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Malawi, 21 March 2011: Children swap floors for desks at Malawi school with MSNBC-US Fund for UNICEF support

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, 21 March 2011 - Chimwala primary school in Lilongwe, central Malawi, serves 3,000 students in multiple shifts. For years, a severe shortage of classrooms and school furniture meant they studied in discomfort – on dirt floors or even on the ground outside under shade trees.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Jason Dickerson reports on a programme that is supplying thousands of school desks to children in Malawi.  Watch in RealPlayer

Last month, UNICEF delivered 100 desks and attached benches to furnish the school's eight classrooms. It’s the beginning of a project that will eventually deliver 46,000 desks to schools across the country and give tens of thousands of children their first ever opportunity to sit at a desk.

UNICEF in Malawi is working with local manufacturers to make the school desks that will allow thousands of students to learn in comfort, with funding from a joint MSNBC-US Fund for UNICEF campaign.

The arrival of 100 desks in Lilongwe was a monumental occasion – one that inspired even the village chief to attend.

"In all my 13 years at UNICEF, I have never seen a day quite like this one," said UNICEF Communication Chief Victor Chinyama, who accompanied the desk manufacturers for the joyful delivery.

Kids in Need of Desks (K.I.N.D.)

The Chimwala delivery was just the first in a series that will ultimately provide desks for 172 schools in the districts of Dedza, Kasungu, Blantyre Rural and Lilongwe Rural. This achievement is the result of the Kids in Need of Desks (K.I.N.D) campaign launched by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and cable news network MSNBC.

"Try sitting on a cement floor. You will be uncomfortable in 10 minutes or less,” said journalist Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell’. “Then you will be in pain—your back, your hips.”

He went on: “Now stay there for seven hours. Now try doing that five days a week. Oh, and don't forget to read and write while you’re sitting on the floor. And while you're at it, try to learn something, anything, a language maybe, something that requires real concentration."

O'Donnell launched the initiative with UNICEF after visiting Malawi last summer where he witnessed the great need for basic educational supplies.

© UNICEF Malawi/2011
Last month, MSNBC and the US Fund for UNICEF delivered 100 desks to furnish Chimwala Primary School's eight classrooms in Malawi.

Inspired efforts

On that trip, O’Donnell was able to furnish a single classroom in just one week by contacting UNICEF, and funding the production with local manufacturers. Inspired, he agreed to spread the word about UNICEF's efforts in Malawi to his television audience.

"Sure, there are more important things to do in Africa,” O’Donnell said, “ – stop genocide in Darfur, get clean water supplies, fight AIDS – and better people than me are trying to do those things every day of their lives. Get some kids off the floor? Well, that's the best I could do.”

To date, the K.I.N.D campaign has raised nearly $2 million, enough to produce 46,000 desks, each of which will allow two or more children to focus better on their studies. Already, more than 1,500 desks have been manufactured and delivered to schools.

“The gift of a desk to a child in Malawi means so much,” said President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF Caryl Stern. She emphasizes that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“It helps lay the groundwork for survival and success that will continue for generations,” she said, “and we are so pleased to have MSNBC as a partner in this campaign to give as many children as possible a head start."

Schools for Africa

Malawi still has many obstacles to overcome before every child has access to quality basic education. Four out of five students in Malawi are still without desks, and in all of sub-Saharan Africa there are 45 million children who are unable to go to school.

In addition to inadequate classroom space, there is a shortage of trained teachers, learning materials and school sanitation facilities, which particularly impacts girls.

In 2004, UNICEF and the Nelson Mandela Foundation started Schools for Africa, a campaign to promote education for all, with a special emphasis on girls, orphans, children living in extreme poverty and other vulnerable children.

Through the Schools for Africa campaign, UNICEF works closely with the Government of Malawi and governments of 11 other African countries to overcome these obstacles and give a new generation of African children the right to education and opportunity to thrive.



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