‘BEFORE we were in darkness, you now have brought the light’ – so says the head teacher of a school in Malawi where the work of a Rugby charity has ’transformed’ pupils’ lives.
A refurbished toilet block at Isyalikila Junior School in the southeastern African country is the latest collaboration between The Bwengu Project – a charity which funds and undertakes education and community projects in the Bwengu district – and the Rotary Club of Rugby.
Retired Rugby couple Tony and Sue Melia set up the charity in 2005 after they witnessed the terrible conditions at a Malawi school where they were teaching voluntarily.
The Rotary Club of Rugby, which this year marks its centenary, has been supporting The Bwengu Project for six years, funding classroom repairs, school furniture, and many of the charity’s 64 toilet block refurbishment projects.
Tony said the poor condition of school toilets in Malawi was a major reason for the high rate of absenteeism among older junior school girls, adding that the charity’s work to add washrooms for girls has improved attendance and exam pass rates.
The Club has also funded Teaching Kits for schools in the region. First introduced in 2017, the solar-powered LED projectors and tablets with built-in speakers allow audio-visual materials to be played in class.
Tony said: “The aim of the kit is to allow the Malawi National Curriculum to be delivered in schools where facilities are poor or limited. Electricity is not always readily available and the supply is unpredictable at best. Textbooks and writing materials are also in short supply, and class sizes are often well over 100 students.
“We asked teachers in Malawi to write out their blackboard notes onto A4 paper and we brought these back to the UK. They were then transferred and saved onto SD cards for use with the tablets. In total we have about 22,000 lessons scanned onto the tablets.
“Since the programme started in 2017 we have clear evidence of impressive improvements across all the schools.
“Rotarians work hard to raise funds to help the less fortunate in this world. The very least we can and always will do is to ensure their donations are spent wisely without waste and get good project outcomes each time.”
He added that over a third of children in the far north of Malawi – where the charity works – leave school unable to read, write or complete simple maths.
He said: “Since 2008, free adult education lessons in reading, writing and basic maths have been run in 12 villages for six months at a time. So far some 1,400 adults have achieved the basic academic requirements. Rotary Clubs have funded at least six of these village adult education projects, with Rugby Rotary Club funding four of them.”
A spokesperson for The Rotary Club of Rugby said: “The whole Class Teaching Kit has been a revolution to both children and adults in Malawi. Gone are the days when it was one book between 75-plus pupils.
“The proof of this method shows in the improved exam results of all schools fortunate enough to have access to the Kit. And their parents can now also use the method to have the education that they missed as children. To give people the opportunity to read and write is a massive privilege.”
Isyalikila Junior School head teacher Dawin Sikwese said: “We sincerely appreciate this great gift to the people of Isyalikila, it has really transformed their lives.
“They are now able to read, write and complete simple maths, but more importantly, know their rights. They can engage in development activities without resistance because they now understand their rights and responsibilities.
“Before we were in darkness, you now have brought the light.”
According to The International Monetary Fund, Malawi is the third poorest country in the world where one in 10 adults live with HIV or Aids, and a million children have been orphaned by the disease.
The Bwengu district is the size of Warwickshire, and includes 52 villages with a population of 18,000 people and 32 primary and secondary schools.
Many schools in Malawi are in extremely poor condition, with many not having had any maintenance or upkeep since their construction in the 1940s and 1950s. There are often more than 100 pupils per class due to a shortage of classrooms.
The Bwengu Project provides materials for communities to carry out renovations and building projects.