Maria looks forward to a renovated school

Integrated interventions to keep children in school

By Lulutani Tembo
17-year-old Maria outside a block that will house the library
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Gumulira
28 May 2021

Maria Alikanjelo is a shy, bright girl who almost always finishes top of her class at Mpondamwala Primary School, located on the outskirts of rural Lilongwe. She always looks forward to her classes, but schools' closure in Malawi due to the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to her studies.

When schools reopened, she was ecstatic to get her studies back on track. What is even more exciting for her are the current developments taking place at her school.

UNICEF Malawi and the Ministry of Education, with support from UNICEF Germany, are currently constructing classroom blocks, teachers' houses, an administrative block, a library, and gender and disability-friendly sanitary facilities complete with showers to provide menstrual hygiene services. These additions will create a conducive learning environment for both children and teachers.

"I am so happy we're getting new classrooms. It will allow us to focus on our learning without being distracted by passers-by when classes are held outside. When I was in standard seven, we would stop learning whenever it rained. Our books would also get wet, and we would lose our notes.  Our parents couldn't even afford to buy new books," the soft-spoken Maria explains.

"I also think some children who dropped out of school will return because of how nice it will look."

Even better for female learners such as Maria is that they will now have access to sanitary facilities to help them during menstruation.

"The new showers will benefit us; we'll be able to shower and clean ourselves here when we're having our period instead of going back home during lessons and missing out," she says. "We'll also have handwashing facilities which mean we can practice good hygiene during these COVID-19 times."

Construction workers working on the new WASH facilities
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Gumulira
Construction workers working on the new WASH facilities

In Malawi, about 51 per cent of children finish primary school, but only 37.6 per cent of them proceed to secondary school. This is why one of UNICEF's main priorities is to work closely with the Ministry of Education to keep children in school through various projects such as the one at Mpondamwala Primary School.

Teachers at the school believe the new structures will help them to provide better quality teaching to the learners.

"I still teach my class under a tree. It's hard for children to concentrate and for us to use learning resources such as charts because we have no proper infrastructure to hang them on," says standard three teacher, Winkford Kanthenga.

"The library will also help us to store books better. Previously, we'd keep them at the headteacher's house, and if some went missing, it would affect learning. We will also have an administrative office, which will ensure that the school's documentation is organized."

Mr Kanthenga adds that the provision of a solar water supply system will go a long way in alleviating the challenges learners faced in walking to a nearby river to collect water during class time. Alternatively, he explains, the learners had to compete for water with community members at the village borehole. To compound matters, some learners would get sick from drinking this unsafe water and miss classes.

Headteacher Mr. Chipyola outside of a classroom under construction
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Gumulira
Headteacher Mr. Chipyola outside of a classroom under construction

Headteacher Mr Gladson Chipyola believes the developments will motivate teachers and learners.

"During the rainy season or when it's cloudy, some learners wouldn't even show up for class, which increased absenteeism. In addition, we had a high dropout rate when the school closed due to COVID-19. About eight children went off to get married, while others were not motivated enough to return. But we now have hope things will be better," Mr Chipyola explains.

The scenery is dusty now at Mpondamwala Primary School, with smells of paint hanging in the air, construction equipment littered everywhere and construction workers going up and about, but good things come for those who wait. The campus will soon be completely transformed from what it used to be once the construction is done towards the end of June.

Maria is positive about what is about to come, but more importantly, she looks forward to how it will affect her daily routine.

"Usually, when I come back from school, I do household chores, but when the library will be completed, I will spend most of my time there," she says cheerfully. "In future, I want to be successful so that I don't have to struggle. I also want to build a new house for my parents."