Imagine a 22-year-old primary school without a permanent building, a public facility where learners are crammed in leaky shacks with walls and roofs made of glass.
This is the story of Lwanjati Junior Primary School in Mzimba, whose photographs went viral on the social media and moved students at Osted High School in Denmark to do something about it.
Recently, 20 Danish students took advantage of their 10-day education tour of the Warm Heart of Africa to create a safe learning environment at the neglected remote school without safe water. The students, together with three teachers, worked with the locals to construct the first brick-and-mortar school block at Lwanjati, about 35 kilometres east of Jenda off the Kasungu-Mzimba M1 stretch. The Danes also repaired a borehole which broke down two years ago, forcing women and girls to walk long distances to fetch water from Kachendemuka River.
Liva Gaarde Lambach says she was excited to experience life in rural settings where children have been learning in dilapidated structures since 1997.
She hopes the new school block will motivate pupils to remain in school until their dreams come true.
She states: “We were touched when we heard that many learners drop out because the area does not have enough school blocks. Those in class pay less attention to their studies.
“May the new school block increase the number of students going back to school. We heard from the head teacher that a lot of students, especially girls, quit school due to long distances.”
Opened in 1997, the constrained junior school has seven teachers for 140 pupils, aged six to 12. It comprises Standard one to four, forcing senior learners to travel over 10km to the nearest full primary school.
Chimwemwe Ng’oma, 12, dropped out after completing Standard Four. She thanked Osted students for the new school block and borehole.
“The school block will help us go back to school again. We stopped going to school because Chajima and Msese primary schools are far away,” says the pupil who wants to become a teacher.
Lwanjati pupils used to drink unsafe water from the neighbouring river, fuelling sanitation-related infections for over half of outpatients in the country’s hospital seek treatment. The pupils often missed classes due to long walks to the river.
Not any longer.
The Danes have killed two birds with one stone, locals say.
With the new block, the community is already planning to upgrade the school to Standard Six.
After visiting Lwanjati, Jonas Sloth Bach said he shed tears seeing pupils sitting on a dusty floor in dilapidated classrooms.
“It’s not good for students to learn in those classrooms. It discourages them. Girls feel shy to answer questions because they fear that boys will be peeping at them,” he says.
Jonas and his colleagues raised funds for the new school block after seeing photographs of the grass-walled classrooms on Facebook.
He says: “The new block will change the face of the school. Learners’ will no longer be as dirty as is the case now.
“Malawian pupils are hard working. Despite numerous challenges, they still go back to school and learn. This is good.”
The Danish students pledged to continue raising funds for the remote school with substandard structures.
“I have seen how learners in Malawi suffer. This will help my colleagues and I to raise funds for them when we go to Denmark,” says Jonas.
For Lwanjati head teacher Brian Mhango, a good learning environment is almost everything to teaching and learning—it motivates pupils to work hard in class.
“The Danish students have taught us that we can do some of the things on our own. If we start doing something about our situation, well-wishers will come to help us. This is a remarkable job and we will not forget this good gesture,” he says.
The Danish entourage travelled to Mzimba in conjunction with Danish Church Aid (DCA). According to DCA communication officer Francis Botha, the students help raise funds for their poor peers globally.
The annual youth adventure promotes tourism as DCA makes sure that the student Malawi’s top tourist attractions.
This year, they visited Livingstonia Plateau in Rumphi, which offers postcard views of Lake Malawi.