Does an IKEA Soft Toy really make a difference towards the Educational system in Africa? I arrived to Malawi in hopes to seek out an answer to this question. The Mchuchu Primary School that we visited earlier this week exemplified the successful support UNICEF has provided through the Schools for Africa Program. Mchuchu Primary provided the children with clean latrines, comfortable seating, a safe environment and overall a positive atmosphere for learning. But until I stepped into Phanda Primary School, a school that does not benefit through the Schools for Africa Program, I never would have understood the dramatic differences.
Phanda Primary School was built in 1919 and to this day, the structure of the school remains as is. There are seven classrooms and only two are in good condition while the other five have cracking walls and struggle with leaking roofs. With 1,223 students, Phanda Primary is unable to provide desks or chairs forcing the children to learn sitting on the ground and even outside under trees for large classes.
Child Friendly Schools are required to contain clean and accessible latrines as well as access to clean water. Phanda Primary is equipped with separate washrooms for both boys and girls however, they provide little to no privacy, unsanitary conditions and most importantly no wash station. For an adolescent girl a sanitary latrine is one of the key drivers to staying in school creating an increase in drop outs at Phanda Primary.
Despite the conditions at Phanda Primary there’s still an inspirational vibe within the community. Phanda Primary receives an immense amount of support from their “Mother Group” who encourages adolescent drop outs to return to school. They provide counseling and support to those girls who have had babies and been discouraged. Functional Literacy Programs take place in communities to help assist those drop outs and teach them to read and write for nine months. This way whether they decide to return to school or not they are at least literate.
Although UNICEF is not a donor to Phanda, UNICEF has combined forces with the UN on the Joint Program for Adolescents and Education. This is a scholarship program aimed for adolescent girls awarded by the District. Phanda has 21 girls benefiting from the scholarship, 5 of those have returned after having a baby.
Phanda Primary School faces a lot of challenges. The poor learning conditions prevent many students from excelling or even enjoying school. “Iwitnessed” the drastic difference our Soft Toys for Education Campaign makes in African Schools. A Child Friendly School is not just about gaining materials but empowering our children to grow. I look forward to instilling my passion for the Soft Toys for Education Program when I return.