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Public infrastructure, maintenance syndrome

PREPARED—Members of Amiable Largesse

Fifty-three years ago in Malawi at the heart of Balaka, when the township was the capital of Machinga, there born a secondary school. It was named after the township as well.

Beautiful, conducive and amiable could partly describe what the school looked like as one of the current senior teachers Gracium Muharu puts it.

This was my first time to be at the school’s premises.

As I passed by the Anglican Church of the Upper Shire, I come across a brick perimeter fence built not so long ago the way it looked. On top, were boys sitting, seemingly sharing youthful stories. Then there was laughter, noise and commotion of boys and girls trotting disorderly as we approached the school’s hall. It is a hall that has almost all its window glasses broken.

Then there came a smell of beef and rice from a kitchen. It is almost lunch time. Next thing were long queues of about 420 boys and girls with plates in their hands ready to feast on the rarely dish of beef, rice and cabbage.

For the record, on Monday afternoon, the students are served with Nsima and vegetables. In the evening, it is Nsima with beans. It is all beans day on Tuesday saved with Nsima. Wednesdays are like Mondays. On Thursdays, the menu indicates rice with beans during lunch and Nsima with beans in the evening. Fridays are like Wednesdays and all Saturdays are like Tuesdays. On Sundays, the diet changes a little when the students have fish, eggs or beef saved with Nsima for lunch. Dinner is Nsima with beans. And it is a routine till the end of month, term, academic year and life at the campus.

Perhaps, this could be the reason Student Representative Shadereck Stephano complained of poor diet.

He said sometimes vegetables and beans are served progressively more.

As we walk through the rugged corridors whose part of the roofing is seemingly begging to fall down, we are led to the boys’ dormitories. Just like a style for all the blocks at the campus, almost all the windows have no glasses, a free visa for mosquitoes to swim in and out and multiply in the crowded hostels.

Despite the open windows, it is humid in the dorms with unpleasant heavy air. One of the students whose identity we will conceal tells us he shares a bed with a peer.

His room has two-decked beds whose tattered mattresses cover half through the bed.

“We share the bed because, as you can see, the other bed has no mattress and there is no other option. We reported the issue and we were told the management will look into the matter,” the student says.

I also learn that bedbugs oftentimes spread in the dorms.

“We have a number of rooms with pockets of bedbugs. We first noted the bugs’ infestation end February. The school is yet to spray chemicals to avoid further spreading of these blood-feasting pests. Two years ago, we also had an outbreak of the same and it was despicable but it was contained,” says the student.

Muharu tells us the school receives about K20 million in a year, most of which is spent through water and electricity bills. In fact, some years back, the school suspended the usage of electric pots as it could no longer manage to foot electricity bills.

“The money that we receive is not that enough to pay for services such as maintenance,” he says.

On mattresses, Muharu says the school is aware and every year they report to the district’s education office which provides them with new mattresses.

Balaka Secondary School former student Patrick Matiki, while conceding that the school’s standards in terms of infrastructure are lowering, he says the school’s alumni have a role to play.

Having noticed such, Matiki and a group of other former students at Balaka Secondary (about 50) have formed an organisation—Amiable Largesse—(friends of the needy) whose intention is to reach out for the needs of the school including reaching out to various sectors in the country.

He says the group will first be involved in sanitation, whereby, at times, they will be cleaning surroundings in public places, the school inclusive.

“We will also be working with various offices at district council level such as the environmental offices, whereby we want to intensify climate change issues, especially together with the youth. So, for a start, Balaka will be the first district,” he says.

At the launch of the organisation, guest speaker, a solar expert of Sky Energy Limited, Schizzo Thomson, said the country can excel economically if everybody looks back where he is coming from.

“On our own, we can rebuild what is messy, on our own, we can help those who are needy. What is required is unity. This should also be the message to the current crop of students to work hard and be able to support those who require assistance,” he said.

Examples of public infrastructure which stands miserable seeking renovations are several in the country.

Balaka Secondary School is just an example of some public infrastructure on the brink of dilapidation due to negligence.

Education expert Limbani Nsapato challenges government, non-State actors and individuals to invest more resources in education.

He says poorly maintained infrastructure is a threat to lives and has a hefty cost attached.

“The challenge of infrastructure is critical to delivery of accessible and equitable quality services, education inclusive. In education circles, it limits enrollments and also reduces concentration during teaching and learning process, especially during times of adverse weather condition. As such, government and other stakeholders need to come in quickly and address the issue,” he says.

Until then, infrastructure such as that housing Salima Technical College, Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre, several courts in the country, police stations and pothole-riddled roads will remain bed-ridden, suffering from maintenance syndrome.

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