4. Balaka

DSC_0860It was a bright, hot, sunny new day, and it was time to weave our way back to Lilongwe. But first we were going to visit the Balaka district, and the Education programs. Making our way through Mangochi, we travelled along the M3 to Liwonde, where, led by Lester, Save the Children’s Education Coordinator, we stopped at the Mmanga School. We were greeted by Mrs. Indindi, an Inspector of Schools for the important Balaka District.

Balaka covers 7 school zones, and Mrs. Indindi is responsible for one zone. There are about 85,275 children in the Balaka District, with 1391 teachers. Of the 141 schools, 130 are Government constructed and run, and the rest Community built. Funnily enough – I could have been back in Cambodia, as the school construction looked remarkably similar – in this case, two doors and four rooms.

DSC_0865It is estimated that enrolment of 6 – 18 years old children runs at about 75%, and consequently some schools operate on two shifts. A critical issue is the teacher death rate from Aids. 15 – 20 teachers die every month in Malawi, and the system just cannot replenish them in time.

Thus, besides teacher education on Aids, a “big push” is on to train new teachers, particularly to give “informal” teachers “formal” skills. Teachers get paid on the Government civil scale, at about 5000 Kwacha a month (US$77), which is still not quite enough to live on, which leads to moonlighting. The main Government training takes place at College in Lilongwe or Blantyre.

Quest programs

Save the Children’s education focus (via QUEST I) is:

  • DSC_0886to improve the quality of schooling in existing schools. Save has helped create 33 community (“mini”) schools, taking the schooling to the kids, improving enrolment and reducing walking time. Interestingly, it is always easier to keep kids in community schools than bigger, town/government versions, as the children get more consistent family and peer encouragement to complete their studies.
  • to improve curriculum quality.
  • The idea is to have “mentor” teachers at a “core” school, who can then help other teachers in the “cluster”. Again, a very similar program to Cambodia. Save does in-service training, too, which so far the Government has not been able to start.
  • to build school efficiency, with effective administration techniques.
  • to test the impact of an “integrated curriculum”. Malawi has a good National Curriculum, but the Save folks are experimenting with building more comprehensive life skills (and HIV) education into the program.

In Quest II, Save is working:

  • to help teacher training programs, to overcome the Aids attrition. Currently, the estimate is that 30,000 of Malawi’s 80,000 teachers are formally unqualified.
  • to build teacher morale, and improve teacher behaviour, via an effective professional code of conduct. There some teachers abusive of school girls, and the punishment is not very effective. More effective and more frequent supervision is part of this program.
  • to build HIV / Aids education throughout an “integrated” curriculum, and not just as a science lesson, reflecting the all-encompassing nature of the issue.

DSC_0890At the school, we watched Save’s Paul lead a teacher mentoring session, with skill and much enthusiasm. It was fun to see the teachers really get “into” their profession. I also wandered around, and enjoyed meeting some of the teachers at their daily work. More mob scenes. More smiles.

Whilst the HIV work was rather new to me on this trip. Save’s Education programs I had seen before. Despite the differences in culture, the same principles seem to stand everywhere. Parents (and grandparents) want their children educated, and the schools must go to the kids – not the other way around. Nevertheless, despite the similarities, the teacher death rate is unique to Africa. In many ways, those statistics are the most depressing of all. Whilst focusing on the children is obviously a critical way to rebuild a nation ravaged by Aids, without education there is still little hope for the future


Before we left the area, we visited Save’s Balaka office. Joyce, the District Health Director and the others debriefed us on the plans to expand proven programs from other districts, especially CHAPS form Mangochi. A new issue raised was that child immunisation had dropped in Balaka, to an estimated 35% versus 90% in Mangochi. Unfortunately, Save has no funding to help this.

After taking a group picture or two (and seeing a field full of cows near the office – which is most unusual as one drives through Malawi), it was time to move on.

The regulation stop at Ntcheu brought refreshment, and so did the stop for mangoes. Smaller than the Asian fruits, but sweet and smooth. Delicious. From Ntcheu it was about 69 kilometres to Dedza, and a further 85 to Lilongwe.

DSC_0950We drove across the Savannah-type countryside, punctuated with dramatic hills rising from the plain, and with tall grass by the side of the road often being cut back by community paid labour. The maize was coming towards harvest, but, frankly, to our inexperienced eyes still looking rather thin and lacking.

It was time for quiet reflection, which allowed us to compare notes at the evening debrief in Lilongwe with Justin and Tom.

Lots of ideas, lots of frustration, but a determination to help however we could.

One memorable quote was from Francie.

Before making the trip, one of her acquaintances had said “Rich Americans should just send a cheque, not be tourists”. But Francie was very clear that there was no substitute for first hand understanding.


Day 2 – Mangochi

Day 3 – Namwera

Day 4 – Adzulu & Michesi

Day 5 – Balaka

Day 6 – Lilongwe


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