It is a hot Monday morning and 12-year-old Khalidwe Thokozani has just started his day at school. As he sits on the floor in Standard Five, his face turns gloomy. His school, Nyalabvu Primary School in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumo in Ntchisi, is among several schools in Malawi telling the same tale of dilapidation.
“Sitting on the dusty floor is not only unhealthy to us all,” he laments: “But it is also a catalyst for discouragement.”
One thing that saddens him is lack of conduncive classes, as he points out matter-of-factly, might impede him to fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor. Only a few available classrooms were built many years ago.
In addition, Khalidwe says, classroom shortage at Nyalabvu has taken a toll on his once awesome performance. “I’m always ill due to dust. Can I attend lessons while down with flu or terrible coughing?”
Khalidwe, sporting his dirty uniform, spits out his worry. Concentration, as well, has vanished.
“When it rains, classes are always suspended and our exercise books get wet as most of us do not have school bags,” stresses the pupil.
“So, you cannot study while your books are completely damaged by rain.”
Another pupil (name withheld), aged 16, pours out her ordeal.
Sitting on the dirty floor, while menstruating, is a terrible nightmare. Her dress, she reveals, is always besmirched in blood, a situation which reduces her more to a laughing-stock than a deserving pupil.
“I miss classes for fear of being laughed at by naughty boys of our Standard Seven class,” she says, looking away shyly, adding: “How can I become a policewoman when I keep staying away from school? I wish we could learn in classrooms with enough desks to save girls from mockery and insult.”
Girls of her age, she adds, are often ridiculed when faced with such ordeals. According to her, some girls dropped out of school early this year as they could no longer stomach insults and humiliation heaped on them.
Her wish of a modern school block furnished with adequate materials is shared by many.
Both pupils and teachers dream of seeing Nyalabvu transformed into a modern, if not state-of-the art, school. Emily Banda, the school’s headteacher, is rather optimistic.
“We hope that we will have a new classroom block in future,” she dreams. “With that, our 1 266 pupils will not only learn under a conducive environment, but will also be kept in school, and thereby sharpening their own future.”
She appeals to government, Non-governmental organisations, and alumni of the school to help in building additional classrooms. Community leaders, too, in the very large area of Kachilandozi Village Development Committee, also join a chorus of appeal.
Group village headman Rodrick Mlauzi bares out his chest.
“I am appealing to all well-wishers to bail us out of this dungeon. I am not impressed with this white elephant of school block that you see standing uncompleted since 2013,” says Mlauzi.
Pointing at a school block, which he describes as a Local Development Fund (LDF) failure, he adds: “This, is a pot from which greedy gentlemen drank honey.”
Council officials were behind the scene pulling strings by playing both supervisors and procurers. Operational procedures dictate otherwise as they are supposed to play the former. In addition, the paint and lime meant for the project expired with the passage of time.
So what is the way forward? How could the community of Kachilandozi voice out their concern and bring duty-bearers to account?
The National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust is set to change all that; thanks to its intervention on good governance and accountability issues.
With financial support from the European Union, Nice is implementing Programme Estimate Number Two (PE 2) whose emphasis is voice and accountability.
“The programme aims at promoting transparency and accountability so that the communities are able to demand quality service delivery from service providers and demand sustainable development from duty-bearers,” said Christopher Naphiyo, Nice regional civic education officer for Central Region, recently, at Nyalabvu School during the field monitoring visit.
“We are empowering people in rural communities to know their rights so that they can hold duty-bearers and service providers accountable and demand better services from them. Communities who have been empowered can bargain development from relevant leaders unlike the ones who are not. Therefore, we are confident that communities around Nyalabvu will hold duty-bearers and service providers accountable until the school block is finished,” he added.
Naphiyo said Nice went to the Ntchisi community where it facilitated the meeting between the community and councillor of Bawala Ward, Frackson Sefasi, where it was agreed that the council secretariat and director of planning and development (DPD) be invited to explain their part.
It was also agreed to summon MP for the area, Nkhosa Kamwendo, to address issues pertaining to the source of funds towards the stalled project.
As expected, under Nice watch, the MP came and promised the community a better life.
“I will liaise with the councillor to provide funding from the constituency development fund [CDF]. We will ensure that happens so that our children can afford quality education for their future,” said the legislator.