Week 3. Mangochi to Blantyre.
So Monday morning and it was time to drive to our new home near Blantyre. We started early, drove for about 5 hours and met the area PEA (primary education advisor) whose name was Mr Kalulu (translated as Mr. Rabbit!!) outside the town hall. As we were driving to our new base at Fisherman’s rest about 20 km outside Blantyre we were to be greeted by some of the schools we were to be working with. Mr Rabbit went out in front on his motorbike and we followed! There were 3 stops in all and at each one there were children lining the roads, waving and shouting “Welcome Bookbus!!”. It was crazy, exciting and at the same time heart warming! They were singing, “We are happy today, we are happy today, we are happy to see our books!”It was a fantastic welcome to the area! This must be what it feels like to come home after winning the FA cup or something similar!!
We then proceeded to our new home. The setting couldn’t be more different to the grotto. Perched high up on the side of a hill we are overlooking the lower Shire (pronounced shear ree and NOT shire – as I made the big mistake of calling it!) valley. The views are stunning, especially early morning and at sun set. There are impalas on the property as well as some very naughty goats, that we keep threatening to turn into stew!! We are also no longer staying in tents or cooking outdoors, both good news as we approach the rainy season and not having to get dressed to go to the bathroom in the night is an obvious advantage!
That afternoon for me it was off on a whistle-stop tour of the sights of Blantyre. The sights being supermarkets, money changers, chemists, markets, banks, stationers and hospitals, all those things you need to know! Blantyre is huge compared to Livingstone. It has over 600,000 inhabitants and the traffic is crazy! It’s the first traffic jams I have seen in a long time. Blantyre is the oldest city and main commercial hub of Malawi. It is named after the Scottish birth place of Dr. Livingstone. It lies at an altitude of almost 1000m and is ringed by hills and compared to life just a few Km outside the city limits it all feels very cosmopolitan and modern.
The PEA had given us a list of the schools in the area with their distances from fishermans and the number of learners, this ranged from 2000 down to 300. I decided that as we had more volunteers the first week we should visit the bigger schools and leave the small ones to next week when there were just a handful of us. All the big schools are located just of the tarmac road, so access was no problem. We began on Tuesday with one of the schools that welcomed us on the road. Mbame Primary School is the closest one to Fisherman’s so it was only a very short drive, past the permanent police road block where we are already known, hopefully meaning, we won’t be getting stopped too often!
Once again we taught standards 7 and 8 but we had to divide them into half each time as the classes are so big. Class sizes were never this big in Zambia. Apparently since primary education was declared free for all several years ago, the number of learners has skyrocketed but the number of teachers is falling and the number of classrooms remains the same. It is always the infant classes which are the biggest as the older children become the more they are needed at home to do chores and farm the land. We taught 4 lessons at 45 minutes each, at least the temperature here is more bearable than that at the lake. Mbame school is the first time I have seen in action a so called ‘play pump’. This is a water pump that is powered by a roundabout so kids get to have fun playing whilst pumping water from the borehole into a tank which can then be access by the villagers. A very clever idea, especially when placed in a school!
Wednesday we went to Madziabango Primary School, our first journey down into the valley and you could feel the temperature rise as we descended. Thursday it was Namkumba, which was in the process of creating a library complete with Librarians and wall paintings and Friday it was Chisawani, a school with over 2000 learners and one of the ones that had welcomed us on Monday. Chiswani is lucky enough to be the venue for a school feeding programme, funded by an organisation called Mary’s Meals. Everyday all learners get a meal of soya porridge, as you can imagine when cooking for 2000 the pots are enormous.
Everywhere we went we attracted much attention and Gerald the Giraffe was brought out to tame the masses! We taught standards 7 and 8 and always found the pupils very willing to take part in what we were doing but it is obvious that they are not used to being asked their own opinions or to use their imagination and they certainly aren’t accustomed to small group work or one to one interaction with a teacher. At all 4 schools this week the teachers seemed keen to know what we were up to and how it would benefit their students without disturbing their timetables, but very few seemed keen to get hands on and join it what we were doing. I guess that this is a totally new concept, not only to the students but also their teachers but we are welcomed with open arms and warm smiles wherever we are working.