For Malawians getting an education is a struggle from the start; there is limited access to nursery schools in rural areas and therefore children begin primary school at the age of six completely unprepared; with no basic knowledge of colour, shape, numbers etc. and no awareness of the structure of school. By providing free community schools in our area we are giving the young children the opportunity to access education from a young age and encouraging an easier transition into the routine of primary school.
Another issue with primary school education in Malawi is the hugely unbalanced ratio of children to teachers; commonly you will find one teacher to 100 children. This is where our afternoon classes support the local primary schools by offering after school classes.
Things get even harder and most Malawian children struggle to continue their education. In their last year of primary school the children take their exams and these results will determine whether they can continue education through the government schools.
Any child that comes in the top ten percent of the country will then be selected to attend a government secondary school. This does not mean the end of their struggles though as the schools are considerably cheaper than the private school options they are still by no means free.
We have sponsorship programs in place where we support children with everything they need to go to school, and we are proud to say we currently have over 50 children being sponsored through primary school, over 30 through secondary and one student being sponsored through university.
For a child to go to government school they are required to pay a small yearly fund of about 50 pence (300-350 kwacha in local currency) and to have a uniform and clean appearance. Even though to us this seem little to ask, for the poorest families, some of which have up to eleven children, this can be a lot to ask. Although the children may attend for a few months, if they continue to arrive with no uniform or even with unclean uniform or unshaven hair they will be sent home and refused schooling.
Through our sponsorship program we provides the basics such as shoes, bags, books, pens, school fund and a uniform. In extreme cases we will also provide the children with soap and a haircut to avoid them being sent home from school. This is often done on a one on one basis with an individual sponsor paying for the needs of one child but is sometimes done from general fundraising too.
Some children are selected by a nearby school and that in many ways is beneficial as the fees are lower making it more affordable. Fees range from around £8 to £150 per term. There are three terms a year. On top of this, families are expected to pay the cost of uniform, school materials, and exam fees. All together, these extra fees cost approximately £50 per term. Those who are placed in government boarding schools struggle to afford these costs and as only basic meals are provided extra needs such as breakfast and toiletries also need paying for.
Children who do not manage to be in the top ten percent are forced to either discontinue their schooling or somehow afford the extortionate fees of private school, as they are not allowed to attend any government school.
The problem with private schools is that they are solely run as a profitable business and they make big money because very little of the money paid for school fees goes into the school structure and resources. The school fees for boarding school can be up to 150 pounds per term but the classrooms have no windows and the quality of education is low. School fees for private schools can range from 10 to 30 pounds per term for day schooling to 100 to 170 pounds per person for boarding fees.
This is simply impossible for most families in rural areas to afford, so many children have to cease their education after primary schooling.
Through private funding we provide impoverished children with the opportunity to complete their schooling. This gives hope for their futures and improves their chances of a better job and an escape from poverty.
We currently have one student who we are sponsoring through university; he is now in his second year of university studying agriculture. We hope to be able to support more children through university through our sponsorship program once our secondary school children have completed their studies.
For somebody to attend university they often have to move away from home so all their living costs need to be included in their sponsorship, meaning the cost of the sponsorship is extremely high. But in return, university education can have a dramatic effect on the student’s life; opening up many opportunities for their future.
Thocco Msonkho is from Napwanga Village and is 24 years old.
He managed to pay his way through secondary school, continuing to keep himself busy and support himself, by taking a job at a local private school as well as volunteering in the community by helping to run a youth club.
All is hard work paid off when he as offered a place studying aquaculture and fisheries science at Lilongwe University in the capital of Malawi. Unfortunately due to the extremely high prices of university Thocco was unable to go.
Due to his hard work and outstanding behaviour in the community and at his local church he was awarded part sponsorship by his church for the first year. This along with the extra sponsorship from a generous sponsor in the Uk Thocco had all the funding he needed to attend university.
We are glad to say that Thocco is now in his second year of university and will soon be entering his third. He has shown nothing but dedication and drive towards completing university and bettering his future. Community highlight work with Thocco and his sponsor to ensure that he has all that he needs to get through his time at university and that her continues with the same passion and drive in order to gain the best results and secure himself the opportunity for a great career in Malawi.
Although school sponsorships can be quite expensive they are one of the most crucial things we do to empower the people of Malawi to better themselves and their lives through education and hard work.
Innocent Chitenje is 19 years old, he has suffered from Epilepsy since infancy and over time his seizures became much worse, at one point innocent was having at least one per day but usually it was much more.
Due to this and the many falls innocent has had on the hard dirt floor innocent has suffered many injuries to his knees and elbows, causing long term damage that unfortunately means he can now no longer extend his arms fully. Innocent also has special needs and although he can communicate well (he does love to talk) he cannot read or write and therefor has never been to school!
On a more positive note after many trips to the hospital and testing different medications, innocent is now much better and with his current medication he now has one or two fits a week which means there is great improvement. Despite all that he has been through innocent is very happy and loving, he can be very cheeky at times but it is all part of his charm!
Innocent’s mother is his sole carer, there is a lot of discrimination over mental health in rural Malawi, due to a lack of education most people are unware of special needs and often call anyone who acts differently than others as ‘mad’.
Never the less innocent’s mother over the years has grown much closer to her sun and has gained a better understanding of her son and what he is going through, and she works hard to take care of him, bandaging his wounds, taking him to the hospital, picking up his medication and making sure he takes it daily.
Innocents mother has not had it easy herself, a couple of years ago she was diagnosed with TB and went through a gruelling 6months of treatment and recovery. We support them both through providing transport via taxi to the hospital for check-ups, innocent in unable to travel to hospital by public transport because of the risk of him having a seizure along the way.
We also support them with maize in times of struggle and other items such as blankets for the colder seasons.
Alice Chomboto is 19 years old and lives in Wyle village, Domasi, Malawi. She is one of our sponsored children and has been supported since the end of form one through to finishing her form four exams.
Losing both her parents made it extremely hard to attend school but it was her determination and hard work that got her noticed. Every day, Alice used to walk over an hour each way in order to get school on time. Her simple request for a bike to help get her to school was where it all began. She was later able to self-board right by her school and was later moved to a much better quality school where she was able to concentrate on her studies!
Huge congratulations go to Alice Chomboto who, this year, passed her exams with six credits, enabling her to apply for University!
How has being sponsored affected your life?
“It has changed my life completely, without it I would be doing nothing and I could not understand people from the other side. By people from the other side I mean people who have already completed their education; in the village we have very few role models, but once I attended school the teachers and other people became my role models. Before, I did not believe in the importance of education”
What would you say if you could say anything to those in your community who do not know the benefits of education?
“I will encourage my friends and community not to give up too early because if you are serious and work hard you can make it.”
Whilst waiting to be accepted into college Alice will work as one of our substitute teachers whilst encouraging the children to be serious with her education.
Alice and her niece Linda are cooks for the feeding program and in return they receive a wage which goes towards supporting their huge family.
In Malawi it is very common for extended family to take care of each other and to live in a close community with your cousins and grandparents. Alice is married to Mr Ntolilo who walks the 7km road to Songani each day to do small business in order to make some money.
As well as having seven children of her own, Alice also takes care of her mother and the children of two of her sisters who have died. When Alice's sister Mariam took off leaving 4 children behind in the village, Alice and her mother took them in and continued to care and provide for them. Year’s later Mariam returned to the village, heavily pregnant. It was then that Katie was brought into the world but unfortunately her mother died in childbirth and Alice took on the role of mother to her late sister's baby Katie including nursing her from birth.
Alice's other sister Ruth suffered from epilepsy and was mentally ill, sadly she passed away in 2013 leaving behind two teenaged children Ferrison and Chikaiko. With such a large extended family of children to take care of, Linda and Alice work hard to earn money each month. They depend on the food they grown and the weather has an important factor in deciding how much food there is! The family has had many difficulties due to living in extreme poverty but with the help of sponsorship they know they have a job and money coming in each month. Neither Alice nor Linda finished primary school themselves but know the importance of education for all of the children in order for them to get out of the poverty cycle. Community Highlight are providing school sponsorship for the children including Ferrison who is the first in the family to make it to secondary school.
The Children of the Musokolo family lost their parents to HIV and are now currently looked after by their 75 year old grandmother.
There are ten children in the family and due to her age their grandmother struggles to care for them, Dola who is in her twenties is employed by Community highlight through the feeding program so this helps bring some income into the family. Agness, Nele and Ganizani are being sponsored through primary school and we also support the family with items such as maize and fertilizer.
Ellen Kadaya is a 40 year old woman living with HIV. She is a single mother to three children; Bertha who is 15 years old and in form 1, Estele who is in standard 8 and Feslestina who is 18. Feslestina is unable to walk or talk and has relied on her mother and sister Estele since birth.
In order to support her family Ellen travels into the mountains to collect firewood and make charcoal. However, it is illegal in Malawi to sell firewood without a licence; this has led to Ellen being chased by the police in the past. These are the extremes Ellen has to go to in order to provide for her children and put them through school. Ellen is determined to support her children through school as she knows the value of education; this is unusual in a low income family as, more often than not, children are sent out to work.
It is because of Ellen’s hard work and determination that we want to provide her with the opportunity to have a business; one that is safe and legal and will ensure a steady and reliable income for Ellen and her family.
After discussing business options with Ellen, it became apparent that a fish business would be the best option for her and her family as it would generate a steady and manageable income and would mean Ellen doesn’t have to travel too far to buy and sell goods.
To start up Ellen’s fish business we are looking for a sponsor to pay a one off donation of £50; this will cover the initial costs of the fish and transport.
The Kadaya family will benefit so much more from this than from sporadic handouts. Owning a business is a hugely empowering thing and will provide Ellen and her children with a steady income; allowing them to be more financially secure and promoting their self-sufficiency.
If you would be interested in supporting Ellen, Bertha, Estele and Feslestina please email Evie at email@example.com