Appreciating the need to offer education carpeting for rural children to do well in primary school and beyond—Memory Kalaya Banda needed to do something.
The deputy head teacher for Kabwinja Community Day Secondary School in Madisi founded the Seed of Hope Community-Based Organisation.
Through it, Memory offers free early childhood education to over 200 children in eight different areas in Dowa.
Working in the rural areas exposed her to the lack of certain services, including early childhood development (ECD).
After her first-born son, Memory found herself in a position where she had to ask relatives to live with him in Lilongwe to access nursery and kindergarten school.
“Noting that I could afford to do this because I had the financial capacity left me feeling sorry for parents who could not afford to do likewise since the area had no provision of early childhood education services. This motivated me to do something to remedy the situation,” she says.
In 2018, she had the opportunity to go and study for an in-service training programme for foreign teachers where she was awarded a diploma in the Master’s Course of the Graduate School of Education in English Education at Kumamoto University in Japan.
There, Memory volunteered for the first time to teach little children English and the experience strengthened her conviction to embark on a project upon return, that would have a great impact on people in her own community.
After some research, the 36-year-old discovered that many children could benefit from early childhood education services.
This motivated her to start the Seed of Hope Community-based Organisation to provide such free services in rural communities.
The teaching and learning activities for the little ones started in October 2020 with three centres in Senior Group Village Head (SGVH) Nambamba’s area in Dowa and more were established at Pemba, Magantha, Manyowa and Msampha villages.
One more will open its doors in SGVH Chipuni’s areas, meaning that the organisation’s outreach programme is growing faster.
However, this spells out the need for more teaching volunteers as well as teaching and learning materials.
“Currently, we have more than 200 children benefitting from the Seed of Hope free ECD reach out programme. We call it a reach out programme because it is the teaching volunteers who go to the communities to teach children since they are young and cannot travel long distances,” says the third born of eight children in a family of Dr. and Mrs. Nyasulu.
When the programme was launched in October 2020, they had two teaching volunteers, but now there are 10, teaching the children at a time of their convenience, three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays).
And Memory is glad with the growing number of young people embracing the spirit of volunteerism.
“I personally teach together with the volunteers on my free days and in the afternoons after work. The volunteers either teach in the morning or in the afternoon at their convenience,” she says.
Memory was also glad that the children now grasp the concepts learnt and those that were scared in the early days are now used to coming for lessons and do not cause any problems while learning.
“As for the children who have started primary school, reports reach us that their performance is commendable and that they are not as difficult to teach as those who have never had any exposure to pre-primary school learning.
“It is also gratifying to see children who were once unable to answer a greeting in English now responding to instructions given in English, sing and play games; identify alphabet letters, numbers, colours, shapes as well as writing the same,” she says.
Such achievements serve as morale booster to the team as it is a manifestation of the positive impact of the programme on the children’s lives.
But despite all the positive outcomes, the challenges are equally many—the major one being lack of infrastructure.
“We do not have infrastructure for our teaching and learning activities. Currently, we have use church structures, people’s houses and even temporary tobacco shelters.
“This is a big challenge because when these places are being used for other activities, learning pauses until the venue is free. Other places have no windows and proper roofing and when it rains, lessons are also affected,”says Memory.
Apart from that, the teaching volunteers lack incentives due to financial constraints and occasionally as a director, she offers some, but feels they are meagre in comparison with the work that they do.
“Unfortunately asking for help from the communities would be a non-starter as they struggle to support their daily needs,” the mother of two explains.
As most of the teaching volunteers are secondary school students, she also helps by paying half of their school fees as part of the appreciation for their efforts.
Transport for the teaching volunteers to and fro the outreach centres is another challenge and most of them walk long distances to teach in their designated centres.
Memory believes bicycles would greatly help to ease this problem.
“With some help, I bought one bicycle and a well-wisher also donated four others that needed a bit of fixing. So as of now, four volunteers use bicycles while the rest walk.
“I wish to see every teaching volunteer having a bicycle to use because of the long distances they travel to conduct the lessons,” says the Likuni Girls Secondary School alumna who grew up in Lilongwe.
Memory also wishes there were free training opportunities for the volunteers to perform their teaching and learning activities, arguing that they were only provided tips on Early Childhood Education teaching and learning methods.
She says: “We have seen how helpful these tips are and wish we could have a well organised training session.”
Additionally, without any funding to support their activities, they do not have food to give the children, which is a big challenge as they cannot learn effectively on empty stomachs.
She also cites the need to sensitise parents on the importance of sending children for early childhood education.
“Despite our programme being free, it is sad that some parents do not send their children for lessons. To them, the learning of a child between 2-5 years old is not a priority. This is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”
Nonetheless, they have engaged the Seed of Hope Parents’ Community Volunteers’ committee members and the traditional leaders to reach out to such parents and sensitise the communities.