This week a new group of IWitnesses are leaving home in the Netherlands and flying to Malawi, where they will visit some of UNICEF’s education projects. We’re starting off with this post from UNICEF Malawi’s Education Specialist, who explains why he’s so passionate about making sure that children can reach their full potential.
My name is Michael Banda, and I am UNICEF Malawi’s Education Specialist for Education Policy, Planning, and Monitoring and Evaluation. Growing up in a small copper mining town in Zambia, I took an early interest in education. The best schools in town were funded by the mines, but students could only attend if their parents were employed by the mine, so I attended a government school. While the standards at government schools were not comparable to the mine schools, they did provide all of the requisites and had sufficiently trained teachers to inspire me.
My love for education grew over the years and, when it was time to go to university, there was only one choice: to become a teacher. But after entering the teaching field, I realized that there were both push and pull factors that influence educational attainment and, as a teacher, I was limited to working on those that were within the school environment. In order to be able to address both, I made the decision to leave teaching to work in education outside the classroom.
My passion for children stems from seeing them grow and learn, and I am inspired seeing children making their own informed decisions in their lives. It is for this reason that I joined UNICEF 12 years ago. UNICEF provides an important platform that can be used to provide educational opportunities, particularly for those at risk of falling through the cracks in education or missing out on education—including girls, children with disabilities, orphans and the ultra-poor.
When moving from UNICEF Zambia to UNICEF Malawi three years ago, I quickly saw that Malawi had great potential to achieve not only universal primary education but quality compulsory education for all children of school-going age. The potential of children and adolescents in this country can be seen every time I travel into the field and visit the numerous schools that UNICEF supports. Their drive to succeed against so many forces working against them is inspiring.
Take the example of a girl in a local community school who had to drop out of school because she was pregnant. Her determination to give herself and her child a better life made her work against the odds to get herself back into school.
Or the example of a girl who was removed from school and married off. The school committee, mothers’ group, teachers and traditional leaders from her area were mobilised to try and find her and get her back in school. There are so many examples of children like this who are being given a second chance.
There is still a lot of work to be done in Malawi. It is the commitment of organisations like UNICEF and the support of donors like the IKEA Foundation that gives me the drive to continue to fight for the rights of children and to give them the voice they deserve. I am hopeful that the children of Malawi will be able to look beyond the difficulties they may have faced in the past and to continue moving forward to reach their potential for a better future for themselves and their families.