A refurbished toilet block at Isyalikila Junior School in Malawi marks the latest collaboration between Rugby Rotary Club and The Bwengu Project, a charity that funds and undertakes education and community projects in the village.
The Rotary Club of Rugby, which this year marks its centenary, has been supporting the Bwengu Projects for six years, funding classroom repairs and school furniture as well many of the charity’s 64 toilet block refurbishment projects since 2006.
Tony Melia runs the Bwengu Projects Malawi with his wife Sue, along with their daughter Samantha, son-in-law Rob and granddaughter Abi.
He said: “The existing toilets in all schools in Malawi are not nice places, consequently it is a major reason for the high rate of older junior school female absenteeism. Our work includes adding washrooms for females. This in turn has affected attendance and exam pass rates.”
The club has also funded teaching kits for schools in the region.
First introduced in 2017, the solar-powered LED projectors and tablets are for use in junior and secondary schools as well as adult education.
They are charged by a car battery and also contain a small pair of speakers to allow audio materials to be played to the class.
Tony said: “The aim of the kit is to allow the Malawi National Curriculum to be delivered in schools where facilities are poor or limited. Electricity is not always readily available and the supply is unpredictable at best. Textbooks and writing materials are also in short supply, and class sizes are often well over 100 students.
“We asked teachers in Malawi to write out their blackboard notes onto A4 paper and we brought these back to the UK. They were then transferred and saved onto SD cards for use with the tablets. In total we have about 22,000 lessons scanned onto the tablets.
“Since the programme started in 2017 we have clear evidence of impressive improvements across all the schools. From a value for money project Rugby Rotary has changed some 147 females’ lives in December 2021 at a cost of £4.25p each one.
“Rotarians work hard to raise funds to help the less fortunate in this world, the very least we can and always will do, is to ensure that almost all of their donations are spent wisely without waste and get good project outcomes each time.”
More than 18,000 children at 19 schools now have access to Rotary-funded teaching equipment such as projectors and tablets.
Tony added: “Where we work in the far north some 37.5% children leave school (if they have ever attended) unable to read, write or complete simple maths (Malawi GOV stats).
“Since 2008 in 12 villages free adult education lessons have been run for six months at a time in reading, writing and basic maths. So far some 1,400 adults have achieved the basic academic requirements. Rotary Clubs have funded at least six of these village adult education projects, with Rugby Rotary Club funding four of them.”
A spokesperson for The Rotary Club of Rugby, which has been supporting the Bwengu Projects for six years, said: “The whole Class Teaching Kit has been a revolution to both children and adults in Malawi. Gone are the days when it was one book between 75-plus pupils.
“The proof of this method shows in the improved exam results of all schools fortunate enough to have access to the Kit. And their parents can now also use the method to have the education that they missed as children. To give people the opportunity to read and write is a massive privilege.”
According to The International Monetary Fund, Malawi is the third poorest country in the world where one in 10 adults live with HIV/AIDS and one million children have been orphaned by the disease.
Headteacher at Isyalikila Junior School, Dawin Sikwese, said: “We sincerely appreciate this great gift to the people of Isyalikila, it has really transformed their lives.
"They are now able to read, write and complete simple maths, but more importantly, know their rights. They can engage in development activities, without resistance because they now understand their rights and responsibilities.
“Before we were in darkness you now have brought the light.”