By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Chimwemwe Phiri, 12, loves to read. But because her school doesn’t have a library, she has to walk for two hours to reach the nearest library where she studies and borrows books. Her school doesn’t have enough classrooms either so many of the children take their lessons outside.
She remembers learning under a tree from standard 1 to 6. “During the rainy season our books would get soaked and we were told to go home because we could not continue learning in the wet weather with no shelter. This is currently the case with the younger students who don’t have classrooms”
Her school, Nankhali Primary School, in Malawi, is located in Lilongwe rural east on a wide plain surrounded by dirt, dust and few trees. The conditions are often scorching hot and windy.
In an effort to address the problems the school is facing, UNICEF is close to completing construction of six classrooms, a library, teacher housing and toilet blocks.
Money to construct the buildings was raised from a TV special hosted by football star Mats Hummels on German TV. UNICEF also providing the school with tree seeds for planting as part of UNICEF’s Living Schools project, which aims to make schools greener.
A brighter future for Nankhali
Chimwemwe who is now in standard 8, has been blogging about the work that UNICEF is doing at the school. She is excited about how conditions at the school will change once the project is complete.
“I am so happy that UNICEF is constructing classroom blocks at our school. This means each and every one of us students will be able to learn inside a classroom.”
“And we won’t have to go the bush when we need to relieve ourselves because of the new toilets that UNICEF is constructing. We will have a toilet that is separate from the boys, giving us privacy.”
As a blogger, Chimwemwe was selected to give a tour to the UNICEF Germany team on the progress of construction at Nankhali when they visited in October.
She showed them their toilets that were under construction and their vegetable garden.
A difficult life because of poverty
Chimwemwe finds it worrying how many children in her area fail to finish school because of poverty.
“Some children also prefer to go to the market to sell produce instead of being in class. I hope that new classrooms can play a part in motivating students who previously dropped out of school to come back.”
The village that Chimwemwe and her family live in is very poor. Most of the houses have grass thatched roofs. Their house has 3 rooms. Chimwemwe and her siblings sleep in one room, her parents occupy the other room and the third room is used as a sitting room.
Her mother, Eneless struggles to give her children three meals a day because of the little income her family has. “I spend most of my time taking care of our home because I don’t do anything for a living. My husband is a cleaner who makes 20,000 kwacha a month. This money is hardly enough to sustain the family and the children’s school needs”, Eneless says.
“There are times when we don’t have enough food and my children go to school on an empty stomach. Sometimes we also don’t have soap to wash their uniforms”.
Clothed in a chitenje, traditional wear for Malawian women, all Enless wants is a brighter future for her children. She expressed joy when she learned about the UNICEF construction project.
“I was so happy when I heard about the works going on at Nankhali. This means our children will learn in a better environment,” says Eneless.
“UNICEF also fixed the water pump at the school which was great because the children no longer have to carry water from home because they can access safe water at school.”
Despite her family facing financial struggles, Eneless has high hopes for Chimwemwe’s future. She hopes her daughter will go to college and get a good job so she can take care of the family.
“Chimwemwe is a hard worker and I know greatness awaits her,” she says.
UNICEF support is helping the school
The school deputy head teacher, Mr. Gwedera says the new construction at Nankhali will increase the enrolment at the school and the library will establish a reading culture.
He is pleased UNICEF is also helping children from vulnerable households in the area with monthly cash allowances through the social cash transfer programme.
“The cash transfer programme has helped increase attendance at the school. Children are able to use this money to buy their school supplies. The trees that are being planted with support from UNICEF are also important in decreasing the heavy winds we experience in the area,” he says.
In the meantime, Chimwemwe says she works hard in school and never skips class despite coming to school hungry at times. “Last term I finished at number 4 in my class”, she explains. “When I grow up I want to be a nurse”, she adds. Her role as a blogger makes her enjoy school even more. Hopefully she can also blog about her experience as a nurse in future!