of their family before they enrolled in the cash transfer program. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Martias Sayimon, 35, jokes with other employees at the sunflower oil cooperative where he works. Although he walks with a heavy limp he still makes time to volunteer for the local social cash transfer program. When asked why he does this second unpaid job Sayimon shrugs and flashes a big smile, “I’m a Malawian.” Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

A bag of processed maize flour for sale in a store. In 2006, a 50 kg bag of maize cost approximately 600 kwacha. Now the same amount of food can cost 5,000 kwacha. The amount of money that each household receives as part of the social cash transfer program has not increased to reflect the dramatic price increases of daily necessities. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Maize dries on tarps near downtown Salima. At harvest time the price for maize is at its lowest. Nsima, a porridge made from maize flour, is a cheap and filling staple of the Malawi diet. In the coming months, many families will need to devote more of their budget to food as the price of maize goes up. Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

This lesson is written as a series of notes for facilitators.

Educator Notes: 

This lesson is designed for an early high school classroom on a 100-minute block schedule with access to computers. As alternatives teachers may use the first day of class for the warm up activity and reading of the article. For homework assign the position paper to individual students and have the debate the second day of class.


Students will come to their own informed conclusion as to whether cash payments to those living in poverty is helpful or simply a hand out.

Warm-up Activity:

Ask students to define

  • Charity
  • Aid
  • Development

After discussing the definitions, ask students to give an example of what each might look like when trying to help fight poverty.

  • Example of Charity
  • Example of Aid
  • Example of Development

Once the class has discussed the different examples ask students to give their opinions as to which of the three concepts is best for fighting global poverty.

Introducing the Lesson:

This lesson will look at Malawi’s experiment with cash payments as a case study to debate whether this program should be expanded to serve more of the world’s poor.


First read “Malawi's Social Cash Transfer Experiment

While students read ask them to fill out the simple chart:

Benefits of the Cash Transfer Program Weaknesses of the Cash Transfer Program

After students have completed the chart, discuss both sides of the argument. Ask or assign students to choose a side that they will support in a classroom discussion.

For those who support the program, use these sources:

For those who question the program, use this source:

Because there is only one article for this side of the argument, instruct students to go back to the introductory article and discuss the shortcomings they found there such as possible corruption, local jealousies, problems with funding, etc.

Either as individuals or in groups have the the students write positions based on what they have read. Once those positions are prepared ask students to move to opposite sides of the room to have the discussion on whether cash payments are a productive way to help the world’s poorest groups.


After the debate, ask students for their final thoughts on the idea and whether this policy should be extended to other parts of the world.

Ask students if they believe this is charity, aid, development, or a combination of concepts. If cash payments don't work, what are better options?

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