School Spirit and a Safe Haven


So its day three of our IWitness trip in South Africa and waking up it was a completely different climate, much warmer than the previous morning. Today we travelled to the province of Mpumalangaand visited two different schools not too far from one another, Langa High School and Hokwe Primary School. The drive up was spectacular with views out across large valleys dotted with households. After a good 30 minute drive we arrived at Langa where the welcome was extraordinary, with traditional dancing and drums beating as majorettes lead us into the compound. Here we met the principal (since 2012), school governing bodies and SMT (School Management Team). Not to forget Ceffie the Rhino who is the mascot for the Child Friendly Schools initiative.

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Tuck shop ladies joining in on the festivities outside Langa High School – by Mike Creevy

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School Majorettes dance alongside the school principle at Langa High School – by Mike Creevy

After the welcome the students went back to class as it was important that we did not disrupt the learning for the day. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to split into small groups to observe classes. A group of us joined grade 11 in their accounting class where a small number of students only 15 of them, discussed the costs of running a manufacturing company. Others sat in on a Biology class. This experience was much more informative than any presentation or statistical grade review done by the management. We were able to observe the quality of education the children receive through the interaction and participation in class. UNICEF works with the government to provide schools with workbooks which help improve literacy, numeracy, science and domestic skills. These books are mostly in English providing an extra challenge for the students however it was easy to see that the level of learning is of a very high standard. The learners amazed us by being so well behaved and eager to help each other out as each student was encouraged to contribute to the lesson.

A learner shows another how to work out the manufacturing costs in their accounting lesson - by Mike Creevy

A learner shows another how to work out the manufacturing costs in their accounting lesson – by Mike Creevy

This behaviour didn’t seem like it was just for us as they had so much respect for their teachers and principal. It was just lovely to see how relaxed the relationship is between the pupils and educators. After speaking with a few of the children it was clear how important school was to each and every individual. Not only did it give them an education and a place to socialise but it gave the children a place to feel safe, a meal for the day, healthcare but most of all school gives them choices and options with their life, it gives them a future. We could see how much the children appreciates those things in their determination to get to school each day and work hard to reach their ambitions.

Paul Fishwick shares his photographs and stories from the UK with some very intrigued students - by Mike Creevy

Paul Fishwick shares his photographs and stories from the UK with some very intrigued students – by Mike Creevy

Students queue for their lunch provided by the school - by Mike Creevy

Students queue for their lunch provided by the school – by Mike Creevy

Langa High School has vastly improved their children’s educational requirements as well as participate in the Child Friendly School scheme initiated by UNICEF, allowing them to develop their fullest potential in a safe space. With many children aspiring to be engineers, doctors and scientists.

The second part of the day was at Hokwe primary school with a total of 284 students including 55 grade R students (reception age 5-6). This school has been open since 1983 and faced many challenges since, such as a storm in 2002 that destroyed and washed away part of the school. We began by visiting the grade R class (Reception), full of little ones from the age of 5. Almost 50 children were quietly seated on a floor mat in the corner of the room as the two teachers discussed their learning programme. To show off the childrens skills a few little ones were asked to draw for us. They took out a sheet of paper and one child began to draw different shapes while another drew for us the cutest version of a happy child.

A child from Grade R shows Ben from UNICEF SA his drawing skills - by Mike Creevy

A child from Grade R shows Ben from UNICEF SA his drawing skills – by Mike Creevy

A child from grade R draws a happy child for us - by Mike Creevy

A child from grade R draws a happy child for us – by Mike Creevy

Afterwards we moved into the teachers lounge to be shown a play by the grade R’s. They reenacted the process of going to the doctors with a health problem, being diagnosed and getting medication. It was a wonderful performance that taught the children the importance of visiting the doctor when they feel unwell.

We were led outside and the students continue with traditional dancing (of which Paul Fishwick and Johanna Heuren joined in!). The atmosphere was fantastic with the most satisfying part being the smiles on the children’s faces.

Children from Hokwe primary school perform traditional dance for us - by Mike Creevy

Children from Hokwe primary school perform traditional dance for us – by Mike Creevy

The headmaster discussed some opportunities he believed would improve the everyday lives of the children. One of these was having play equipment for the young ones such as swings. They do have a big field where they play and where they can let their steam off, but swings also help children practice their balance and improve their coordinated movements.

When they rebuilt the school they also built several toilets which are WASH certified, meaning Water And Sanitation Hygiene approved. Another fantastic initiative is that the school grow their own vegetables (tomatoes, onions, cabbage etc.). That is sustainability at is best!

A prowd gardener at Hokwe Primary School waters her cabbages - by Mike Creevy

A prowd gardener at Hokwe Primary School waters her cabbages – by Mike Creevy

Thanks to UNICEF and the support of Ikea through the Soft Toy Campaign, children in South Africa have the chance to learn and thrive. The children we visited today were extremely happy and have the opportunity to have a brighter future through education. What made this school even more inspiring was the strong support the school had from the principle to the school governing body. It was again another inspiring day.

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Educating the Future


 

After an overnight stay in Vrede, a town in the Free State province of South Africa, we head off to the province of Mpumanlanga. We are quite surprised by the cold 4-degree-Celsius temperature in the morning. The air is filled with fog and mist as we embark onto our vehicles, set out for an hour and a half long drive to Ermelo. The trip takes us through a sparsely populated countryside which resembles the English moors.

The beautiful landscape of Mpumalanga outside Vrede on this misty, chilly morning. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The beautiful landscape of Mpumalanga outside Vrede on this misty, chilly morning. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The drive towards Umfudlana school changes as we shift from driving on a tar road to a gravel road with plenty of dust to follow. Upon our arrival at the school, we are greeted by several school teachers, as well as officials from the Department of Education. This school is fairly new, having opened in 2009, and consists of six buildings that are set on a large field, with no neighbouring houses or buildings, a contrast to yesterday’s township schools.

Entrance to Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy.

Entrance to Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy.

Umfudlana is a combined school, which means that students range from 5-18 years, with many of the children coming from families working for the farmers around. Some farmers refuse to let anyone cross their fields, which means the children sometimes need to walk up to three kilometres around big fields to get to their bus stop. With road safety being poor, it can be a dangerous walk. In South Africa, school transport is provided if the learner lives more than 10 km away. At Umfudlana, several large school buses are parked up in the school yard; they are used for collecting the students who live up to 20 km away.

School buses lined up in the school yard at Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy

School buses lined up in the school yard at Umfudlana Combined School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Mike Creevy

The school currently has 447 students with 15 teachers. As we digest this information, we start to calculate; this means a teacher to student ratio of 30 to 1, and anyone who has attended any school knows it is not easy keeping 30 children focused, especially if their ages range from 8 to 14. The teachers explain how they have adapted to working with these group sizes; the classes are shared, so a typical classroom may have several grades studying in them at the same time. This is known as multi-grade teaching. The lack of educated teachers contributes to this issue. The school also has a classroom with 23 computers; however, due to the lack of a computer science teacher, they have still not been able to install or use them.

In the schoolyard, listening to teachers and other educational professionals talking about their progress and challenges. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

In the schoolyard, listening to teachers and other educational professionals talking about their progress and challenges. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

South Africa has 400,000 teachers; however, most of them had their education during the Apartheid regime (before 1994), which means they received a low competence level and a very different approach to education from the younger teachers educated during the democracy. The newer-educated teachers tend to go into the private sector, the curriculum of which is considered one of the best in the world. UNICEF is currently working with the government on a huge project aiming to re-educate about 180,000 teachers to ensure an improved level of education. This has been made possible partly thanks to IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaign contributions.

In addition, the IKEA Foundation also contributed towards the implementation of the safe and caring child-friendly school initiative. The aim of project is to address barriers to teaching and learning. This project has been rolled out to 151 schools in Mpumalanga Province, and the intention is that once the project has been successfully tested in these schools the Mpumalanga Education Department will then roll it out to the remaining schools in the province. A safe and caring child-friendly school regards education as every child’s right and helps ensure the rights and wellbeing of every child in the community. A child-friendly school acts in the interests of the “whole” child, which includes his or her health, nutrition and overall wellbeing. It is also concerned with what happens to the child at home and within the community before he or she enters school and once his or her school career is completed.

During our visit to one of the multi-grade classrooms, we discover a class with more than 50 learners. When we walk in they are studying social sciences, which is similar to Personal, Social and Health Education in the UK, a very important part of the curriculum. The energy in the room is uplifting, and the students engage us in a talk about their dreams for the future—the class is full of aspiring soccer players, along with doctors and engineers! Talking with the students, we found they have big appetites for learning and chasing their dreams. An 11-year-old learner, Ngkwabi, who impresses us with her mathematical skills, tells us, “I want to become a teacher so I can inspire other children. I want to be like my teacher.” It is apparent that, no matter what corner of the world you are in, we all share commonalities, one being the magic of education that can give us a vision and a platform to be our best.

One of the multi-grade classes at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

One of the multi-grade classes at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

We then visit the early childhood Ddvelopment class, also referred to as the Grade R class (‘R’ for Reception). The young children, age 5 and 6, sit at their tables, colouring in. They are all working with Department of Basic Education workbooks.

Basic Education Workbooks. Photographer: Mike Creevy

Basic Education Workbooks. Photographer: Mike Creevy

The classroom is colourful and filled with the children’s creative activities, whether it’s learning the alphabet, the days of the week, counting or drawing. The teacher calls a little boy to the blackboard and asks him to write out numbers on the board. Bonginkosi, a 6-year-old learner, starts to write and illustrates how his numeric skills have been well developed thanks to the Early Childhood Development programme, which is another programme UNICEF helps the South African government support.

The Grade R classroom full of creativity at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The Grade R classroom full of creativity at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

Bonginkosi, 6 years old, showing his skills at Umfudlana School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Ben Smith

Bonginkosi, 6 years old, showing his skills at Umfudlana School, Mpumalanga. Photographer: Ben Smith

Then it’s time for the children to be physically active, and we all go outside in the nice weather. They start several nursery games, which are very similar to what we find at home. The IKEA team didn’t take long to jump in, playing tag. Even though we don’t speak their language, Zulu, play is play! We all had loads of fun and some healthy competition.

The Grade R children playing Tag at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The Grade R children playing Tag at Umfudlana Combined School. Photographer: Johanna Heuren

The teachers tell us that, although they are faced with several challenges, the aim of their school is to provide a safe place for learners, where students are encouraged to reach their potential and are provided with a daily nutritious meal, which is for some of them the only meal of the day. We say our goodbyes and thanks to the children and educators. They have given us lots of motivation to tell their stories and lift our energies in fundraising for our Soft Toys for Education campaign, which will soon again be in our stores.

 

 

Wamukelekile!


 

“Wamukelekile”—Zulu for welcome—to our first blog…

After a very long journey direct into the southern Hemisphere, we spent our first few hours in South Africa looking forward to bedtime. Our journey from O.R. Tambo International airport near Johannesburg showed a very European looking city we would easily recognise, but the South Africa we will be visiting is a world away from our first impressions and a land of huge contrasts!

The IWitness team arriving at O.R. Tambo airport. Photograph taken by Laura Zabel

The IWitness team arriving at O.R. Tambo airport. Photograph taken by Laura Zabel

Some of the hard-to digest-facts are that South Africa has over 15% of the population living with HIV; every 30 seconds a female is raped; and alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence are an everyday occurrence for lots of people.

Day one of the IWitness programme started with a talk by Nadi Albino, who is The Chief of Education for UNICEF in South Africa. Nadi explained the different programmes in place in SA, covering education, social policy, child protection, and health and nutrition.

Education in South Africa is compulsory from the ages of 7 to 15, with an equal mix of boys and girls going. Children are keen to be educated, and 99.6% attend primary school. A majority of the schools are tuition-free, and a big incentive for the children to attend is the hot meal served.

After a couple of hours’ drive east, we found our surroundings changing dramatically from developed compounds and shopping centres to wide-open spaces dotted with townships filled with small homes constructed from corrugated metal. We arrived in the town of our first school visit, Standerton. The settlement was very much the same as what we had seen on the road, just on a bigger scale.

: View from the car of the roadside townships, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

View from the car of the roadside townships, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Driving into Janrell Secondary School, we were overwhelmed from being greeted by very excited pupils and teachers who had gone to great efforts to welcome us with open arms, with the pupils dancing and singing on our arrival. We were first taken to the school courtyard, where the children hung over the stairwells to get a better view of the celebration.

Our warm welcome to Janrell Secondary School, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Our warm welcome to Janrell Secondary School, photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

The principal called herself the Queen and considered the school and the students her castle, which she seemed to care for more than anything. We were amazed by her strong leadership and dreams of making this school the absolute most successful school in the country. After introductions and speeches, we got to see a performance from the school choir. The quality, energy and professionalism of the choir impressed us all, as we were treated to the voices of provincial champions who compete on a national level.

The ‘Queen’ Nhlapo, showing the schools plan for the future. Photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

The ‘Queen’ Nhlapo, showing the schools plan for the future. Photograph taken by Johanna Heuren

Here UNICEF have focused on sports programmes, including constructing sports facilities and collaborating with local sports authorities to ensure that the children get even more from the curriculum. So, after the celebrations and display of the school’s achievements, we were rushed off to a primary school nearby to join in on a physical education (P.E.) session before the school finished at 2pm.

Johanna joining in with the children’s P.E lesson, photograph taken by Paula Cade

Johanna joining in with the children’s P.E lesson, photograph taken by Paula Cade

We watched the children for a few seconds and then eagerly joined in, jumping traffic cones, jumping rope, balancing on a thin bar with a sand sack on our heads, and jumping hula hoop rings. The kids and us were having a great time, and we must admit we had a hard time keeping up with this very energised bunch. Their trainer, Miss Reneilwe, does this for free with great passion. Her dream is to work with administration at FIFA, but in the meanwhile, apart from having the afternoon at the primary school, she passionately coaches the football team.

School football teams pose with UNICEF and IKEA representatives, photograph taken by Lyle Jacobs

School football teams pose with UNICEF and IKEA representatives, photograph taken by Lyle Jacobs

 

Welcome back to South Africa


 

One year has passed since our IWitnesses from IKEA Norway visited our Soft Toys for Education-funded projects with UNICEF in South Africa. Now, one year later, a group of IKEA co-workers from the UK and Ireland will follow in their footsteps to see how the donations from the Soft Toys for Education campaign are making a difference in the lives of many children in South Africa.

Take a look at the lovely film IKEA Norway made last year, and get inspired to follow the new series of blog posts we will be publishing in the coming days.

 

 

A world of contrasts


We live in a world full of contrasts, which sometimes we don’t notice anymore. We have broadband Internet connections, we get our weather forecast from satellites and we live in shiny cities that never sleep.

80 km away from Bucharest, our capital city, where the wealth is above the European average, we had today the opportunity to visit two locations where Save the Children Romania implements their “Raising children in a Stigma-Free Society”, a project financed by IKEA Foundation. For us, the employees of the Bucharest IKEA store, this project is the fulfillment of the goal of every year’s Soft Toys Campaign.

First we visited the kindergarten in Vulcana-Pandele, a village close to the city of Târgoviște. 20 friendly and enthusiastic kids greeted us, all sunny as a summer day.

We saw how they learned to draw, sing and dance in a very short period of time. One month ago they had never been to school or kindergarten, they did not know how to introduce themselves or wash their hands.

Summer kindergarten in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

Summer kindergarten in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

These children belong to very poor families, usually with a lot of children, where the parents themselves did not have the opportunity to go to school when they were younger.

House in poor area in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

House in poor area in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

Many of the children walk 2-3 km every day to school and the same distance back, be it good weather, rain or snow. Even under these circumstances, most of the children that attended the Save the Children project are very dedicated to learning when they enroll in regular schools. They usually miss classes only when they are sick.

The narrow path to school - photo by Mircea Ilie

The narrow path to school – photo by Mircea Ilie

In Vulcana-Pandele, 100% of the children who attended the summer kindergarten last year enrolled in school and graduated the class. Nationwide, 94% of the children who attended kindergartens in the summer of 2013 graduated in 2014.

This achievement was possible thanks to dedicated and involved teachers, some of them doing voluntary work, who become inspirational models for these kids: one 5 year old girl confessed she wants to become a teacher.

IWitness Ligia helps a future teacher to draw - photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Ligia helps a future teacher to draw – photo by Mircea Ilie

Next, we visited a summer kindergarten in ”Mihai Viteazul” school in Târgoviște, where we found the same enthusiasm and openness.

Both in Vulcana-Pandele and in Târgoviște the children prepared very nice shows for us: poems, dancing, singing. We were very impressed how much they accomplished in only three weeks, since the 2014 program started.

Children's show in Vulcana - photo by Mircea Ilie

Children’s show in Vulcana – photo by Mircea Ilie

Children's show in Târgoviște - photo by Mircea Ilie

Children’s show in Târgoviște – photo by Mircea Ilie

We talked to parents proud of their children’s abilities, parents willing to continue to attend the program and to send their other children, too.

All the children are receptive and have great potential. The teachers identified some with special abilities, but these abilities need to be continuously developed.

In Târgoviște, at the show performed by the children we also met the Mayor. The City Hall is willing to continue the project for a longer term.

It would be great if this could happen in more places in the country, but it’s still a long road ahead. However, two first steps were taken: two extra summer kindergartens supported by the City Hall from Târgoviște volunteered to join the project.

We saw dirty roads, we saw poor houses, but we saw also commitment, dedication, joy and sparkling eyes. And we go home with hope in our hearts. We will make sure that this year’s Soft Toys Campaign will be better, because somewhere in the world children need help.

 

These children would love to go to school


Did you ever happen to meet children who, if they had the means, would love to go to school? There are children coming from poor or dis-functional families who don’t go to school even though they would love to.

On the other hand, have you ever witnessed a situation where because someone is different they have been left aside and alone? Or have you heard about communities in which going to school is not a habit and parents don’t allow their kids to go to school because they don’t see the meaning of it?

Well, this is still happening in some Romanian, Roma communities, as explained here.

Save the Children Romania, supported by IKEA Foundation, is trying to change these people’s mentality and do some good to these unfortunate children. They coordinate an important project called ”Raising Children in a Stigma-free Society”, implemented in București, Dâmbovița, Argeș, Constanța, Iași, Dolj and Tulcea.

Today we visited two summer kindergardens, which take children form some of the poorest areasofBucharest. The summer kindergarden is an educational project for children aged 3-7 years, who have never been to school. Four hours a day in a two month period they come to classes and learn many useful things that they never had the chance to experience before. They learn the basics about being together with other children and behaving in society, they learn to speak about them, they learn poems and little songs, they learn to draw and they socialize. All these while some of them have never seen a pencil before, as one of the tutors told us.

Drawing class in the Rahova school - photo by Mircea Ilie

Drawing class in the Rahova school – photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Ionel and little boy making flowers from modelling clay- photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Ionel and little boy making flowers from modelling clay- photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Florian and little boy making figurines from modelling clay- photo by Mircea Ilie

IWitness Florian and little boy making figurines from modelling clay- photo by Mircea Ilie

Today we met children playing, singing and smiling. One of the first things we noticed when we entered the classroom was a little girl waving her hand at us. We recognized one of the kids that visited last week the IKEA store in Bucharest, in our guided tour for school children “Sustainability in IKEA”.

Happy little girl in a colouring class - photo by Mircea Ilie

Happy little girl in a coloring class – photo by Mircea Ilie

We also met parents, proud of their children and of their achievements. These parents were more confident in their children’s education and future. When we asked one mother why she brought her child to the summer school, she told us: “My daughter is happy here. She comes home and she says: ‘Mom, I learnt a new song today. Or I learnt how to draw.’ I am so happy that she is happy and learns new things. At first, I was a little afraid about this, but now I am glad that I brought her here.”

Later, we talked to one of the teachers. She was also proud of the children and how they developed their abilities and manners. “At first, they didn’t know the numbers, they didn’t know how to draw in colors, and they didn’t even know how to wash their hands. Now they can sing, recite a verse or count. They can also eat their lunch by themselves. Soon, they will be able to go to a public school. I am very proud of them”, the teacher told us.

All in all, it was great for us to see how things change little by little for those kids, thanks to IKEA Foundation and Save the Children Romania.

Kids and IWitness team -photo by Mircea Ilie

Kids and IWitness team -photo by Mircea Ilie

How Save the Children is helping children overcome discrimination in Romania


Our next group of IWitness Global Citizens is travelling to Romania to visit some incredible projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Diana Stanculeanu, who coordinates Save the Children’s project Raising Children in a Stigma-free Society, is here to explain some of the hurdles Romanian children have to overcome.

Diana and Cristina from Save the Children

Diana and Cristina from Save the Children

Around four million children live in Romania. More than 60% of their families struggle with poverty. Apart from poverty, two features put certain Romanian children at higher risk of being excluded, stigmatised and discriminated against: being a Roma child with no education, and dealing with a mental health difficulty.

Only 20% of Roma children attend kindergarten. According to parents we interviewed, the main reasons are because of discrimination and because they lack local services, financial resources and trust in the personnel. Also, 80% of all children who never go to school in Romania are Roma. Many of these children have parents who lack basic education and are illiterate. The children grow up in an environment that challenges their health and development. That’s why ensuring that Roma children have equal opportunities and access to education is a top priority for our country.

Children with mental health problems—or at risk of developing them—became a concern for Save the Children Romania in 2007, when the European Commission identified them as one of the most vulnerable groups lacking support. Almost one million Romanian children are at risk of developing a mental health disorder, according to the World Health Organisation, but most of the country’s mental health services are only available in hospital settings, and they focus on medication. There are fewer than 120 child psychiatrists in the country. General practitioners and pediatricians are not trained to screen and identify mental health disorders. There are no prevention programmes focusing on mental health disorders.

Roma education - Save the Children

Roma education – Save the Children

Stigma threatens the lives of children with mental health issues, as well as their families and mental health professionals. This stigma can only lead to poor use of services. Children are also confronted with all types of violence within their families: neglect and physical, verbal and psychological abuse.

Save the Children’s project Raising Children in a Stigma-free Society, implemented with support from the IKEA Foundation for three years, aims to reduce discrimination against these two vulnerable groups of children through education and counselling.

This year, 600 Roma preschool children are being supported to go to kindergarten and then elementary school. Almost 9,000 families—parents and children—are benefitting from counselling services and parenting programmes aiming at building positive parenting skills, which are proven to help protect vulnerable children.

Also, 900 professionals working with vulnerable children—preschool and elementary school teachers, school counsellors and mental health professionals—are receiving training in how to better address the needs of stigmatised children. Twenty thousand children from elementary and high schools are being educated about tolerance and generosity, values that are needed in the inclusion process of stigmatised children. Last but not least, our national public-awareness campaign will reach 10 million people with messages about labels, stigma, discrimination, abuse and tolerance.

Councelling activity - Save the Children

Councelling activity – Save the Children

Save the Children Romania is honoured and privileged to be able to undertake such a complex initiative to improve the quality of life for so many children. It’s a noble task, one that we hope to achieve step by step every day. None of it, however, would have been possible without the huge support and resources that the IKEA Foundation have offered to us and, in the end, to the children.

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.