On Thursday morning I was pleased to hear that Sharon was feeling better and that we were returning to Blantyre Girls for more training.
The downside of only being in Malawi for one week of training is that you are in a really good swing of things and you’ve managed to get yourself in to a proper routine of organising resources and tidying, to only have one day left.
The day ran very smoothly and again we benefitted from visiting the school’s library and showing the other teachers and librarians how they organise and manage the library here at Blantyre Girls.
On the way back I had the chance to visit a classroom and speak to some children in the class, something that I haven’t had the chance to do yet. Partly because I don’t want to disturb the learning. I know what it’s like to be a teacher and a distraction walks past the room and the learners become very excited and enthused so I wouldn’t want to put anyone in that situation.
Thankfully, the teacher was very welcoming, she welcomed me to her standard 4 classroom (primary 4 approximately). I was shocked to see so many children staring back at me, with at least 70 learners in the room and no tables or chairs. I was also surprised at how focussed they were and how hard they were working with their jotters on their laps.
Being in this classroom made me reflect on some of the stories we have heard throughout the week of class sizes of 140-150 and sometimes even more.
It is difficult to compare to our classes of 33 where we can find challenging to meet the needs of everyone.
Walking back to the training facility I had another pleasant surprise. A group of young learners who had taken time to write some beautiful letters to pupils from my own school, Pirie Park Primary in Glasgow. They were excited to have a pen pal from Scotland.
Something that we had discussed during training had been to make learning purposeful and relevant to the learners and also to allow them to lead their own learning. Amazing to see that the teacher who attended our training on Tuesday had already thought about this and put it in to place in such a wonderful way.
I cannot wait to get back to school and share the letters with some primary 7 learners and give them the opportunity to respond.
As the heat started to rise we continued with the final part of our training for the day. During the final session we were met by Ruth who works for Scotland/Malawi Partnership and she had heard we were in Blantyre and wanted to come and meet us and discuss the work that we are doing.
The great thing about supporting schools in Malawi is that there are already strong links between our two countries and charities and organisations are working hard to make major improvements as we continue to learn from each other. We finished our afternoon training with another game of motto mipiri motto and gathered some more feedback to help us evaluate our trip.
After our morning of training we met up with Michele and Gillian and travelled to STEKA to meet with Godknows who runs the charity with his wife. Godknows and his wife current take care of 102 children who would otherwise be living in the streets or worse…their motto is “all any child needs is love”.
I was fortunate enough to visit last year and meet with his wife who introduced me to some of the children there at the time. Godknows told us some heartbreaking stories about some of the children in his care. In the past year he has taken on three sets of twins, one of these sets came close to being poisoned and killed by their mother as she could no longer cope. Godknows took the children in instead after a friend of the mothers recommended Steka and he is also trying to support the mother to get help with her own mental health. Mental health is a real issue in Malawi according to Godknows. He told us that in January to June 246 people committed suicide in Malawi, of this number 240 were men.
Godknows, as well as working so hard to support all of these children, is passionate about supporting mental health especially for men. He spoke about working with his local church to create support groups to encourage men to talk about how they’re feeling. He’s determined to get advice from doctors and other experts to help with take his project further.
He told us another story of a 14 year old boy who was walking around the city looking for work with his sister tied to his back. Godknows approached him and he explained his mother had died three months prior and he did not know where his father was. Godknows quickly acted and said he will take care of the sister and he can visit her any time. He also found the boy accommodation living with a friend of Godknows and he now also pays for his education at a local secondary school. This is the major success of Godknows’ work. He not only looks after children but supports them through school. 24 of the children in his care are now at/have been through university with one of their sons Gift graduating this year from Edinburgh University with a masters degree in International Business. Godknows, his wife and their whole set up at Steka is a complete inspiration and proves that there are some amazingly generous people out there trying their best to make the world a better place.
After everything today and this week, we were mentally and physically exhausted but we powered on as we had been invited to dinner by some of the Blantyre education officials. We attended a wonderful meal at the Grace Bandawi Conference Centre. Another location that’ll be remembered by many MLOL colleagues. We were presented with some beautiful Malawian fabric and thanked profusely for our commitment to the training this week. However the highlight for me must be getting the gentlemen in their ‘See You Jimmy’ hats. They loved them and wore them with pride. Then it was home to bed after an incredibly busy day to rest before our final day of training tomorrow…