By Richard Chirombo
Just about everyone around Nangungu Primary School in Makanjira, Mangochi, knew the German visitors were coming. Pupils, Senior Chief Makanjira, parents and teachers; they all tuned their reasoning towards October 2007.
But nobody, even his best friends, new what was up little Ali Mwamadi’s sleeve.
He had prepared a carefully woven reed hut, shaped like a plastic bag, and stood ready to receive his ‘gift’. Never once did he forget that little hut-cum-travel bag, lest he be caught unawares by the visitors.
When the Germans, for that was the nationality of the visitors, finally came in October, six year old Ali was there to welcome them. He stepped forward, a metre behind Wallace Christopher Chombo, project officer for the Malawi/Werkschule Scholen (Traveling Workschool Scholen) initiative.. Then, he stretched his bag-like hut, extending it towards the visitors..
For a moment, silence; nobody seemed to understand. There was a sense of confusion, too. But it was just for a moment because, before long, Mwamadi aired his views:
“Where is the soil they said you would bring? Throw it inside my hut!”
Laughter. Not for little Mwamadi: he was serious.
“I say, put a sample of the soil from Germany in here. What will you build the school block with, if not soil from Germany ?”
Everyone now got it. Mwamadi had heard right; that some Germans would come to Nangungu Primary School, the first of a series of visits planned by a German Non-Governmental Organization Reisende Werkschule Scholen, to help in the construction of school blocks in the district.
The only point he got wrong was the suggestion that the visitors- Eike, Evelyn, Eric, Joschus, Kim, Kolla, Marcel, Mario, Nadine, Niklas, Sean, Sebastian, Otis- would bring with them German soil, and the misconception that German soil must have been more durable than local Katondo, in the words of Ishmael Abna, a community members from the area.
That was 2007, when Mwamadi was only 6 years-old. He will be much older now, that the Germans are coming back for another construction project, to ask for German soil.. Some community members from Makanjira have already started preparing for the Germans’ 2009 coming. This year’s construction work will start on September 1, though some of the Germans will be in by August 10.
According to Michael Von Studnitz, chairperson and co-founder of Travelling Workschool Scholen, the organization chose Malawi out of 15 other choice countries because of high illiteracy rate, especially in Mangochi district, the friendliness of its citizens as well as prevailing peace and stability.
This feeds well into the fact that the country has been named the second most peaceful in Africa, after fellow Southern African Development Community member state of Botswana .
“Since 2001, we have been happy to help in the education and infrastructural development of Malawi . In fact, our research showed that there were only 13 countries in the world that needed more help than Malawi ,” said Studnitz.
Studnitz said the German organization, through financial assistance from Bingo Lotto and Stiftung Umvertellen, also wanted to boost cultural ties with Malawi , a development he hoped would help people from the two cultures appreciate their cultural heritage and learn from each other..
Through the development of learning infrastructure, the Germans also want to contribute towards the attainment of high education standards. Studnitz cited the general lack of up-to-scratch infrastructure in the country as one of the reasons for high illiteracy rates in many districts. His organization trains German children in various skills, some of which are exposed in Makanjira when those trained visit Malawi every two years since 2001 to do construction work.
This is done in collaboration with communities surrounding primary schools whose physical appearance seems to suggest doom, or announce news of imminent collapse. Trees have become the automatic substitute for such crumbling blocks, a temporally substitute that succumbs to the yielding pressure of heavy rains and the unyielding sun.
Influential community leaders like Senior Chief Makanjira have welcomed the gesture, hoping it would dig deep into the roots of illiteracy, and help enlighten hither to education-shy communities about the positives of education.
Various studies have shown that traditional Yao areas have been the heaven for illiteracy, a trend now changing with the establishment of many learning facilities in as many traditional Yao areas. This excites Makanjira so much, as manifested in his loud hopes that, very soon, the sons and daughters of Mangochi may begin to contribute positively towards their district’s development.
Those who attain the highest levels of education will now be able to flock to urban areas for work, look positively towards retiring so they may go back to the district for some good rest, and use that time (of rest) to share their experiences with the communities that nurtured and nourished them.
“In the end, Mangochi will be a developed lot,” said Makanjira.
Such is the hope of the chief; Reisende Travelling Workschool Scholen just nourishes it.
For people like Chombo, a son of Malawi who has joined hands with the Germans towards the development of Mangochi, the contributions they are making in raising up school infrastructure where in the past only hope rested is an incentive to foreign well-wishers eager to push us where our energies fail us
It always surprises people how the efforts always begin: a willing heart, community participation, eager and skillful German citizens, traditional, leaders’ support, the sight of little children bathing for education in the October sun, approaching rains, and readily available resources (water and soil).
Soon, a foundation is dug, one stone over another, iron sheets and…(boom) …students can now learn under protective shelter. It all happens within one month, and the Germans go home.
There are tears, also- always tears- in the end.
“ Malawi is almost like our own home; not a second home,’ says Studnitz.