A perceptive mind. No proper structures.
Thirteen-year-old Precious had no choice but to drop out of Mpita Primary School in Mchinji District.
Not that he needed a thousand things to motivate him to go to school; all he needed were proper learning structures in the form of school blocks without cracks, replete with corrugated iron sheets on top of his head.
He developed an aversion to poor learning structures after, on June 6 2018, he heard through one of the national radio stations that a classroom wall had collapsed on learners at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba District.
Fifty-two learners sustained various degrees of injuries, with four dying in the process.
Those that lost the fight for dear life include Madalitso Nayuma, Jenifer Bonongwe, Gift Mwanyada and Tisunge Francisco.
“When he heard the news that some learners had died while others were injured in Zomba District, Precious stopped going to school because he feared that, one day, it would be him,” says Precious’s grandmother Esther Chalewa Ngwenya, 70.
Of course, the distance from Zomba to Mchinji, using either the M12 or M1 roads, is 397.9 kilometres, but that is the power of radio, anyway: It connects distances.
As at now, some of the bereaved families are still fighting for compensation.
Fortunately for Precious and other learners at Mpita Primary School in the Central Region district, things will never come to this, gauging by what tobacco-buying and processing company Alliance One Tobacco Malawi has done in the country recently.
The firm has spent K126 million on school construction and renovation works in the country, one of the beneficiaries being Mpita.
A number of schools have benefitted from the initiative in primary schools in Dowa and Mchinji districts, thanks to Alliance One’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme dubbed ‘FY21 School Renovation Initiative’.
Through this CSR initiative, Alliance One has managed to construct a two-classroom block at Mpita Primary School in Mchinji as well as renovating two other classroom blocks at the same school.
The blocks, one of which prompted Precious to drop out of school, was so dilapidated that it cost the firm K61 million to bring it back into shape. In addition, the company has also renovated two classroom blocks each at Katengeza and Msukuwala primary schools in Dowa and Mchinji, respectively, at a total cost of K65 million.
Speaking during the official handover of the school blocks at Mpita Primary School in Mchinji, Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Corporate Affairs Officer Ben Kawonga said his company decided to renovate the school blocks as part of its CSR programme, which primarily focuses on reducing cases of child labour, especially in areas where tobacco is cultivated in the country.
According to Kawonga, through its CSR programme, his firm seeks to complement the government’s efforts in a number of sectors including education by ensuring that children across the country are learning in structures that are conducive for academic studies.
“In most circumstances, children shun schools that are in dilapidated condition because it is the desire of every human being to learn in a conducive environment, hence our company thought it wise to spend all this money on renovation and construction works at some schools in the country, including here at Mpita.
“For the past 16 years, actually, we have been complementing the government’s efforts in improving the living standards of people across the country, particularly in areas such as education, water and sanitation, environmental management, health and social welfare, among others,” Kawonga said.
He said, in order to ease learning at Mpita, they have also donated 240 desks so that learners, including girls, can enjoy lessons.
The official added that the other area Alliance One was working in was child labour eradication, saying they did not allow the use of children as a source of labour at all tobacco production levels in countries where they are operating.
“Actually, we call upon parents in the country to desist from using children at any level of tobacco production,” Kawonga said.
Mpita Primary School Head teacher Patrick Chichitike commended Alliance One Malawi for renovating the school, which was first built in 1972 and has never been renovated since then.
He said, before construction of the six classroom blocks at the school, learners that went up to standard seven or eight were forced to cover a distance of about 10 kilometres to learn at either Khweri and Fanuwelo full primary schools because his school did not have these two classes.
“Let me commend Alliance One Tobacco Company for constructing as well as renovating other existing classroom blocks that were in bad condition here at our school, which has enabled learners who reach standard seven and eight to learn here, unlike previously when they used to cover a long distance to other schools since we didn’t have those two classes,” Chichitike said.
Chichitike further disclosed that most children in the area were forced to drop out of school upon reaching standard six as the majority of them could not manage to cover the long distance to nearest primary schools, especially during the rainy season.
According to him, since the renovations were completed, enrolment at the school has increased from 511 some two years ago to about 697 learners this academic year, adding that all the 26 learners who sat Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations last year were selected to conventional as well as community day secondary schools in the district.
Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje said the government appreciates private sector players’ efforts in the education sector.
The hope is that, after being exposed to a conducive learning environment, the path to prosperity will be paved.