Making schools greener

Towards environmentally friendly schools

By James Chavula
Children using the water tap installed by UNICEF at Nankhwali Primary School
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Chagara
15 January 2021

At first glance, Nankhwali Primary School in Mangochi appears dry, rocky and gullied. However, its students are harnessing a solar-powered water system to plant trees, flowers and vegetables on bare ground. 

“Rainfall has become unpredictable, trees have disappeared and whirlwinds and running water swept away topsoil. We had no overhead protection when temperatures were high,” says Enoch Holland, 16, from nearby Machilika Village.

Enoch starts and ends his school day by watering trees and flowers outside his Standard Seven classroom.

The living schools club member says the taps give students, teachers and community members clean drinking water and makes the school greener. 
The surrounding flowers and trees also slow run-off water that eventually erodes topsoil.

Before schools closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, he and his schoolmates planted vegetables near a tap in their school. However, the demonstration garden wilted due to lack of maintenance during the long recess. About two-thirds of fruit trees planted in April, when the rainy season ended, did not yield anything.

Mr. Chilomo, the headteacher for Nankhwali primary says the number of new enrolments is soaring due to the living schools project
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Chagara
Mr. Chilomo, the headteacher for Nankhwali primary says the number of new enrolments is soaring due to the living schools project

However, they are grateful to UNICEF Malawi and its partners from the German National Committee for UNICEF, for giving them clean water, tools and knowledge that they intend to use to plant more than 1,000 trees to replace the lost seedlings, cover bare spots and safeguard water.

The new water points have reduced scrambles for water at an overcrowded borehole where women and children from surrounding communities queue for water as early as 4 a.m.

The borehole frequently runs dry during the rainy season, so it was “survival of the early birds”, says the school Headteacher, Mr. Chilomo.

His staffroom is adorned with flowers and trees that personify the Living Schools project which seeks to improve their adaptation and resilience to climate change.

The current interventions closes gaps in health, water and sanitation services while greening the schools with fruit trees improves nutrition.

 “The new water supply system supports children at the primary school as well as at Nankhwali Community Day Secondary School, where the solar-powered pump is located, and the villages where some children come from. We all win, so we collectively care for the water system,” Mr. Chilomo explains.

A learner waters new flowers in front of the school administration block
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Chagara
A learner waters new flowers in front of the school administration block

‘Cut one, plant 10’

Enoch rallies his schoolmates at Nankhwali to make the school green again.

“With free water, we have no reason to keep our school dry like a desert,” he says.

During the weekly living schools club meeting, he enjoys debates over the importance of trees and warns against the growing population’s appetite for firewood and charcoal for cooking, heating and drying fish, rightly observing that deforestation fuels soil erosion.

This disrupts rain formation and threatens futures of children who depend on currently failing crop yields and low fish sales to stay in school.

“When you cut down a tree, plant ten. If not, the gullies in schools and crop fields will keep deepening and we will have no shelter when it gets warm,” he says.

The trees refresh the air and absorb gases that could fuel global warming.

As water levels fall, Enoch and his parents walk longer to water their vegetables.

They also struggle to feed Enoch and his siblings as vegetables along the lake dry and water levels fall.

“Due to climate change and loss of trees, the farmers and fishermen find it hard to provide basic educational materials for their children,” he says.

Sending the message home

The climate-resilient water supply system for the school and community has taught pupils to value water and trees.

Practicing what he learns in school, Enoch has become an agent of change in his society. He has planted two trees in his homestead and urges his peers not to cut down trees.

 “When people cut down trees for firewood or charcoal, they are burning our future. The hills are bare and water is becoming scarce,” he says.

Enoch wishes the community would replant trees faster than they are burning in kitchens and open fireplaces.

“Trees clean the air we breathe, protect soils we farm and slow down the water when rivers flood. My two trees send a green message home and help make Malawi greener,” he says.