If Mariam Asiyatu Jafali, a mother of two learners at Chilinda Primary School in Mangochi District, had her way, she would address all challenges that make it impossible for Mangochi children to make it big in education.
According to a Ministry of Education working paper, the literacy rate for Mangochi, which was pegged at 8.7 percent in 1977, now hovers around 47 percent, a development Jafali describes as “remarkable but not good enough”.
She is not alone in believing so. Illiteracy levels and a ballooning population top the list of priorities in the lakeshore district, a look at Mangochi District Development Planning (DDP) Framework (2018–22) reveals. Mangochi District socio-economic profile taskforce came up with the list after thorough consultations with stakeholders, among them Jafali.
“I have lived in this village of Chilinda – after which the school is named– since my childhood and I remember that, when I was young, I used to cover a very long distance to get to the nearest school. I could cross one or two bridgeless rivers, making life difficult when it rained.
“The situation in summer was no better than in winter because I could arrive at school very tired, unable to listen to teachers and concentrate on lessons. Due to these circumstances, I dropped out of school, a sad end to my dream to become a nurse,” she says.
This is despite the fact that, according to the Journal of Social Development in Africa, the first formal school in Malawi was established by Presbyterian missionaries from Scotland in 1875.
No wonder, the journal laments, quoting a United Nations Children’s Fund and Malawi Government report, thus: “In spite of the proliferation of primary schools since independence, the growth (sic) of literacy in the country has not been very impressive. At the time of independence in 1964 only 10 percent of the population were literate”.
But, fortunately for Jafali, fellow villagers and those from surrounding villages in the area of Traditional Authority Makanjira, well-wishers from Germany handed Chilinda Village’s children a lifeline in 2011.
This is because Reisende Werkschule Scholen, or Travelling Work School, a non-governmental organisation from Germany, came to their rescue with a tent, which turned into the first modern class ever found in the village. Since then, the organization has been constructing cement brick blocks and, Monday last week, handed over the fifth block.
Chilinda is now a full primary school in infrastructure, not just in name.
“I am so much happy that my children are not going through the hardships I experienced. They have a school with beautiful blocks within a reasonable distance from our house,” Jafali, visibly excited, adds.
The fact that the well-stocked school is a Malawi National Examinations Board centre adds an icing on the cake, putting the 1,145 learners in the village a glimmer of hope.
The school’s headteacher, Muyawo Mwedini Waliya, is more than happy with the new block as well as teaching materials such as books, pens and rulers.
“I cannot thank the Travelling Work School enough for what they have done at our school. After building the blocks, they have given us some learning materials which are going to accelerate learners’ success in their studies,” Waliya says.
Mangochi District Education Manager Joe Magombo, who was the guest of honour during the handover ceremony of the fifth block and learning materials, says the Germans’ gesture cannot be taken for granted.
He says the problem of inadequate school blocks has led to cases where a classroom holds 195 learners, instead of 60, in some schools in the district.
“So, all I can say is that the Chilinda School Management Committee, Parents Teacher Association (PTA) and community members at large should take good care of the facility. This is more than a building; it is a place where the future of our children will be moulded,” Magombo says.
On his part, Makanjira says he will no longer smile at parents who fail to enrol their children in school.
“As a leader, together with other chiefs, I will make sure that no child is left behind. We do not want to have people in the village that cannot read and write. The opportunity is here and we will make sure it is made use of,” the traditional leader says.
What more can one say when the fifth block is fully furnished with 65 desks and a locker?
Reisende Werkschule Scholen Chairperson, Evelyn Seyfried, says the organisation is a small school registered as a private institute and works hand-in-hand with the German government to help re-integrate German school dropouts who are usually young people aged between 12 years and 18 years.
By doing so, she says, they instil a sense of responsibility in the youths. The current group has 12 students.
Together with Malawian professional bricklayers, these teenagers played a leading role in building the last block.
Seyfried says the exposure and experience the German youths have obtained has helped them to appreciate life, citing the fact that, while in Malawi, the students were living a typical village life at a rest house with a pit latrine, using cold water for a bath, cooking their food on an open fire and having electricity for just a few hours in a day or no electricity at all.
“We have been here for eight weeks and this period has been a win-win for us because this project has an aspect for cultural exchange. The experience of working with a diverse team at the construction site was so amazing. German and Malawian men and women, grown-ups and teenagers, with diverse cultural backgrounds and behaviour working together in peace and harmony without regard to race, colour or creed was a great lesson to our youths,” Seyfried says.
Marvin Cordes, 16, is one of the 12 students. He says he enjoyed his stay in Malawi and, given another chance, would be willing to come back to help on another project and learn new skills from |Malawians.
“It was great to get out of the comfort zone and take the challenge. I have learned how to live with people and construction. It was amazing to see how people appreciate the little they have. This experience is the opposite of the mind-set I used to have back home. I wish I had the opportunity to come here a little earlier when I was younger. This trip has rekindled my dreams of doing something good in the world, standing up for the less privileged and bringing a smile on a stranger’s face,” Cordes says.
Built with funds from Bingo Environmental Foundation and German Foundation Stitung Umverteilen, the school block may well be the baking ground for great minds.