Government pays blind eye to blind children

NEED SUPPORT—Children with special needs

Owing to their nature, learners with special needs, particularly those with visual impairment, are in a disadvantaged position when compared to their peers. Learners at St Maria Goretti Resource Centre in Nkhata Bay District are experiencing their own share of neglect from education authorities. The learners, 22 in total, are housed in one hostel which, since November last year, has not received funding from the government as it is seemingly broke to provide K240,000 that the centre requires monthly. Consequently, officials running the resource centre have been reduced to beggars.

Since the opening of the academic term, which is in early January this year, the best meal Patrick Mwase—a 15-year-old learner with visual impairment— has had at St Maria Goretti Boys Primary School is nsima served with usipa.

“The rest of the meals have been nsima served with nyemba [beans] or, on good days, soya pieces,” he said.


The centre has been struggling to get food stuffs to feed 22 learners with visual impairment.

The learners are drawn from Northern Region districts.

Here is a facility that is given about K240,000 monthly to cater for food, wages for its three support staff, utility bills, and other things.


Sadly, since November last year, the facility has not received its subvention from the government, leaving the institution in distress, in terms of where to get food.

It is around 9am and smoke from firewood oozes from a small kitchen at the back of the hostel. This is because the wood is wet following rains that fell the previous night.

Joyce Banda, who is in her 50s, is cleaning a big pot to boil beans for lunch.

After that, she will have to mop the hostel and make beds for the little ones.

In between the chores, one of the kids appears—Rihanna, a lawyer-in-the-making, had knocked off early.

Rihanna, five, a pretty looking girl with albinism from Nkhotakota, did not want to attend classes for reasons she could not audibly explain, maybe because this was her first day at the school in Nkhata Bay.

This meant Banda, the maid who wakes up as early as 4am every day, needed more hands.

“The work I do needs someone who is patient, loving and caring. It is not for the fainthearted or people who easily lose their cool. These are children who need extra care,” said Kamanga, who has worked at the facility for 10 years now.

At the end of the month, Kamanga and her colleague get at least K30,000, which is way below the minimum wage set by the government. She is also not sure about whether she will get a retirement package despite it being a government facility.

Gladys Misomali is the head teacher for St Maria Goretti Girls Primary School.

She also oversees operations at the hostel, which is just a stone’s throw from the school.

Misomali said it is shocking that educational authorities have asked them to write a letter to well-wishers, asking for assistance, as the government does not have money.

No one has responded to the letters.

“We are simply employees of the government but we are pushed to beg as if this is a private learning institution.

“However, we do this because of our passion and love for the children,” she said.

She said the facility, built in 1975 by the Catholic Church, was handed over to the government some decades ago.

“The way the government is running the facility leaves a lot to be desired. Already, the money is not enough. We have three support stuff—a guard, and two maids— we pay and, if you look at the cost of living now, the money is way too little,” she said.

She said, considering current economic trends, K500,000 per month would suffice.

“We need food at the school. There was a time we wanted to close the school because we did not have food. We do not want a repeat of the same. You know, it disturbs the performance of these learners when they think of not having food at the hostel,” she said.

Special needs teacher at St Maria Goretti Boys Primary School Steven Kamanga said the performance of children with visual impairment is average but that they could do much better if they were supported with resources at school and hostel.

Kamanga said, for instance, in the recent Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations, six out of seven learners who sat the paper were selected to secondary schools.

“Inadequate food has negative implications on the learning, in terms of learners’ performance. Learning on an empty stomach cannot help matters. These learners need our support, your support; otherwise, we may be teaching them here but it will be work in vain. Already, the government is promoting inclusive education, which cannot work if the learners with special needs are not supported fully,” he said.

Despite that the facility was handed over to the government, during times of desperation, such as the current one, officials running the hostel still engage the church for support.

Fr Andrew Kamanga, Parish Priest for St Joseph Catholic Parish in Nkhata Bay District, said the current situation smacks lack of interest from the government to improve education for children with special needs—St Maria Goretti Resource Centre being a case in point.

“The current situation is bad because the government is not really coming in to support the facility. We, as a church, are not happy with what is happening. As a result, all the bills are being left in the hands of the church and, yet, we handed over the facility to them sometime back,” he bemoaned.

Nkhata Bay District Director of Education, Youth and Sports Muhabi Chivunga said he is aware of the issue but it is not of their making.

Chivunga said when the 2022- 23 budget was reviewed, budgets, including that of education, for the district were trimmed.

“When members of Parliament met in November, I understand that MDA [ministries, departments and agencies] budgets were revised downwards and the education office for Nkhata Bay was not spared. That process saw us losing an accumulated amount of K34 million. Government withdrew it from our budget and what was left was K4 million, which was to cater for the next four months and that means the budget is very tight.

“So, over the holidays in December, we tried to find out how we could resolve those very critical areas and, maybe, give them the necessary assistance… as we are speaking we are at advanced stage to help them using other financial windows of the council,” he said.

The K4 million is for Bandawe Primary School and St Maria Goretti Primary School, which get K240,000 and K460,000 per month, respectively.

Chivunga, however, sharply denied reports that the resource centre was handed over to them, clarifying that the government only provides support to the school but its ownership is still in the hands of the church.

Malawi Union for the Blind Executive Director, Ezekiel Kumwenda, said the development is disappointing as the government was supposed to be in the fore supporting learners with disabilities to excel in their education.

Kumwenda noted that most resource centres are heavily underfunded, which defeats the purpose of Sustainable Development Goal number four, which calls on countries to provide quality education to all.

“We have observed that, most of times, money meant for special needs education is diverted. They do not give priority to special needs learners and we do not know why,” he alleged.

However, as the two entities—the church and government—seem not to agree on ownership, the learners are losing out.

Malawi has about 600 secondary and primary schools with resource centres, where 57,000 students with various forms of disability access services, no matter how unsatisfactory the services are.

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