Malawi: the heart of Africa


The journey to Malawi has been great in so many aspects. I got to know a new country and culture—not to mention fantastic, friendly people—and it’s not for nothing that Malawi is called the Heart of Africa.

It’s been amazing to see how the money funded through the IKEA Foundation is being used in cooperation with UNICEF other NGOs and local communities. What perhaps strikes me the most is that many of the projects we have visited are very much dependent on people working on a voluntary basis. This is men and women, coming from very poor conditions themselves, still having the force to help others.

In a country where more than half of the population is under 18 years old, the abuse of young women is widely spread, teenage pregnancies are common and the inequality between men and women is a fact, the change needed is huge and will take generations.

Travelling with Michael, the UNICEF education specialist, and Kusali, a communication officer, seeing what we are able to do both long term in building systematic change and on an individual level here and now was breathtaking.

In one of the primary schools we visited, we got to meet a fantastic young women, an A student with the dream to become a doctor. She was 15 years old and had dropped out of school because her mother was an alcoholic, her father was dead and she was living with her grandmother. She got no formal support and her grandmother wanted her out, marrying her off much too young. The girl was prepared to have sex for the notebook she didn’t have. Kusali, our local UNICEF representative, asked to have a talk with her—a talk where she convinced the girl about her importance, all the things she was able to do if she stayed in school, stayed away from risky sex practices that could lead to HIV. From the bottom of my heart, I hope these young women will be able to realize their dreams. I know that Anke gave her IKEA notebooks, and probably she will get a scholarship. This is one life of many.

A non-child friendly school hosting 150 students sitting on the concrete flooring. This school is on the priority list to become child friendly - By Kristina Johansson

A non-child friendly school hosting 150 students sitting on the concrete flooring.
This school is on the priority list to become child friendly – By Kristina Johansson

To understand the change needed and to drive that change, children need to go to school. The change that is being done to transform many schools to child-friendly schools with a safe and stimulating environment for children is impressive, but still so much more needs to be done.

Malawi is very much dependent on donation money; 40% of the country’s income comes from donations from other countries and organisations. Malawi needs to foster entrepreneurs and leaders who are not afraid to build from nothing to grow a business. A generation that is not prepared to live on donations but wants to contribute to drive growth.

Even though the challenges in Malawi are many and the conditions in many villages and schools are poor, I leave Africa with a warm heart. I leave feeling good with the many fantastic and strong leaders I met, who are willing to drive change and willing to make a difference. I leave with the memory of so many happy children and their smiley faces, having seen for myself the impact we can have working together.

UNICEF in cooperation with local communities makes it possible for this children to spend a couple of hours in a safe environment - By Kristina Johansson

UNICEF in cooperation with local communities makes it possible for this children to spend a couple of hours in a safe environment – By Kristina Johansson

Why a child-friendly school is important…


After seeing some very nice UNICEF projects, this morning we started by visiting a non-child-friendly school. It’s the last day of our official fieldtrip and I didn’t know what to expect.

The headmaster told us about the history of Nthulo Primary School in Thyolo. It was founded in 1928. At this moment there are 1,759 students who get educated at this school. They get taught by only 23 teachers. You do the math. Sometimes the school is so full that classes take place under the tree. Today only one class was taking place outside, in the building that in an ideal world should be used as a dining area.

I got called over by Michael Banda, the education specialist of UNICEF Malawi. “Please do something for me,” he asked. “Go and walk around that class. Try to listen to the sounds that the kids make every couple of minutes.” Of course I did what he’d asked me. As I walked around, it hit me after two minutes. The kids were coughing all the time. “This is one of the differences between a child-friendly and a non-child-friendly school,” Michael told me. What struck me the most was the fact that at the start of the tour I was thinking: “It’s nice to be able to sit outside and learn. What’s the big fuss about?”

Boy in front of class in outside classroom at the Nthulo Primary school - By Marlies Davids

Boy in front of class in outside classroom at the Nthulo Primary school – By Marlies Davids

Without words Michael had shown me the challenges that a non-child-friendly school has. Limited teachers, no benches to sit on so the kids sit on the ground, wind, no learning materials and especially lots and lots of dust. Before a child can start to learn, he or she has to overcome so many boundaries. And with all these challenges, the kids are so very happy, friendly and motivated.

Boy in front of class at the Nthulo Primary school. Not (yet) child friendly - By Marlies Davids

Boy in front of class at the Nthulo Primary school. Not (yet) child friendly – By Marlies Davids

After a break enjoying the lovely nature of Malawi, we visited Thyolo Youth Action Centre and a daycare centre. This centre runs a youth centre programme that provides youth and children space to participate in various programmes that affect them in having a hopeful future.

One of the most important programmes running in this centre is the Go Girls programme. It provides girls with awareness about HIV, their rights, their needs, relationships with family and friends, and their role in the community.

I was very proud and surprised to hear that the sports fields built next to the centre are completely financed with money collected by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. It’s amazing to see what we can achieve by running a very successful yearly good cause campaign.

Day of the shocking numbers


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s number 171 out of 187 of the Human Development Index. That sounds really bad, of course. But what does it mean? What does this number say? How hard is life in Malawi?

Today we had an introduction to what UNICEF is doing in Malawi. Roisin Du Rurca, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Malawi, gave us some general information about the main subjects of UNICEF: child survival, education, HIV and AIDS, hygiene, child protection and health. After that Angela Travis, Head of Communications, gave us some more detailed information about UNICEF in Malawi. Shocking information… She told us that 67% of the people are below 25 years of age. This makes Malawi one of the youngest countries in the world. But everybody can understand this is not a positive thing. The life expectancy is only 53.5 years in Malawi. For comparison, in the Netherlands it is 81.5.

Another shocking number is the under-five mortality ratio: 71 of 1,000 kids die before they are five years old. For the Netherlands this is 4.

Also the education numbers are interesting. In Malawi there is an average of 75 kids per teacher, and 25% of kids are not making it till standard 8, and drop of before standard 5.

Active kids in class - By Roelanda Hulzebosch

Active kids in class – By Roelanda Hulzebosch

This is the reason UNICEF is in Malawi. And it works! The child survival rate is going up, because there is better nutrition, mothers are encouraged to give birth in a clinic and the young kids get vaccinated. Also education is getting better. In Malawi, there are as many boys as girls in standard 1. This is very special in sub-Sahara countries. Also education is getting better, by training the teachers, better school buildings, and a great initiative; mothers’ groups! In these groups, girls will be guided by mothers in the community to help them with the real girl issues. Also they motivate the girls to go to school.

After all the information we got from the UNICEF staff, we went to a child-friendly school to see it with our own eyes: Mchuchu Primary School in Lilongwe. This is a school with over 900 kids! We first were introduced by Elisabeth, head teacher of this school. After the general information, we were able to join a lesson. Christina, Johan and I were lucky to join a Chichewa class. ;) We couldn’t understand a word, but what we saw was great. Kids with a lot of interest for the subject, all paying attention to the teacher. A teacher with a very open and friendly face was encouraging the kids and giving them confidence to speak. They had only five textbooks, but they gathered around in groups and did their very best and were so motivated to read the pages. Really great to see.

After this, we had to make a long drive to the next town, Blantire. It took us 4.5 hours, but this was no problem, we had the best view ever!

This was our first official visit to a school, and we could see what UNCEF is doing, and that what they are doing works out very well! Hopefully the rest of the days we will see much more of these great examples, so we will see what we all work for, at IKEA and at UNICEF.

Dropouts decreases, happy children increases


Can you remember how many classmates you had when you went to primary school? Twenty, maybe 25? A lot of attention from the teacher anyhow. In Malawi, the pupil-to-teacher ratio is 75 students for 1 teacher. Most of the time teaching takes place under a tree or on the floor in a dirty classroom, without windows. Can you imagine how much help is needed over here?

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A full classroom of the Naotcha Primary School – By Anke Hermkens

Today (Tuesday) was our second day of the IWitness programme in Malawi, and we went to the Kalitsiro Community Based Child Care Centre, the Naotcha Primary School and the Amalika Teachers College. I didn’t know what to expect, an African daycare for orphans. What would they do?

When we arrived it was immediately clear to me. They gave the children a safe base. Thanks to UNICEF and the IKEA Foundation, these children have a sort of classroom, a shelter, latrines, a kitchen and a borehole (a well for water). Every day they get a meal, something to play with and a lot of love. Their biggest challenge was to organise a meal every day, they were struggling with it. It was such a heartbreaker, all these lovely children, sometimes without food. In Holland we are so used to providing the basics for ourselves and our family.

When we got the chance to meet the children, they were in the beginning very shy and we had to win their trust. Once we had won their trust, they were the happiest kids in the world. Just being happy because someone is giving them attention. And that’s universal.

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A boy eating his meal at the Kalitsiro Community Based Child Care Centre – by Anke Hermkens

In 2011 UNICEF came to help at the Naotcha Primary School. They constructed five buildings with ten classrooms in total, three teachers’ houses and ten toilets: four for boys, four for girls and two for the staff. They also provide desks in all 24 classrooms and chairs and tables for teachers. Nowadays, 5,376 children can happily go to school without sitting on a cold dirty floor and can go to the toilet (without latrines at schools, the dropout rate increases). The acceptance rate to secondary school is increasing.

These are all amazing facts. And this is all thanks to UNICEF, the staff of the primary school and IKEA. I am so proud, I’m constantly getting shivers.

Because we also wanted to see the quality of education, we went to the Amalika Teachers College. They really are clued in; they see teaching in a holistic way. They’re running the school together because they believe that they can learn more, side by side. When I asked one of the students why he wanted to became a teacher, he told me that he wanted to help his country and the children to lift Malawi up to a higher level. He wanted to become a role model. That is what teaching is about, inspiring your students.

A student of the Amalika Teachers College showing us their vegetablegarden to become a good rolemodel - By

A student of the Amalika Teachers College showing us their vegetablegarden to become a good rolemodel – By Anke Hermkens

 

A warm welcome


Weather forecast: clear skies and 30 degrees centigrade. Summer had truly begun in Holland.

With little beads on my forehead and clammy palms, I was ready to board the plane to Malawi. For the last couple of weeks, me and my IWitness partners had got ready for this trip. I got my proper vaccinations, studied the supplied reading material and packed all the essentials. But not only essentials; thanks to gifts from our stores and colleagues, we also packed over 60 kilos of toys and other gifts for the children we were going to meet. For a trip like this, there’s no overdoing it.

The boarding went smoothly, and before I knew it the plane was soaring through the sky. With all the business and preparation beforehand, I had not had given myself time to truly think about the journey. Once aboard my mind started racing with questions and expectations. What will the schools look like? Do I have to explain why we’re there? Will I be able to have a chat with the children? What do I really expect to get out of this? I decided to give my head some rest and watch a movie. Malawi will come soon enough.

And it did. Our flight brought us to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. On the ground we were welcomed by two local members of UNICEF, Mackfield and Dayton. Within minutes we were having a friendly chat while driving to our hotel. Their hospitality immediately made me feel at ease. It was after midnight when we arrived, so we said our goodbyes and went to bed. So in the morning, after a quick shower, I walked through the hotel looking for a place to eat some breakfast. A clerk walked up to me for a friendly chat while guiding me to the dining area. I remember thinking: “These people are really nice, but that’s their job, right?” I joined my group at the table and we discussed our plans. For today, a short trip to Lake Malawi to ease into Malawi culture and see some UNICEF projects.

Our driver today has been with UNICEF for about 10 years and was able to answer all our questions, be it about Malawi culture, UNICEF or his own experiences. On our drive to Lake Malawi, we passed a lot of villages. These villages were nothing more than clay huts with straw roofs on them. He remarked on some more modern additions to these villages, like water wells and latrines. These were built with the help of UNICEF and the former president of Malawi to help the poorest people with their basic needs. Their value was easy to see; people could clean their hands and wash their pots and pans. The latrines are still the most effective way of reducing the spread of certain diseases.

Water pump in Monjedza - ©Johan Klep

Water pump in Monjedza – By Johan Klep

Another remarkable sight was the difference between women and men in the villages. A lot of women were walking around with wood on their heads, a child on their backs and gardening tools in both hands. The men on the other hand were walking around empty-handed, dressed in their nicest outfits. Education on gender equality has not reached everyone apparently, but at least the children will be taught differently. In the coming days we will see exactly how the children will be introduced to social issues such as these.

For all the questions and expectations I had, Malawi had a beautiful answer. The people of this country truly have the sun in their hearts whose warmth I could feel in every encounter. But also my fellow IWitness travellers, some of whom I had met only once or twice, show such love and passion for everyone around them that I can’t help but smile.

It’s good to be in Malawi.

Take off to Malawi!


“Did we mention that you’re going to have an IWitness trip? No? Well, you’re going to have an IWitness trip. Be prepared to go to Africa!”

My throat became a little dry. Did the HR manager just tell me that I was going to travel to Africa for IKEA? I looked at her. She started to laugh. “Yes Kimm, I’m not kidding. We’re picking you to be our Social Ambassador and that means that you get the chance to see the good work of UNICEF in the field.”

When they asked me a few minutes before that moment whether I’d liked to travel, I thought I was going to travel to Amsterdam. Or Heerlen, maybe Dortmund, or Sweden… But Africa? It took a while before I calmed down and started to enjoy the fact that I was going to get the chance of a lifetime. And now, when I can almost hear the sounds of Africa, I can’t wait!

A couple of my Dutch colleagues went in September 2013 to Rwanda. It took a little bit longer for the second group of Dutch Global Citizens to find out where the IWitness trip would take us to. About eight weeks ago, we got the long-expected message from “our” UNICEF guide, Carine Munting. We are going to Malawi!

Map of Malawi

Map of Malawi

Malawi is one of the poorest countries of the world. 60% of the people are living below the poverty line. Malnutrition is a major problem. The absence of mineral resources, the lack of a seaport, the few proceeds from the tea and tobacco plantations, the low level of education and HIV make the situation dramatic. With the donations of the IKEA Foundation, UNICEF works with different projects on an improvement of life in Malawi. Protecting vulnerable children and orphans is one of the cornerstones. Being a mother of two happy and healthy kids, I try to imagine what it must be like to raise your kids under these circumstances.

Because education is the key to a hopeful future, we will visit some projects of Schools for Africa. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, UNICEF and the Peter Kramer Foundation (former Hamburg Society) founded this initiative in 2004, and it promotes education in 13 different African countries. Both Malawi and Rwanda are in the programme.

In a few days, Roelanda Hulzenbosch (Amersfoort store), Marlies Davids (Barendrecht store), Anke Hermkens (Eindhoven store), Johan Klep (Breda store), Kristina Johansson (Netherlands Country Manager) and I can (and will!) tell you everything about Malawi, also known as “The warm heart of Africa”!

Preparation

Preparation

 

Education gives children in Malawi a second chance for a better future


This week a new group of IWitnesses are leaving home in the Netherlands and flying to Malawi, where they will visit some of UNICEF’s education projects. We’re starting off with this post from UNICEF Malawi’s Education Specialist, who explains why he’s so passionate about making sure that children can reach their full potential.

My name is Michael Banda, and I am UNICEF Malawi’s Education Specialist for Education Policy, Planning, and Monitoring and Evaluation. Growing up in a small copper mining town in Zambia, I took an early interest in education. The best schools in town were funded by the mines, but students could only attend if their parents were employed by the mine, so I attended a government school. While the standards at government schools were not comparable to the mine schools, they did provide all of the requisites and had sufficiently trained teachers to inspire me.

My love for education grew over the years and, when it was time to go to university, there was only one choice: to become a teacher. But after entering the teaching field, I realized that there were both push and pull factors that influence educational attainment and, as a teacher, I was limited to working on those that were within the school environment. In order to be able to address both, I made the decision to leave teaching to work in education outside the classroom.

UNICEF Malawi

UNICEF Malawi

My passion for children stems from seeing them grow and learn, and I am inspired seeing children making their own informed decisions in their lives. It is for this reason that I joined UNICEF 12 years ago. UNICEF provides an important platform that can be used to provide educational opportunities, particularly for those at risk of falling through the cracks in education or missing out on education—including girls, children with disabilities, orphans and the ultra-poor.

When moving from UNICEF Zambia to UNICEF Malawi three years ago, I quickly saw that Malawi had great potential to achieve not only universal primary education but quality compulsory education for all children of school-going age. The potential of children and adolescents in this country can be seen every time I travel into the field and visit the numerous schools that UNICEF supports. Their drive to succeed against so many forces working against them is inspiring.

Take the example of a girl in a local community school who had to drop out of school because she was pregnant. Her determination to give herself and her child a better life made her work against the odds to get herself back into school.

Or the example of a girl who was removed from school and married off. The school committee, mothers’ group, teachers and traditional leaders from her area were mobilised to try and find her and get her back in school. There are so many examples of children like this who are being given a second chance.

There is still a lot of work to be done in Malawi. It is the commitment of organisations like UNICEF and the support of donors like the IKEA Foundation that gives me the drive to continue to fight for the rights of children and to give them the voice they deserve. I am hopeful that the children of Malawi will be able to look beyond the difficulties they may have faced in the past and to continue moving forward to reach their potential for a better future for themselves and their families.

Thoughts on our way home from Mozambique


So here we are, on a train home from the airport with baggage filled with a million thoughts and new experiences. One thing that comes to our minds is that it will take at least two generations in Mozambique before we can see a major change in the communities. The change in the way UNICEF helps the schools—it’s no longer just school materials, it’s how to use the materials in the best way, and the focus on education for teachers and the communities will be helpful.

It´s a long and hard battle to get all sides of the community—such as religious groups, social classes, schools, leaders and the people in general—to work together and to see the importance of children’s education.

We have noticed that many adults who work in shops and cafes can’t use simple math: 5-2=?. They need to use a calculator.

But it will happen, I’m sure about it. But they still need the support from us through UNICEF.

I had been unsure of what good it will do. Does the money go to the right thing, and so on? And it does. I have seen it. Even the small things that make the world for one person, like one football for a boy.

A good school can not only change the community; it can change the world!

How UNICEF works in the community in Mozambique


In order to learn how UNICEF works in the community in Mozambique, we have attended several meetings—not only with the local district authorities but also with partners like a local radio station and a police officer focusing on domestic violence. The most interesting for me was meeting with a school council of school employees, religious leaders and parents. Even one of the students was a member of this school council.

School council boy

School council boy

It was very interesting to hear what the council said about the support from UNICEF. He told us that he was very proud of the schools, and the biggest difference was that the school now belongs to the community and not to the teachers and principals. Personally, I think it’s really great that they are changing the way of thinking. Now they’re thinking more of how to make it better in the long term and not only day by day. Now they have well-trained teachers who follow the child-friendly programme. Not only the school councellor, but even teachers and some students were very thankful for UNICEF’s support, and you could tell that they knew a lot about how much we support them.

School council

School council

Then we got an invitation to a mobile educational theatre in a nearby village. Mobile units are present in 190 locations and in eight provinces in Mozambique. There were a lot of children in the schoolyard. For me it was very intense to watch the theatre and the documentary shown afterward because the message was so basic and obvious. The main topic of the documentary was the importance of girls’ education. One generation ago, girls weren’t allowed to go to school, and if they did they got a bad reputation. But now it is finally starting to change, and girls are as welcome in school as boys are. Probably it needs at least another generation to become more common, but at least it’s a start.

Theatre

Theatre

In that yard they also had a tent, sponsored by UNICEF, where anyone who wants can get tested for HIV and get health support and information about this virus.

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Our first impressions of Mozambique


After a long and exhausting trip, we finally arrived in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The first impression of the country was shocking for all of us, and the feeling was kind of mixed. There were barefoot children on the street and destroyed buildings next to great palaces. Every nice place that was not destroyed had at least one guard outside the gate. There are street sellers everywhere who are selling fruit, nuts, sunglasses, shoes and so on.

Here's an old and destroyed building in Maputo - By Thérése Fallgren

Here’s an old and destroyed building in Maputo – By Thérése Fallgren

After a night of rest, the programme started this morning with a meeting at the UNICEF country office. We got information about the country. Before that, we didn’t know what to expect or have any facts about the situation for children in the country. We would like to share some information with you that we have learned today from the UNICEF representative, Dr. Koen Vanormelingen:

• More than a half of the population are under 18 in Mozambique
• 6.3 % of the children can’t read or write in third grade
• One out of ten children won’t reach their fifth birthday

They might sound like bad numbers, but if you compare it to last year the numbers are getting better every day. Actually, this is one of the most developing countries in the world right now.

Here's the iWitnesses together with the UNICEF - By Hanna Widell

Here’s the iWitnesses together with the UNICEF – By Hanna Widell

After we got something to eat and could talk about all the impressions that we got during the meeting, we went to Radio Mozambique. They have radio programmes broadcast by children to children, but not only for children. They talk about issues in the country, informing the listeners about the daily life and problems, like nutrition, how to talk to their parents, child marriage, HIV and children’s rights.

When meeting all the children, we all got a very strong impression. Everyone was very motivated and confident about themselves. Their team works very hard and takes care of the whole process. Some were producers and some were reporters. They took us to the studio where they do their daily broadcasts, and they interviewed Hanna, one of the Swedish participants. It was great to see how professional the kids were. The interviewer, Mike—who was only 17 years old—was amazing! Hanna got the opportunity to answer some questions about European kids and also she could leave a message for all the Mozambique children.

Helga, Klára, Marek, Martina, Thérése and Hanna

Here's the iWitnesses and the children from the radio - By Hanna Widell

Here’s the iWitnesses and the children from the radio – By Hanna Widell