During my primary school days which were mostly in the 1940s, one of the compulsory subjects we took was called ‘hygiene’. We studied mostly the causes of diseases in tropical countries such as mosquitoes which we were told spread malaria through bites into human skin; stomachaches were caused by hookworms and tapeworms. We were then told what to do to avoid a variety of tropical diseases.
When we entered junior secondary school, the subject hygiene was no longer being taught. Instead there was general science, one of whose components was biology. In this, we were taught at a more advanced level what we had been taught in primary school as hygiene.
I believe that these days, the subject is incorporated in what is called health science. What puzzles me is that some of the people who own and operate lodges or motels do not give full attention to the health of their clients.
From January to December when I am in my house I always sleep under a mosquito net. A number of times when I have gone to attend meetings or seminars outside Blantyre, those who have arranged for such gatherings have accommodated me in a motel or lodge or whatever a mini-hotel is called. Often such places are beyond reproach as regards cleanliness. But as soon as I switch off the lights to sleep, I find myself invaded by the singing mosquitoes. They come too close for my comfort. I have swatted them off with a newspaper. They have disappeared briefly and then come back. What a nuisance!
I have then covered the whole of my body, including the head and the nose, with blankets only to feel that I have buried myself alive. When I wake up, I realise I had thrown the blankets off, not sure when. I feel anxious as I do not know just how many those bedroom hosts have sucked my blood and whether they have planted into my blood system the germs out of which malaria develops.
My appeal to health authorities and those in charge of the tourism industry to compel owners of these lodges to place mosquito nets in every bedroom. By omitting to do so, they are not cooperating in the fight against malaria. Surely mosquito nets and mosquito coils are not prohibitive in cost. In any case, they should not put the guests’ lives at risk.
During my school days history was taught as a core subject up to the Junior Certificate. These days apparently at the JC level it is an optional subject and too many students avoid it. This is a pity. I have sometimes been approached by men and women in the media to tell them something about who was who in the independence struggle or about the histories of the ethnic group which constitute the Malawi nation. Indeed, many were taken by surprise over the dispute between Tanzania and Malawi over Lake Malawi.
Just as it is necessary for every person to keep away illness that can be kept away, it is necessary to teach history of Malawi to every student up to the junior certificate if they are to feel proud of their country. Knowledge of one country’s history is the foundation of patriotism.
I have often heard of denunciations about handouts or largesse’s that some leading figures in our country dole out. I too do not believe largesse’s per se do save a country from widespread starvation. But does that mean they are worthless and should be prohibited?
The answer you give to this question will reveal whether you are well-off or not. Those who continually lampoon the giving of doles are in most cases not facing starvation themselves. Have they ever appealed to those who are offered the handouts to turn them down?
I have often seen scenes on Al Jazzira or BBC Focus programmes on Africa of emaciated men, women and children in the Central Africa Republic or South Sudan scrambling for relief food that is brought to them in bags. Go stand before those people and tell them it is futile to depend on handouts. They will take you as an enemy.
Handouts are detrimental to the progress of an individual, community or nation if they encourage people to depend on charity instead of their own efforts. If a donation of food has enabled a community to survive and then to work, they are in the form of capital.
To denounce handouts and then give no plan for short and long-term solutions is not helpful to those affected. The suffering of other people should not be used as ladders to reach commanding heights.
In order not to encourage sloth and an attitude of dependency, food should be given in exchange for work. Some call this food for work or work for food. Only the very old, frail and sickly should be given food unconditionally. Others should be required to take part in building roads, school blocks or cleaning streets. When giving them the food, tell them it is not a gift because they worked for it. They should be proud of it and not waste it.
Whenever Dr James KE Aggrey went about in Africa, he used to say: “Don’t eliminate without substitution.”