People of Mankhamba Village in Ntchisi are sick and tired of shacks at a primary school that shocked the nation.
They are doing their best to construct better facilities at the school whose pictures went viral on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Two weeks ago, Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) executive director MacBain Mkandawire shared a photograph of a grass-thatched head teacher’s office that mirrors the sorry state of the remote school.
The pictures sent tongues wagging, with some wondering why government seems eager to blow K64 million refurbishing Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara’s office when the school lies in shambolic state.
In 2014, Mankhamba residents petitioned Ntchisi district education manager (DEM) to help save pupils from walking up to six kilometres to the nearest schools.
Tiuze Chipaka, 32, from Nganga Village, was in the team.
“We wanted our children to access quality education with ease,” he says.
The DEM reportedly advised them to source bricks, sand, money and bricklayers to construct school blocks.
Says Chipaka: “He told us: ‘If you do this, you will have a school in your area and we shall deploy teachers straightaway.’ This was the genesis of the project.”
The villagers promptly constructed two blocks that are known as Mankhamba Junior Primary School today and the DEM swiftly deployed three teachers.
But the school, opened last year, has no staff houses, staff room, safe water and toilets.
All classes, except Standard One and Two pupils, learn in a nearby natural forest.
Parents say they are only happy that their children no longer endure long walks to Kalira One, Nyalabvu and Mwangala primary schools.
Previously, the children had to cross Kasangazi and Kaka rivers to get to these schools.
They often arrived late for classes. Both absenteeism and dropout rates were high, parents say.
The challenges were worse in the rainy season. Pupils in lower classes risked being swept away by swelling rivers.
In 2006, a girl, returning from Nyalabvu Primary School, drowned in Kala River.
In Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumo, murmurs of her death still echo.
As population grows, communities surrounding Mankhamba Junior Primary School want a full primary school with necessary facilities for teachers and pupils.
The locals feel sorry for the teachers enduring disgusting working conditions—with no decent houses and office.
Head teacher Jesmon Kanyenda, lives almost one kilometre from the school.
Every day, children assist him carrying books and other teaching materials.
“I wish an office and teachers houses were constructed soon,” he says. “I don’t know what crime I committed to be transferred from Kayesa Full Primary School to a school without basic facilities.”
Other teachers live up to five kilometres away.
They are eagerly waiting to move closer to their school or get transfers.
But communities want these teachers to stay and more to come.
Explains Mankhamba school committee chairperson Blackface Kammera: “We want our children to get educated. We are building three teachers’ houses.
“We also want to construct an office and an additional classroom block. Communities moulded thousands of red bricks for the project, but lack of resources.”
Councillor Frackson Sefasi says Mankhamba deserves a full primary school with better facilities.
“I have discussed with our Member of Parliament [MP] Nkhosa Kamwendo to use Constituency Development Fund [CDF] to roof two teachers’ houses and procure cement while searching for funds to finish the other projects,” he says.
DEM Joseph Nkhata salutes community members for the zeal to ensure every child learns.
However, he says construction of school blocks is the duty of the community through CDF, Local Development Fund (LDF) and other funds.