New Classroom too good to forgo
by Felix Malamula
Golomoti, Dedza, 31 January 2011: Noisy and jovial pupils welcome the UNICEF team arriving at Ngoni Primary School in Dedza district, situated about 90 kilometres south of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.
Among the pupils jostling for a front-row position is 12 year-old fifth grader Enelesi Yusufu. The fact that she is even at school in January, the peak farming and hunger season in Malawi, is a miracle of sorts because, as is common among rural and poor families in Malawi, girls typically of Enelesi’s age are often forced to abandon school for casual work on other people’s farms.
Casual jobs during the farming season, from November to March, are plentiful as well-off farmers look for extra hired hands to meet the increased workload. This period also coincides with what is called the lean season when most rural families have depleted their grain reserves and hunger is at its peak. For poor families like Enelesi’s, casual labour is a lifeline. The temptation to send their children to the farm rather than the school is often too great to be overcome.
On this particular day, as in previous days, Enelesi left home for school against the wishes of her mother.
“I have always told myself that I will never abscond from school unless I fall sick. But sometimes my mother does not buy that,” she explains before adding that she often offers to do the work after school.
“So we go for Chidzulo because that’s when I have knocked off from school and I am a little bit free,” she adds. Chidzulo means “afternoon” in local language, a time when farmers return to their fields after the lunch break.
Things have not always been this way. There was a time when Enelesi was willing to forgo school so that she could work in the farms. All of this changed when a major transformation at her school convinced Enelesi her future lay with the school and not the farm.
“There was indeed a time when I didn’t like school. The environment at the school was bad and I was very unwilling to be in school. But after the construction of new classroom blocks, this place turned into the best place for me,” she says while pointing at two new classroom blocks.
The eight classroom blocks were constructed by UNICEF, as were a head teacher’s house and office, and a borehole. Enelesi is not the only pupil who finds the current Ngoni Primary School too good to forgo.
“I have to be honest with you, as a school we are now very proud because we are able to keep more pupils in school than was the case three or four years ago,” says Geoffrey Kanola, the school’s deputy head teacher. “Today we are not only managing higher enrolments but also retentions. Our pupils continue to remain in school despite the many temptations and challenges they face at home,” adds Kanola.
Enelesi wants to become a teacher. “I admire the respect my teachers receive here. They are called Madam,” she says, sending Kanola into stitches.