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Feeding education’s soul from community members’ hands

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Agnes NyaLonje

Chombo Primary School is the microcosm of education sector problems.

However, not much happens in the village, one of 15 villages under Senior Group Village Headman Ntombola 1, Traditional Authority Mphonde, in Nkhotakota District.

That is why the village has not been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

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Deep down, however, Ntombola 1’s subjects have been lamenting the state of affairs in the education sector.

“School enrolment and retention at Chombo Primary School started declining way back,” said community member Samuel Cholwe.

He is not the only one who appreciated the extent of the problem. School management, traditional leaders and community members realised that something was amiss.

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“Working in unison, the stakeholders mobilised themselves and, supported by people from this area who have succeeded in life, mobilised materials and financial resources to embark of a library building initiative with the aim of improving standards of education in the area,” said Joseph Masiyambuna, the head teacher for the school.

“I remember that it was before 2014 when all involved parties sat down and agreed to begin constructing a library. Community members offered to do their part— which meant moulding bricks, carrying sand and providing water— while those who were going to provide funds, we call them ‘Friends of Chombo’, started doing the needful,” Masiyambuna explained.

He said education has improved greatly since the library was constructed and that, last year, a female learner who used to frequent the library, Tamanda Chiundira, was selected to go to a national secondary school, something that had not happened for years.

Father Andrew Mhone is patron of the library and said the idea to construct a library came about after realising that there was a need to instil a reading culture in children of the area.

“Before the library was constructed, children had no interest in reading but, now, they are able to understand things better. Previously, books were scarce but now, with the availability of books, the reading culture has improved,” Mhone said.

He concurred with Masiyambuna that library construction works started in 2014 and that, by 2016, the work was done.

Mirriam Chigulu, a standard 8 learner at the school, says before the library was constructed, it was a challenge for them to cross-check in books what they had learned in class.

“I can now read better and understand what I am being taught because I have access to many books and can practise any time I want,” said Mirriam, who aspires to become a nurse.

Mirriam fancies her chances of passing standard 8 examinations with flying colours.

And Vincent Chigome, a standard five learner at the school, says the library has enabled him to improve on his English, thereby helping him understand subjects better.

“I can now borrow books and, when I get home, discuss school work with my peers from an informed point of view. The library has, really, helped us,” said Vincent, who wants to become a soldier.

But after construction of the library, the school’s management, community members and traditional leaders met again to discuss how to increase enrolment at the school, which, at the time, stood at 916 learners, which was relatively low as the school caters for 15 surrounding villages.

Masiyambuna said that is how stakeholders decided to begin a school feeding programme with support from a woman who comes from the area and is currently staying in the United States, Mercy Kangunga.

“We can see that, since the start of the school-feeding programme in 2020, enrolment of learners has increased. Before we began providing nutritious porridge to all learners, we had 479 boys and 487 girls, which totalled 916 learners,” Masiyambuna said.

How things have changed. The school now has 534 boys and 515 girls, bringing the total number of learners to 1,049.

He described the initiative as a success, saying learners who come to school hungry are now able to receive porridge, which is made more nutritious with groundnut powder and sugar.

Mirriam attests to what her head teacher says, saying there were days when she would come to school on an empty stomach.

“When I used to come to school hungry, I could struggle to concentrate in class,” Mirriam said.

Kangunga said she decided to help out, as she is from the area and wanted to see education standards improve.

“I decided to support construction of the library and the school feeding programme to provide a chance to learners in the area to attain quality education,” she said.

Such stories are making Senior Group Village Head Ntombola 1 proud.

“I am so thankful to my subjects for working together. I am also thankful to ‘Friends of Chombo’, especially Mercy Kangunga, who has played a great role in the success of both projects,” Ntombola 1 said.

According to Education Minister Agness NyaLonje, infrastructure development is at the heart of the ministry’s work, such that it also appreciates efforts of community members and other stakeholders who, from time to time, complement its efforts.

It is as if, from mere ideas, community members can now see the silver lining.

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