With nutrition there can be education, with education there can be nutrition – the Sustainable School.
How 2 dilapidated classrooms in one of the poorest, rural communities in Malawi, were transformed into a fully sustainable and thriving school, feeding 450 pupils every day and paying for teaching materials and farm labourers….
Malawi’s population is the 2nd fastest-growing in the world, with around 45% are under 14yrs old. School life-expectancy is 11yrs old. The economy is dependent on a struggling agricultural industry. When times are tough, families are likely to send their children to work in the fields. 29% of children are engaged in labour and girls are sent into early marriages. During the ‘hungry season’, whilst crops are growing, 35% of the population (around 6.7 million) have no food security.
In 2014, when LSU arrived atMkunkhu School, 1 qualified and 2 volunteer teachers, were paid in maize to teach up to 600 pupils. In 2015, thanks to the fundraising efforts of Rudimental and efforts of PH Hughes builders and volunteers, LSU built 3 school blocks, a toilet block, and 5 solar-powered teacher houses, (saving them a 4hr commute). 2 bore-holes were dug and provides clean water for the entire community as well as, later, thirsty banana plants!
The school had a 60% drop-out rate; 30% of children went to school without breakfast and only 10% of pupils ate anything at all during the day. During ‘hungry season’, some kids ate as little as 1 meal in 4 days. This took its toll – we all know how hard it is to concentrate with an empty stomach.
Money was raised for a sustainable farm on the school land. The aim was to make the school self-sufficient and reduce the impact of famine on attendance and learning. LSU hoped for the school to become a community hub and encourage adoption of sustainable farming.
Oliver trained as LSU’s permaculture expert and cultivated the poor sandy soil with amazing results… The 2016 harvest produced enough maize, soya, moringa, sweet potato and cassava, to feed the children and teachers twice a week. A school kitchen was then built. Permaculture and nutrition is taught, as food is unearthed, cooked and served. In the first term of the feeding program, attendance rose by 30%!
In 2017 LSU extended the farm from 4 to 10 hectares. Since the harvest in April, the 450 pupils have been fed every day by the school kitchen! Profits from surplus crops pay for teaching materials, farming resources and labourers, making it fully sustainable.
LSU provides mentoring to ensure the school land is managed properly and challenges are met. A School Management Committee has the support of the village chiefs. Oliver has led a 10-day workshop with members of the community, teachers and labourers.
The School, increasingly a community hub, hosts other LSU programs, including Adult Literacy and Mother-Baby Wellbeing classes. LSU piloted the Teach to Teach peer-training program at Mkunkhu. The volunteer teachers are now being funded through their official teacher training.
Making Mkunkhu School sustainable is one of our greatest successes so far and wouldn’t have been possible without you! Jobs have been created, the community are sustainably farming their own land, and the school is self-sufficient. The department of School Health and Nutrition have recommended that the government expand the school site so more children can benefit, and are recommending the scheme. Hopefully other schools and NGOs in developing countries will adopt a similar model, achieving LSU’s goal to create a blueprint for sustainable education.
*Note – since an armed robbery of the school in Spring 2017, by a group also targeting other NGOs in the area for solar panels and pumps, the solar power system has been moved from the school to a secret location. The community continue to benefit from it through other LSU initiatives, whilst the school’s revenue stream enables it to power itself.
Next to receive a sustainable farm is Tilinanu Orphanage, aiming to make it 75% self-sufficient.
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