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Malawi

Malawians Raising Malawi

By Emmet Bergin, Regional Liaison Officer for Southern Africa

Madonna and Malawi were in the news recently when the Malawi Government claimed that the charity the singer heads, Raising Malawi, had exaggerated its work in the country and had not built whole schools, as the charity was said to have implied, but merely added some classrooms to existing Government-built school blocks.

In a country where many children are educated outside, under the shade of trees and often in the blazing sun, all investments in education are necessary and welcome. Sadly the scale of need – 7 million children under the age of 15 – compared to what was built – 12 new primary schools – is massive. Raising Malawi claims that almost 5,000 children will be now be educated in proper school buildings.

But what is the future for the millions of other children?

A community that I visited last week in Nkhotakhota, close to the shore of Lake Malawi, has decided not to wait for the Government or an NGO to come to their rescue. Instead, they have built a preschool and an adult literacy centre themselves.  Community members gave their own time, money and labour to construct two buildings as a result of discussions they held under the ambit of Trócaire partner project SWAM.

The preschool is a very simple brick and thatched roof structure, but already it is a focal point in the community.

New School Building in Malawi

Children outside the new preschool building.
 
Innocent Mwale, a volunteer teacher at the preschool, smiled when I told him that in Ireland the maximum limit for preschool is one teacher for every eight children. Innocent will mind an average of 95 children at any one time.

He gets the kids to do the alphabet, recite numbers and understand the clock and calendar when they are fresh in the morning. Afterwards they break for singing and play. Parents join together to provide the maize, salt and sugar that forms the porridge that each child receives, cooked in the school’s basic open air kitchen.

The preschool doesn’t receive a cent from outside sources. It shows in the lack of toys and learning tools that would be used to stimulate a child’s mental development in Ireland.

Yet the pride the community feels in their initiative is palpable. They want their children to be better educated than they are themselves, to have their children primed for learning once they start primary schooling.

School children in new school building in Malawi

Top left – Innocent Mwale, volunteer teacher at the preschool, Right – Children in the preschool, Bottom left – Community members in ‘STAR circle’.
 
The genesis for all of this work are the ‘STAR circles’ established by Trócaire partner SWAM. STAR stands for ‘Societies Tackling AIDS through Rights’. Community members come together in weekly group “circles” to discuss how to stop the spread of HIV, as well as other issues facing the community, including education, gender inequality and poverty. Preschool and adult literacy are only two of the problems that are being worked on.

Instead of saying ‘Rescue Me’ to international donors and feeling that ‘Nothing Really Matters’ this STAR group is told to ‘Express Yourself’. They are doing it, not just in words, but in truly sustainable actions that offer a better model for Malawi’s development.<--break->” src=”/profiles/annerprofile/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif” title=”<--break-->“></p>

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Damien

Trócaire