By Isaac Kambwiri:
Hazilim Kuchekuche, 12, cannot easily shrug off the painful memories of January this year.
The boy, who covers a distance of five kilometres to get to get to school on term days, woke up at around 5am as usual, heading to Mikundi Primary School in Traditional Authority (TA) Mduwa, in Mchinji District.
“That day, while attending classes, we experienced a heavy storm that destroyed classroom blocks, injuring most of my classmates,” the standard four learner says.
He was among those injured.
A day that had started with the sun shining through the clear blue skies eventually gave way to heavy winds that swept across Mikundi Primary School and surrounding areas.
Within a few minutes, learners and teachers at the school were scampering for safe sanctuaries after the storm had blown down the roof of a classroom block, destroying teaching and learning materials in its trail.
“Apart from sustaining various degrees of injuries, most of us lost learning materials, which got soaked in rainwater,” Hazilim states.
The incident forced him to temporarily abandon school for almost a month as his struggling parents could not immediately replace materials such as notebooks and pens.
Reports of the devastation reached the authorities, such that, before long, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), in collaboration with the office of Mchinji District Education Manager, called for help from well-wishers.
Two of the country’s major tobacco buyers, Alliance One Tobacco and Limbe Leaf, responded to the call and offered school learning materials to the learners, who were the primary victims of the disaster.
Each of the school’s 2,635 learners received learning materials including a schoolbag, note books, pens, pencils and rulers, among others, worth around K20 million.
Speaking at the handover ceremony of the materials, Corporate Affairs Officer for Alliance One Tobacco Malawi, Ben Kawonga, said the two companies decided to jointly donate the items to motivate the learners to continue working hard and achieve their academic goals.
“We, as two corporate responsible entities, decided to jointly donate these learning materials after being requested by Dodma following heavy winds which destroyed classroom blocks and learning materials for the majority of learners at this school. This made the learning environment at the school unbearable,” Kawonga said.
He added that the two companies also came to the learners’ rescue because the majority of people affected by the disaster are tobacco growers, a crop which oils the business activities of the two entities.
“We believe that these items will help these kids learn effectively and achieve their goals. This is one way of complementing government’s efforts in making sure that the country’s children are getting quality education that will enable them to become responsible and productive citizens for this nation,” he said.
Kawonga further stated that Alliance One does not allow the use of children as a source of labour in tobacco production in all the countries it is operating globally and, therefore, called upon parents in the area to desist from using children in tobacco fields.
He also urged parents in the district to send their children to school so that, in the future, they can also work for the two tobacco-buying companies.
According to Kawonga, for the past 18 years Alliance One has been complementing government’s efforts in improving the living standards of people across the country, particularly in areas of education, water and sanitation, environment, health and social welfare, among others.
Mikundi Primary School Head teacher, Fradson Kakowa, said the items would go a long way in motivating learners to perform well in class, in the process reducing the dropout rate at the institution.
“I would like to commend Alliance One Tobacco and Limbe Leaf Tobacco for giving each of the children here a schoolbag and other learning materials which, I believe, will motivate these children to work hard in class and perform better.
“Most of these children come from very poor families where parents cannot afford to buy a schoolbag for them; as such, the donation will motivate them to continue attending classes,” Kakowa said.
He urged companies to emulate the gesture shown by the two companies and assist his school in other areas such as constructing teachers’ houses and classroom blocks as well as donating desks which, he said, are urgently needed.
Just like the head teacher, Hazilim expressed gratitude to the two companies for giving him a schoolbag, an item he could only dream about as his parents are “too poor and could not raise the funds that would have enabled them to buy the materials”.
The learner said the items, especially the schoolbag, have compelled him to shed off plans of dropping out of school.
He is determined to continue working hard and achieve his dream of becoming a train operator.
“I took number 14 in last term’s examinations and I am hoping to be in the top five during this final term because I will work extra hard now,” he said.
About 398,908 learners were affected by floods and storms induced by Tropical Storm Ana, mostly in the country’s Southern Region.
According to a United Nations Children’s Fund Malawi report, 476 schools were affected by February 15 2022.
The storm displaced 33,000 people, some of whom sought temporary shelter in approximately 178 displacement sites.
As part of the disaster response, Unicef distributed 400 boxes of learning materials, reaching approximately 105,649 learners in 70 primary schools in five districts of Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe, Mulanje and Mangochi.
When Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje visited affected schools in Chikwawa District earlier this year, she noted that the damage to school infrastructure “was very serious”.
The minister said sanitary facilities also suffered extensive damage, piling more pressure on the education sector, which has been reeling under challenges such as those of poor infrastructure, inadequate learning materials and teacher shortage.
“The need to rebuild is big. As we are talking about the need to put in place the necessary structures, what we want is that the teacher and learner must be meeting and when they meet, there must be meaningful learning going on,” NyaLonje said.
Teaching and learning materials were destroyed in 23 education districts, according to the Ministry of Education.
The education sector is not the only one affected. According to Unicef, a total of 53,962 latrines collapsed, with 337 boreholes, 206 water taps and eight gravity-fed water schemes getting damaged by floods.
The storm hit Malawi on January 24 this year, leading to the death of 46 people while 206 others were injured.
And, as authorities in Mchinji indicate, the disaster’s tentacles did not spare the border district, threatening Kuchekuche and other learners’ academic goals.