By Wezzie Gausi:
Eliza Butao, 15, is a Standard Six learner at Makanda Primary School in Ntchisi and aspires to become a nurse.
It has been a shaky dream. Her school did not afford her the comfort that is necessary for girls, especially those who have reached puberty.
Thus, she could shun classes during her monthly periods.
“It was really hard,” Eliza recalls. “You can’t be comfortable being in class when you are menstruating. The problem becomes bigger when you have nowhere to change your inner garments.”
Naughty boys would also peek at menstruating girls as they attempted to change their garments in open toilets.
“In the past, during the five days that I had my periods every month, I literally hated school. It was really uncomfortable being in class and home was the best place,” Eliza says.
Today, there is hope again as tobacco buying company Alliance One Malawi has come to the rescue of girls like Eliza.
Apart from refurbishing classroom blocks, the company has also built new and modern toilets that are helping in keeping girls in school even during their monthly period days.
“I know some girls even dropped out of school because facilities were not conducive enough for them. They have returned and their future is bright. Our future is bright,” Eliza explains.
Makanda Primary School Head teacher for the junior section, Mita Kamendi, admits that, before Alliance One came to the school’s rescue in January this year, there were constant fears that an accident would occur due to the poor quality of structures.
“The structures were death traps for learners. The school was generally not conducive for teaching and learning,” Kamendi says.
The situation was not different at Lilongwe Demonstration Primary School in Area 25. Forked in a peri-urban location, the school used to struggle with problems related to poor infrastructure.
Classroom blocks were dilapidated until they got refurbished by Alliance One.
According to the school’s head teacher, Caroline Majiga, the “hazardous environment” that children where learning in has been improved.
“Alliance One renovated classroom blocks, constructed toilets, fixed broken doors and drilled boreholes. We can’t ask for more. Of course, there are other areas where we need more support but, in the meantime, we are grateful for what we have now,” Majiga says.
She reckons that, with the Covid-19 pandemic still around, schools need to have good sanitation facilities and equipment to ward off the virus which has returned in leaps and bounds in some European countries.
“With these facilities, both teachers and learners are protected. Sanitation is critical in the midst of the pandemic,” Majiga says.
Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Corporate Affairs Officer, Ben Kawonga, says the support to the schools was provided under the tobacco company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), and in compliance with the legal and regulatory requirements of countries where Alliance One operates.
Kawonga says their CSR agenda covers education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, environment, orphans and vulnerable children and contracted integrated production system farmers and their communities.
“As a tobacco company, we have a responsibility of ensuring that children in areas where our contracted farmers live have access to education. Thus, conditions in school must be good.
“This is also a way of ensuring that children do not find themselves working in tobacco production. We stress this to our contracted growers now and then,” Kawonga says.
He hopes that the facilities will continue being cherished by targeted communities so that they take care of them for the benefit of future generations.