Monday, January 17, 2011

Chikuli fills development gaps with unity

Their problems are their common strength, a multiplicity of souls
united in purpose. Each one knows everyone else, too.
That explains why two smiling under-aged boys dutifully throwing
twelve tiny pieces of pork into a thick, brownish liquid that passes
for cooking oil at Chikuli Trading Centre, while their peers drink
from the gourd of knowledge at Chikuli Primary School, just a stone
throw away- are a blur in  Group Village Headman Makunje’s clear
picture of the future.
“I know them (the boys) by their names; (I know) their problem, too.
We are trying our best to solve such community problems as preventable
school drop outs, material poverty, HIV and AIDS proliferation,
hunger, poor physical infrastructure.
“We also know that we will have problems that are beyond our control,
mainly because our challenges are many,” said Makunje.
Chikuli, located in Blantyre West Constituency, is an apparent victim
of the ‘Blantyre-syndrome’ (the bright mind-colours associated with
the name Blantyre), chips in Gloria Kampayi, from Group Village
Headman Sitande in the area. She says Chikuli was supposed to be urban
in location, but remains rural in circumstance, making life unbearable
for most community members.
And the challenges are just too many. Take, for instance, the dusty
road from Chileka International Airport to Chikuli Trading Centre; it
introduces the first-time visitor to the fact that the area is yet to
get connected to the highway of civilization.
While the slippery nature of the road during the rainy season pits
community members against high transport fares and time efficiency, it
is the lack of electricity that pains Village Headwoman Chinkhandwe.
“We are not very far away from the Blantyre Central Business District,
yet we are not yet connected to the national electricity grid. This is
retarding development as investors cannot invest in an area without
electricity,” said Chinkhandwe.
She also bemoans the proliferation of HIV and AIDS in her area, a
development that has seen her tiny village produce at least four
child-headed households. Most girls, too, are taking towards the way
of the night, turning their “precious bodies into disposable
commodities, thereby  exacerbating challenges posed by the HIV and
AIDS pandemic”.
Because 90 per cent of her subjects depend on subsistence farming,
hunger replaces full granaries when the rains fail, perpetuating
material poverty in the population.
Chinkhandwe is not alone in insinuating that life has largely been
reduced to a search for the basics in Chikuli, as four other
traditional leaders from the area of Traditional Authority Kunthembwe-
namely, Group Village Headmen Makunje, Sitande, and Kadikira; and
village headman Nkhumba- add their voice of concern.
One of the pressing needs in their areas, all united by the ordeal of
having Chikuli as the only full primary school, is the lack of a
school feeding programme to carter for less privileged children.
Duncan Kawerama,  head teacher for the school, confides that hunger
kept some pupils out of school when their classmates were busy writing
examinations, culminating in swift contrasts between class attendance
registers (which are impressive) and examination attendance rolls
(poorer than 2009).
“This is a very big challenge in deed,” said Kawerama.
Out of the 1,500 pupils enrolled with the school, each and every one
of whom deserves a turn in 10 ramshackle toilets available at the
school, over half is in problems of sorts: ranging, as Parents
Teachers Association chairperson Alick Msowoya enthuses,  from empty
stomachs among pupils from grand-parent led and child-headed
households; lack of material resources, including uniforms and money
contribution towards community/school development initiatives;
teen-age pregnancies, as girls opt for easy ways out; an escalated HIV
and AIDS prevalence rate; and high drop out rates, as some children
resort to playing roast-pork, vegetables, flitters, and tomato traders
at the booming Chikuli Trading Centre.
Another challenge is that of high class repetition rates. A story is
told of a girl who remained stuck in Standard Four for six solid
years, prompting a local NGO called Mwayi Trust to come up with a
Home-work Centres’ initiative.
It is an initiative that keeps 18 year-old Gloria Kampayi busy- but
not too busy to disturb her Form 3 studies at Chikuli Community Day
Secondary School (CDSS). Under the programme, introduced by
Australian-born Sandra Trevethan, secondary school students help ‘
class veterans’ in neighbouring primary schools over-come learning
Pastor James Mbewe, who ministers at United Pentecostal Church in
Blantyre but also doubles as a Trustee for Mwayi, said the initiative
is working wonders in eight schools. Among others, students from
Chikuli CDSS bail pupils from Chikuli primary out of the muddy waters
of failure, a remedy reciprocated by Chigumukire CDSS students who
administer academic diagnosis at Chigumukire primary; Andiseni
secondary students help those from nearby St. George Academy;  while
those from Chilangoma CDSS lift pupils from Chilangoma primary school
“The programme has, since 2009, proved successful to slow learners. As
we all know, the teacher-pupils’ ratio in most schools in Malawi is
too high, making it difficult for teachers to help slow learners out.
We are working with teachers, who act as patrons in the centres,
secondary and primary school goers, and have over 40 peer educators,”
said Pastor Mbewe.
But this does nothing to erase the fact that long-distances to Chikuli
Primary school, flooded rivers during the rainy season, lack of junior
primary schools, poor road network infrastructure and the general lack
of role models keep most children out of school, casting thorns in the
way of future success.
Ever-heard of 50 year-old orphans? Forget about textbook definitions
of orphans (for instance, convicted individuals who play the ‘I am
orphaned’ mercy-card at 21 years during court mitigation are quickly
dismissed by Malawian courts) and get into the basics of life’s little
lessons in Chikuli.
Traditional leaders Kadikira, Makunje, Sitande, Nkhumba and
Chinkhandwe claim that their subjects are “all (regardless of age)
orphans”, in a way, citing the pulling out of most civil society
organizations from their areas.
In 2007, such charity organizations as Save the Children, Oxfam,
Goal-Malawi, Blantyre Synod and Development Aid from People to People
provided vital services, including nutrition supplements, home-based
care tools, and HIV and AIDS counseling. No more.
So, John Kunthembwe –Community AIDS Committee chairperson in Makunje
Village- no longer goes about distributing Vitamin D tablets and other
nutrition supplements . Home-based care initiatives, nursery school
lessons, physical fitness courses, and Chikuli youth programmes are
all gone.
However, community members continue to do their best: starting with
the construction of two toilets at Chikuli Primary, provision of
unpaid for services in the Home-work Centres Initiative, counseling
sessions for girls at Chinkhandwe’s court, and the formulation of
community neighbourhood watch groups to prevent crop and property
All these efforts quicken the flow of community members’ blood; but so
do the waters in Dambo, Chikowa, Mkokodzi, Msuma, Namisu and Chosweka
rivers flow faster during the rainy season- blocking the way of pupils
from Nthawira and Chasokera village, on the other side of Dambo river,
to Chikuli Primary school.
“This is the one part we cannot do something on. We cannot manage to
construct metallic bridges across these rivers and, so, need local
government’s intervention. We want our pupils to go to school,” said

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We visited Chikuli in July '09 and our heart goes out to these people. Not many white people pass through; some children chased after the car we were in, calling out:"Masungu!" (white people) as if we were ghosts! It was lovely to see them play simple games on the side of the road. We saw a treadle pump used for irrigation, and a dam being built by the women - 'Rachel' requested that we help with making a fish farm. We were greeted there with such warmth, and the memory lingers...