In 2014 it was voted one of the Top 10 places to visit in the world; unfortunately, it is also in the Top 10 poorest countries in the world. In fact, according to the World Bank, it is the second poorest country (2016)and 7 in 10 of its people (71%) live on less than £1.35 per day². However, Malawian people can expect to live for 64 years, which is a quite rapid increase from previous years and is higher than many of its neighbours.
Liwonde is a small town of 30,000 people in southern Malawi on the Shire River and at the edge of Liwonde National Park, the most popular game park in Malawi where lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos and many other animals can be seen. Liwonde is a busy service centre for the people living in the local area with a market, a hospital and a secondary school. The town lies just to the north of Blantyre, Malawi’s second city. Blantyre was named after Blantyre in Scotland, the birthplace of Dr David Livingstone, who was a missionary in Malawi and fought against slavery.
The children here go to school, on average, for only 4 years³ – barely enough time to read and write –and only 1 in 9 children will complete both primary and secondary education. This is why the students at Liwonde Secondary School have teamed up with three schools in the UK to try and increase the opportunities for all the children in their local area to get a complete education. They firstly undertook a research project to find out the main barriers to education here, and the best, most appropriate solutions. They did this by interviewing parents, teachers, children and other members of the community. Their findings have been written up and are presented as a PDF file and as powerpoints. These can be found at: https://j8educationalpartnerships.co.uk/research, which is password protected for educational purposes. Please get in touch and ask for the link to access these files.
Increasing Access to Education in Liwonde
Having found the main barriers to education and some practical solutions, the students in Liwonde and in the UK have been able to start taking action. These are some of their actions, so far:
Involving the parents and local community
Because many parents do not appreciate the importance of going to school, the Liwonde students began putting up posters around the village to explain the benefits of completing a full education. After discussing with the UK students and their teacher, they persuaded a group of active parents (called the Mother Support Group) to begin a programme sensitizing people in the local villages of the need to send their children to school. The UK students are funding the expenses for this work.
In July 2018 the Mother Support Group organized a big meeting in the village of Kalonjere. Many parents, as well as the Deputy Headteacher of Liwonde Secondary School and the Senior Village Group Headman of Kalonjere, all gave talks explaining the importance of all children completing their primary and secondary education.
Starting a student scholarship scheme
Because poverty is such a major barrier to education, The UK pupils started a child scholarship scheme, with the help of the Liwonde students and staff who distributed applications and drew up a short list. The scholarship students will be funded until they reach year 10 and sit their important school leaving exams. So far, four scholarships have been awarded.
Informing outside agencies
At the same time as we were setting up our own scholarship scheme, the Liwonde teachers persuaded two charities to fund the education of over 150 children at the school. Although a cause for celebration, this does make the school even more overcrowded and place even greater pressure on its meagre resources. Undoubtedly, more resources are needed and the Liwonde students wrote to the Minister of Education to inform him of their findings and the needs of the school. Meanwhile, the UK students wrote to the Malawi High Commission in the UK. They contacted the World Food Programme in Malawi because hunger in this area is also a barrier to education, and they contacted another charity, Classrooms For Malawi, to help alleviate the overcrowding at the school.
Raising Awareness of Albinism
The students have become aware of the dangers faced by children with albinism in Malawi and in the Liwonde area, especially. One consequence is that few children with albinism go to school for fear of being attacked or kidnapped. With the help of The Association Of Persons With Albinism in Malawi, the UK students have started a programme to increase school attendance. They have sponsored one child with albinism to attend the much safer environment of a boarding school. Simultaneously, the Association is conducting sessions at the school to educate the staff and students there. They also engage with the student and parents at regular intervals to ensure the schooling is going well. Meanwhile, in the UK, the students are trying to bring greater attention to this issue. They have been working with Amnesty International and United Nations Human Rights Office, campaigning for change.
Campaigning on behalf of children with albinism
Children and adults with albinism in Malawi are being killed or mutilated because some people believe their body parts bring wealth and good luck. Children, especially, live in constant fear of being attacked and most don’t go to school because it is too dangerous to walk there. There has been a big rise in attacks since 2015. For instance, 2 year-old Whitney was abducted from her bed while she was sleeping. Her remains were later found in a village nearby. Her brutal murder follows that of 9 year-old Harry, snatched from his home and found beheaded soon after. Few people are convicted of these crimes.
We urge you to write to the President of Malawi to show your dismay that this is happening. Please ask the President to do more to protect children with albinism and to provide extra support to the families of children with albinism so that they can attend school safely.
President Mutharika’s address is: The Office of President and Cabinet, Capital Hill Circle, Private Bag 301, Capital City, Lilongwe 3, Malawi
Or, you could send this letter:
Dear President Mutharika,
Thousands of people with albinism live in constant fear of being abducted in Malawi. In recent years, many have been killed or terribly mutilated.
We implore you to:
- bring to justice the people who have committed albinism-related crimes
- offer effective protection to people with albinism, in accordance with Malawi’s international human rghts obligations
- give funds to the police so that they can thoroughly investigate crimes related to albinism
- tackle the harmful superstitious beliefs which lead some Malawians to attack people with albinism.
Setting up a social enterprise
The UK pupils have started a small social enterprise buying raw Fairtrade coffee beans from the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative in Malawi and then selling them at a profit. Matthew Algie, coffee roasters based in Glasgow, kindly helped us to kick-start this venture by donating 15kg of the Mzuzu beans and roasting, bagging and labelling them for us. All of the coffee has been sold and the proceeds will be used to fund improvements to education in Liwonde that our pupils and their community believe are the most appropriate. Increasing the sales of the Mzuzu Cooperative also contributes a little to the success of their business and to their values.