These Walls Have Spoken
We made a Facebook post in December 2015 contemplating what Chisomo Nursery School’s cramped, dilapidated walls would say, if given the opportunity. Well, those walls spoke much more loudly than anyone expected, catching the ear of two help2kids volunteers, who then spread the message to their friends and family in two countries to give the students and teachers at Chisomo the facilities that they deserve!
|Lena arrived in Lifuwu in early January, highly motivated to make a big difference at Chisomo. She had already done some fundraising, and was eager learn what improvements were most needed. She hit the ground running, instantly developing close relationships with the Chisomo students who had never previously worked with help2kids volunteers. She also worked closely with Field Manager, Nicole, and Chisomo Teachers, Ruthi and Lusi, to determine the most effective and sustainable way to make improvements.
Ruthi and Lusi said that the most pressing need was the construction of a toilet for the children to use. Perhaps with an accessible toilet close by, they would even stop encountering human waste every morning left by community members in the unsecured school building which is located beside a high-traffic road. Indeed, the young Chisomo students had nowhere to go to the bathroom, and given no choice, they used the nearby trees to eliminate waste.
This practice, known as “open defecation” leads to outbreaks of cholera and other diarrheal diseases and is associated with stunting, lower cognitive function, and poor nutrition. According to the United Nations website, www.opendefecation.org, one billion people are forced to practice open defecation worldwide due to lack of access to toilets, or lack of means to build their own. The relatively simple act of building a toilet for Chisomo has impacts on the students’ current and future health, growth, and intellectual development!
Having learned more about Chisomo’s issues, Lena began developing an idea with Nicole to build a cement and brick toilet at Chisomo, and decorate it with sanitation messages and attractive designs to help ensure the children and passers-by made use of the toilet instead of defecating in the open. Lena also made plans to fundraise for improvements to the Chisomo class building and started a myhelp2kids campaign and a Facebook page to start sourcing the money immediately. Unfortunately, as the toilet was beginning to take shape, and the project gained momentum, Lena had to return home for health reasons. She wasn’t, however willing to give up on her cause, and worked tirelessly from home to make sure funds were secured to complete the project.
|Anja, a Swiss medical professional arrived in February hoping to apply her medical knowledge to helping people in Lifuwu. After seeing the ragged condition of the school and learning the realities of its students, she jumped in head-first and partnered with Lena, 7,500 km away in Germany, to see this project to completion. Anja also made strong connections with the children and teachers at Chisomo, and strove passionately to raise additional funds, working in any way possible to make her and Lena’s vision a reality.
Anja spent every morning assisting the teachers with the children at Chisomo, and every Friday afternoon painting the toilet with help2kids staff and Mr. Yona, our “local volunteer”. The messages: “Wash your hands with soap” and “use the toilet” were painted in the ChiChewa language along with pictures of happy soap characters, and taps for handwashing. As the vibrant words took shape on the bright white walls, we could hear students from the neighboring primary school reading the slogans aloud.
Anja wanted to make sure the message of improved hygiene reached beyond Chisomo so Anja taught a lesson on the importance of handwashing and using the toilet. During the lesson, Chisomo students rotated through three different stations.
As the toilet was completed and decorated, the class building improvements were initiated, and then began to evolve. Due to Anja and Lena’s incredible fundraising efforts, a simple enlargement progressed into a building with two classrooms which will each have a dedicated entrance, a secured storage room, and a veranda. The improved building will be equipped with locking doors to prevent damage and vandalism, and new chalkboards will be installed. In a few short weeks, the Chisomo building has been completely transformed from the shabby former pump-house it once was, into a handsome, nearly completed school block.
In the end, if these walls could talk, they would say thank you!
If you would like to support Chisomo Nursery School, or any of our other education projects in Malawi please visit our website, or use the donate button below. Visit Lena’s myhelp2kids crowdfunding campaign or Facebook page to read more about her experiences at Chisomo. If you want to see these projects for yourself while having once in a lifetime adventure in friendly, beautiful Malawi don’t hesitate to fill out a volunteer application. We’d love to see you in the warm heart of Africa!