‘With education, there can be nutrition, with nutrition there can be education’…
Each year in Malawi the growing season starts with the long-awaited rains, this year following the climax of the 10-year drought cycle. Once the crops are planted, then follows the annual famine, or ‘hungry season’; until the harvest, only the rich or educated, either with the money to buy supplies, or the knowledge and mobility, have been able to save enough from the previous harvest. Many, however, will have over-sold their produce in order to satisfy debt, school fees, costs of medicine, infrastructure, farming equipment, and other requirements of day-to-day living in one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the world, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture and foreign aid, plagued by corruption and inflation. Thus the seasonal cycle of poverty self-perpetuates.
The ’16-’17 ‘hungry season’ is predicted to see at least 6.5 million people – 39% of the projected population – unable to feed themselves sufficiently; almost half of that population will be under 14yrs old. As a result of infant malnutrition, around 50% of Malawians suffer from stunted growth. The children at Mkunkhu School were often without food for 4 days at a time during the hungry season. Education is the key to change, but to have the energy to go to school and learn, children need nutrition. LSU works to empower communities towards self-sufficiency and food security through sustainable projects that educate and elevate. Therefore, using a holistic approach, the Foundations for the Future Sustainable School model aims to provide a blueprint for other communities, leading by example.
The pilot for this project, in Mkunkhu, a 1hr-drive from Lilongwe, of which the last 15 minutes is overland, in a road-less, rural setting, where the soil is poor and sandy, lacked teachers because the community couldn’t feed them, when LSU arrived 2 years ago. There are now 7 teachers living in solar-powered houses on-site, saving them the 4hr walk each day. Last year, LSU worked alongside the Kusumala Institute of Permaculture to train Oliver to become the in-house permaculture expert, who now manages the Grow to Grow project and the school farm, as well as working across other LSU projects and with other schools and organisations.
The opening on Nov 15th of the school kitchen and outdoor classroom, where permaculture and nutrition will be taught as the food is unearthed, cooked and served, celebrated the successful cultivation and harvest of the school’s farmland. Using the principles of permaculture, Grow to Grow has produced enough to feed the 450 pupils throughout the coming ‘hungry season’, aiming to reduce the effect of famine on attendance and learning, whilst simultaneously empowering the community to become sustainable and food secure. Surplus crops have generated enough profits to help make the school and farm self-sufficient whilst solar-generated income subsidises running costs. The school is fast becoming a community hub where adults and children are seeing the effects of permaculture farming first-hand*.
Attending the school kitchen opening was the Landarani Trust CEO and country manager, the local MP, the TA traditional authority, the primary education adviser, all the village senior chiefs, parents and head teachers from the surrounding school. The ceremony was compered by LSU’s business project manager, Wiseman Luzako, and a speech from LSU’s Director of Operations, Gift, appealed to the teachers and village chiefs to look after the school and land, and the minister of education to support them in the process, making it known that school would eventually be independent of LSU. Short music and dance performances from the men and women of Mkunkhu punctuated the speeches and kept everybody in high spirits.
Then, the moment everyone had been waiting for… the children ran across to the new building, ready to be unwrapped of its royal blue ribbon, which was cordially cut by the head teacher. A feeding frenzy began as every child attempted to enter the building, at which point they were called into lines and waited patiently with their bowls to taste their first school-cooked meal. After bellies were filled, smiling faces returned to the marquee and traditional dancers performed to a now energised and rapt audience, closing the ceremony and leaving the dance-floor free for the boys and girls, men and women, of Mkunkhu and LSU to take over until the end of what can only be described as a very special day of celebration.
LSU wishes to thank Noisily, Lovebox, Secret Garden Party, Boomtown, Shambala, Wilderness, Gottwood, Red Radish, The Peoples Mantra, Love Specs, VE, Mr & Mrs Bridge, Mike, Alfonso, Llenna, Emma, and everyone else who’s shown love and support, for making this possible!