Reaper Ministries was initially approached about building and funding a school by Bishop Lemison Mbewe of Revival Church of God in Lilongwe during our visit there in 2007. The Bishop, who has since died, lived and ministered during his lifetime in one of the poorest areas of Lilongwe and told us that the best way out of the poverty that we could see round us on our visit was for the people to be educated so that they could begin to provide for themselves. Sadly, we were only able to partly fulfil his dream of a fully functioning primary school before he went to be with the Lord in 2011.
Primary schooling in Malawi is theoretically free, but there are insufficient school places because the Government does not have enough funding. Many children are unable to take up ‘free’ places anyway because their parents or guardians have to pay for uniforms, books, pens, pencils etc. Many families are subsistence farmers – making a meagre living from a small plot of land, with no spare money for those kinds of ‘luxuries’.
Good Hope Free School is targeted at these poor families. About a third of this year’s enrolment are orphans ( in Malawi that means either has one or no parents) and are being cared for by relatives. There is no statutory care for orphans, and if a child becomes parentless it is the job of the village chief to find the nearest relative who can take them in.
Malawi school system
Primary education starts at age 5 or 6 in Standard 1, and children progress through the standards only if they pass exams at the end of the year. Primary education is standards 1 to 8, so a child theoretically finishes primary schooling at 14 and is awarded a Malawi School Certificate of Education ( equivalent to UK ‘O’levels). In practice many children don’t finish primary at 14 – due to lack of money to be able to go to school consistently, or the lack of ability to pass through the grades. Secondary school (often called ‘college’) is grades 9 to 12 and culminates in a Malawi Secondary School Certificate ( A level equivalent)and further degree or diploma study is possible after that.
Good Hope Primary School – the foundations
A plot of land was purchased for the school in 2008, in area 25 of Lilongwe the capital city of Malawi. Lilongwe is a large sprawling city and area 25 is on the outskirts, about an hour’s journey by minibus (the main public transport) from the centre. The Education Department recommended that site for the school as it was within walking distance of 3 villages, and where further development was planned as Lilongwe expanded.
The foundations were laid for two classrooms shortly afterwards and in January 2009 the first intake of 120 children were accepted into a building with no doors and no window frames, and no furniture – such was the eagerness of parents to get children into school.
A third classroom was added in 2009 and a fourth was completed in early 2011.
New management was put in place at the school following our visit in 2012 as we found some irregularities in various aspects of the management of the school during our inspection, and the school is now thriving; with a high demand for places. Enrolment for the new school year which started in September 2013, was 360 children from Standards 1 to 5. Full registration with the Malawi Education Department has been achieved.
Due to lack of funding we have not yet been able to build another classroom. Standard 1, which has 170 pupils, is split in two, with half of the class being taught in a temporary shelter. Standard 5 children arrive for lessons after the Standard 1 children go home, at 11am. (School day starts at 7am!)
We have seven teachers – very ably led by Brian Mari Mauluka, and his deputy Yamikani Mwale. There are also two watchmen (security guards) and a gardener/caretaker. Brian is supported on a day to day basis by the Good Hope Parent Teacher Association, and regularly provides financial and other reports to the Reaper Ministries administrator in the UK.
The school follows the National Curriculum for each Standard. Standard One children learn Maths, English, Chichewa (the local language), Religious education and Expressive Arts.
Standard Two follow the same curriculum as standard one with the addition of Life Skills, and older children have Agriculture, and Social and Environmental Studies added. Science and Technology is included from Standard 5 upwards.
Finance and Accountability
The school is costing about £10,000 a year to run at present (though that fluctuates with the exchange rate). Most of that funding is donated in the UK by private individuals (supplemented by Gift Aid) and a company, plus some also comes from a primary school in Derbyshire which does non-uniform days and similar things to raise funds.
That £10,000 pays for …
- Salaries of 7 teachers, 2 watchmen and 1 caretaker .
- Supplying Text books, exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers etc for over 300 children and
- Paying for the Water supply, and doing building maintenance!
Admin in the UK is done by volunteers.
On our annual visit to the school we inspect the books and paperwork, plus interview the teachers, and look at samples of the children’s work to assess standards. Monthly financial reports are required from the school , and funds are only released into the school bank account on a monthly basis. Teachers are paid direct to their own bank accounts.
Reaper Ministries, as a charity, is accountable to its donors for the use of funds entrusted to it, and to the Charity Commission.
Many of the children come to school without having had a meal (and many will not get a meal when they go home either). We have begun the process of making links with the Scottish charity Mary’s Meals, with a view to being able to be included in one of their future feeding programmes for schoolchildren in Malawi
Many of the parents/guardians of the children at the school are illiterate or semi illiterate and there has been interest expressed in an adult literacy programme at the school. Watch this space!
The next phase of building development is a block which will house a classroom, two staff rooms and a store room (at present staff use cupboards as staff rooms). We are part-way to raising the £5000 needed for that.
That will be followed by a further three classroom block, to take the school up to the full size of 8 classrooms, and that can be done in stages. Long term plans also include solar power so that the school can have laptops for each of the older classes, with internet access, and lighting so that the building can be used in the evening if needed (that will also help with security).
Apart from a very small sum which is being raised at the school through a small shop, all the money needed for the school has to be raised in the UK. We are very grateful to all those individuals, UK schools and companies, who have donated money to enable the development so far.
Pictures of the school staff and students