Monday, 11 January 2016

Magical Moments in Malawi

Here I am with some of the students at Lilongwe Girl's School and their Deputy Head Mrs Ngozo

On my first visit to Malawi something wonderful happened.  As part of ABE’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme, we donated 150 bags of Maize to schools in Malawi this December.  I was given the honour of presenting the donation to Lilongwe Girls’ School.  I was expecting to meet Dr Abraham Sineta, the Education Division Manager for Central West Division and indeed I did so.  Dr Sineta was very gracious and received the donation on behalf of the schools.

What I was not expecting was that all the young ladies of Lilongwe Girls’ School would give us a joyous welcome by greeting us in united song – a sound so beautiful it resonated around the school like a choir of angels.  It was the most exhilarating feeling to walk through 450 girls singing at the top of their voices. The sound set my pulse racing and I knew I would never forget this moment.

I climbed the steps on the stage and surveyed the scene in front of me.  I saw hundreds of young, eager faces, all waiting for the speakers to enthral them.  They greeted their deputy head mistress Mrs Ngozo in traditional school girl fashion – “Gooood Mor-ning Missus N-gozo’ they chanted in unison.  Mrs Ngozo thanked ABE for the donation and said that it would be helpful in stretching the school’s limited resources.  Then without further ado she introduced me.

I stood up and went towards the front of the stage. Lots of the girls were shushing and hushing their friends so that everyone could hear me.  I took a deep breath and said ‘Hello girls!’  Smiling back at me was a sea of excited faces, their eyes wide open and glistening. “I want to tell you a secret. Malawi is ABE’s favourite place. Do you want to know why?” I asked?

“Yes!” they all cried, laughing and nodding their heads.

“It is because Malawi has the best students in the world,” I said, “And not only do you have the best students in the world, but out of those best students, the girls are doing better than the boys!”
This is a phenomenon we have noticed recently at ABE. Out of our prize winning papers, 2/3rds are submitted by girls.  Clearly we are delighted by the girls’ performance but we want our boys to perform just as well, so we need them to study hard.

“You young ladies have the potential to achieve anything you want,” I told the girls, “all you need to do is work hard, believe in yourselves and know that you deserve to do well. You are the business women of the future and I look forward to seeing you on the world stage when you’re grown up.”

The girls were incredibly kind to me and gave me a fantastic round of applause. Then, I handed over to my colleague Pride Sinkala who talked to them about becoming entrepreneurs.

“Don’t focus on getting a job, “ he said, “Think about creating jobs.”

Pride explained that entrepreneurs can start small.  He gave them a suggestion of par-boiling beans and packaging them in pretty jars, so that time-pressed mothers could produce meals more quickly for their hungry offspring. The girls were really inspired by his speech and many of them gathered around him afterwards for more ideas.

After Pride spoke we heard from Harlod Banda, our representative in Malawi. Harlod discussed the many benefits of studying ABE – namely that our qualifications equip learners with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. He said he hoped that many of the Lilongwe girls would progress onto ABE qualifications.  Then it was my turn to make the presentation to Dr Sineta. He talked about how important education is, and made the good point that in order to study successfully, young people need to be well fed so they can concentrate properly.

After all the speeches we walked down the steps from the stage and back through the girls.  They were so positive, welcoming, warm and generous with their applause.  What a privilege it was to be among them.  Mrs Ngozo then showed us around the school and introduced us to the staff.  We also met some of the young ladies whose lives were impacted by disability. They were working quietly and diligently on their studies, and were perfectly gracious to us despite our intrusion.

Finally, I had my picture taken with Mrs Ngozo and some of the students. We had a discussion with the head girl about writing a good business case and I told her about the one-page version which my colleague Maria Koukou recommended (shown below).

Visiting the school made me excited about what those young ladies will go on to achieve. I would like to thank them for the warm welcome they gave us and wish them the very best for the future.

By Kate Winter, January 2016

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