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Giving a voice to voiceless communities in Mangochi

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The situation facing Kasupe Junior Primary School in Mangochi is hard to comprehend. The school, lying in the area of Group Village Head (GVH) Chigonere in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba’s area is a tale of neglect, confusion and disbelief.

Of course, the junior school has classes from standard one up to standard four. This, however, casts Kasupe pupils, in particular those graduating from Standard four, into a fix. They have to bear it all in pursuit of further education.

The pupils have to travel long distances to get to full primary schools elsewhere despite the fact that their school, Kasupe Junior Primary School, is made up of classroom blocks meant to accommodate standard one all the way to standard eight, only that government is failing to upgrade it to a fully functioning primary school.

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This is a cause for worry. Many children from the area feel condemned to journey to far-flung schools such as Sangadzi 1, Namaso and Chiling’ombe to complete their education. And theirs is a journey fraught with difficulties, strewn with thorns and prowled with marauding beasts; indeed, the trek to the distant schools is one saddled with challenges, resulting in a host of dire consequences. School drop-outs and early pregnancies come out as a result, laments GVH Chigonere.

“It’s a vicious cycle that has been bedeviling us over the years. And it’s very ironical; a story of a farmer suffering from hunger in the midst of plenty,” Chigonere said.

Certainly, he is an equally frustrated chief. What he and his subjects surely cannot understand is why Kasupe Junior Primary School is not being upgraded to a full primary school.

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Paradoxically, Kasupe prides itself as a shining star, boasting state-of-the-art facilities.

Eight modern classrooms stand tall and imposing over a computer laboratory. Good sanitation and health facilities evenly match the perfect environment around Kasupe. It is even sandwiched with trees; hence, it provides learners a utopian breath.

In the eyes of the community, the school befits a status of a full primary school. The reality, however, is very different. It is really a truth too hard to accept.

People blame government and Mangochi District Education Manager’s (DEM) office, in particular. They believe government is playing a hide-and-seek game over its failure to have Kasupe Junior Primary School upgraded, especially in the wake of ‘adequate’ infrastructure.

Chigonere further captures the mood: “My subjects are being denied a fundamental right to education due to government’s failure to uplift Kasupe (Junior Primary School). It’s ridiculous and retrogressive for the government to play record low and condemn our children to unnecessarily long distances when we have a fully fledged school within our sight.”

He is right.

Kasupe Junior Primary School, donated by one philanthropist from the area but currently living in UK, is a conundrum of sort; a proverbial fisher dying of thirst while completely immersed in waters. The villagers, it would appear, are quite a silent lot condemned to fate.

Of course they are not. On their own, the community of T/A Nankumba once agitated for reform and decidedly approached the District Education Manager for answers.

“At that time,” recalls Chigonere, “we were told that the school wasn’t befitting the status of a full primary school despite previous assurances that the school would be upgraded.”

However, Noel Mzunga, desk officer for Mangochi DEM, is forthright. He recently told the local press that Kasupe Junior Primary School could not be upgraded ‘since it has low enrolment’, an assertion that both the locals and the school authorities trash outrightly.

“Enrolment rate here (Kasupe) is around 500, equalling other full primary schools around the area such as Namaso and Chiling’ombe. It’s absurd to say that this school registers low enrolment,” said one teacher, who declined to be named.

Put in perceptive, the status quo at Kasupe is quickly casting dark shadows elsewhere, particularly in surrounding schools where Kasupe pupils turn to.

The schools bear the full brunt of Kasupe’s unholy trinity; that of denial, rejection and bureaucracy. Sangadzi Full Primary School, situated 6 kilometres to the west of Kasupe, finds itself in a difficult situation.

The school, which has 1, 876 learners against a staggering proportion of 25 teachers, has been grappling with unnecessarily high enrolment over the years. Pupils learn under trees since the school has only 7 classrooms. Of course, the villagers are quite displeased with this and they have been looking for answers.

In Dzimwe Radio, it appears, the locals find an answer; a ray of hope in their midst of despair. The station was established to give voice to the voiceless. Empowering the community of Nankumba to demand their rights is very much key to sustaining the station’s newly established project.

The project, called ‘Strengthening Communication Mechanisms for an Increased Citizen Voice and Action for Good Education Service Delivery’ is being funded by Tilitonse.

The project name might be a bit mouthful but its impact might be far-reaching. The aim of the project is clear, Justice Sumaili, the station’s projects and development manager said.

“We’re empowering the community to take duty-bearers and service providers to task,” Sumaili pointed out, adding, “we’ll be increasing access to information regarding district development plans and their subsequent budget allocations out of Local Development Fund (LDF) and Constituency Development Fund (CDF)”.

Building capacity of the community in managing LDF, CDF and School Improvement Grants (SIG) is also another ingredient under the project. Essentially, Dzimwe is closely working with Mangochi District Council, the Ministry of Education and Civil Society Education Coalition in its crusade to have Kasupe Junior Primary School upgraded.

So far, six community radio listening clubs, represented by 86 members from the areas of Chamba, Kankhande, Nkope, among others, have been drilled not only on management of school resources but also on human rights and good governance. Overall, 800,000 people have already been informed about their rights to public services.

The station is geared to bring renewal and modern change, observes Group Village Head Chigonere. “They are trying to give us the voice and courage to speak out and demand back our rights,” the traditional leader said.

‘Our right to quality education is being trampled upon. We don’t understand why government is failing to sanction Kasupe to a full primary school. The school, as you can see, is replete with all necessary requirements fit for a complete primary school.”

The group village head believes that the coming in of Dzimwe’s project will herald an era of change.

However, the road to progress might be rocky. Several challenges remain. According to Sumaili, the district’s education authorities have been frosty in their response. They are coy to comment (anything).

“It is like climbing Kilimanjaro Mountain,” the Dzimwe projects manager complained.

Financial constraint is another challenge. Non availability of funds for transport and field allowances cost the station dearly. Nevertheless, Dzimwe forges ahead as a vanguard of Mangochi’s quest for a better education. Of course, it strives hard to ensure that it will not be another promise that ticks the right boxes and is then placed in a filing cabinet.

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