During the past two weeks, Danny and I have been teaching at the Adult Education Initiative (AEI). Although we have been the teachers, it has been a definite learning curve, opening our eyes to the education system in Malawi and the role programmes like the AEI play in filling gaps.
Teresa Duwesi is a student in Standard 3. She’s 34, a mother of three and works as a farmer. Along with balancing childcare and work she finds time to walk to Kwatukumbuchire where she is taught English, Maths and Chichewa between 2.00pm and 4.30pm.

In Malawi, education is free up to primary level. Inevitably, people drop out of secondary school as their parents are unable to keep up with the fees – 3000-3400 Malawian Kwacha a term. Other reasons include early marriages and the need to work to support their family.

Teresa tells us that she left school due to lack of support – no school uniform and books. But leaving school at an early age does not mean the end of education and the AEI plays a vital role in helping adults who have been in similar situations. A student at the AEI for 2 months, she told us that it has helped her by increasing her knowledge and refreshing her memory.
Working at the AEI definitely brings to light the challenges the people here face. For us back home, materials like flip chart paper and textbooks, are just there. At secondary school, I had never given a thought to where my Maths textbooks or English Anthology came from, who bought it or was it difficult to get. It was just there for me to use.

The AEI find it difficult to source such materials  as shown by the fact that although supposed to be in Standard 5, Teresa attends a lower class as there are no books for that level. It is difficult to see how we can help, when a major part of the puzzle is missing?

Despite these problems, there is hope. With an education, Teresa hopes that she can pass her exams and gain certificates which will help her when searching for a job.

The teaching team’s hope is tied to their faith, as Angella (the Standard 2 & 3 teacher) says: ‘We survive by the grace of God’.

Whether it is teaching the alphabet to Standard 1 as I have been doing, or teaching the tricky rules of plurals and singulars as Danny has been doing, we hope that our work contributes to Progressio’s ethic  of people powered development.

Barbara Eze writes for ICS volunteers Liwonde Lions.

Photo: Barbara (left) and Danny (second from right) during their in-country orientation, pictured with Rev Gilbert Momora of partner organisation MANERELA, ICS volunteer Sammy, and Progressio's Head of Programmes, Osvaldo Vasquez.