A new chapter for Mphunzi Primary School

Access to safe water in schools makes a difference

By Gregory Gondwe
Thanks to UNICEF support, learners have easy access to water to take care of their school garden
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
05 February 2021

Every evening, all 1,658 students at Mphunzi Primary School in Dedza would go searching for various empty bottles to carry water from their respective homes to help clean the school.

Looking back, 12-year-old Standard Seven student, Angel Phiri, says this was a futile attempt. It was not helping matters as this collected water was not enough to be used to clean half the school’s toilets.

“Diarrhoea was the mainstay for the school. Many students were often absent due to waterborne diseases,” she says.

Headteacher Joseph Kapetuka agrees, “sanitation was compromised as we were unable to take care of toilets. We lacked water at the school and asked students to bring water in bottles, which was only a desperate attempt to keep us going as a school.”

Fortunately, the school became one of the beneficiaries of the Living School Project in 2019 through assistance from the German National Committee for UNICEF, creating an almost palpable level of excitement among the students, teachers and the community at large.

“For a school that was established in 1926, you can imagine the euphoric attack that gripped us all to have access to water 93 years later,” Kapetuka recounts.

Angela Phiri showing some of the crops in the school garden
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
Angela Phiri showing some of the crops in the school garden

The school committee suggested that community members pay K10 for a 20-litre bucket and the money would be used to manage the water point and buy soap and other requirements to propel their water and sanitation drive.

The water system is fairly simple to operate and committee members have been trained to carry out minor repairs.

The Headmaster said having a convenient water source has helped their orchard flourish, and it bears guavas, avocados, mangos, lemons, tangerines and the indigenous Masuku fruits.

They planted 120 fruit seedlings and 118 survived; they also planted three varieties of trees totalling 225, 110 of which survived.

Angel and her peers did not have prior knowledge of the Living Schools Club but they have a wildlife club that empowers them to take care of the school’s vegetable garden, the orchard and the woodlot.

“We are also into environmental awareness where we encourage our peers and our parents to plant fruit trees, which protect buildings from wind and heavy rains and are a good source for nutritional supplements,” she said.

The solar water system at Mphunzi Primary School installed by UNICEF
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
The solar water system at Mphunzi Primary School installed by UNICEF

Jictor Majamanda, a teacher and the patron of the wildlife club, said they have learned a lot about the Living Schools Club and will establish one at the school to complement the work of the 16-member wildlife club.

The current club encourages students to take care of the trees and the school premises in general. They also take part in maintaining the orchard.

“They planted flower gardens around the areas between the classroom blocks, but with the long COVID-19 break the flowers died, so they are restarting the process,” said Jictor.

Club members meet every Wednesday to discuss care of the school environment, the water facility and the general infrastructures as well as engage in educational activities on the environment and sanitation. A roster allows students from different classes to take turns cleaning school grounds, and looking after the gardens, orchards and the woodlot.

According to Jictor, community members have also gained knowledge through the project on how to raise fruit seedlings and care for an orchard.

“Since the students are encouraged to do the same in their respective households, the change has been tremendous,” he said.

At the moment they are raising money through the sale of vegetables from the school’s garden, which goes towards managing their water plant.

Considering how far they have come, Angel says they will take care of the facility with full dedication. They cannot revert to gathering water bottles from home.