In the morning, we gathered in front of our hotel, once again full of anticipation and exhilaration. Our plan was to go to a school two hours away in southern Malawi. Along the way we saw many local markets, herds of goats and cows, stray dogs and crowds of people who were either carrying goods on their heads or had them on carts being pulled by donkeys. We stopped at one of the gas stations to replenish our bottled water, which caused quite an upheaval as group of young boys from the marketplace, who were selling eggs and donuts, ran over to us shouting, “Azongu!”, which means “white”. We greeted each other and took some pictures. Afterwards, we continued on our way and arrived shortly at the primary school in Chikwawa.
Upon our arrival at the school we were welcomed by the director, Chiwanda. He told us that the school was founded in 1919 and that some of his previous students received government posts as ministers or officials. There are 3 surrounding schools that also send their students to complete their studies here. The school has 1,223 students, including 650 boys and 573 girls. The school has 10 teachers and one intern, and there are 7 classrooms. Unlike the schools we visited on Monday, we’ve seen dilapidated sections of the building, with classrooms of children learning outdoors under the trees. Also, there are not enough houses for the teachers who remain here through the week and the toilets do not meet the basic needs of the teachers or students. Basically, it consisted of two separate buildings, one for boys and one for girls, in which there were always five toilets, which were essentially holes in the ground. There is much more that remains to be done!
In 2010, UNICEF introduced a new program at the school that focused on education of girls. The members of the program are chosen by “Community Mothers” and their selections are then approved by local officials who are responsible for social affairs. Currently, this program includes 21 girls, aged 12 to 19 years. Girls in the program will receive a uniform, school supplies (pens, notebooks, textbooks- from government programs, children receive only one pen and one workbook for the school year, which is not enough), and shoes. The shoes can be motivation enough for involvement because many students lack shoes but need to walk long stretches on hot roads to attend classes.
One of the students, Dorothy Joseph, who after attending the UNICEF program entered high school, spoke with us and said that the biggest obstacles to participating in school is physical distance, forced marriages, pregnancies, and that their teachers are only men, who do not always understand the needs of girls and their problems.
One of the main endeavors of the “Community Mothers” is to try to convince girls, who have left school, due to pregnancy or early marriage, to return to study.
UNICEF’s efforts here do not end at traditional education, but they also facilitate youth clubs where children can meet others and learn. There is also sex education of youth, which provides counseling and information about contraception. Additionally, they support children by empowering their parents through adult literacy centers where, during a nine month program, adults can learn to read and write and become self-sufficient.
At the end of our visit, children danced and acted out a play for us, which focused on the issues surrounding early marriage. Afterwards, we presented two suitcases full of notebooks, pens and pencils to the Headmaster, for which he responded with a cry of, “Kongola”, or “beauty”. With that we went on our way back to the hotel. On the way, our adventurers, Stázi and Máca, decided to visit a local market where they purchased some souvenirs and local delicacies, sticks of sugar cane.
We cannot wait to see what the next day holds for us!