Victor Chinyama is the Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Malawi.
Last week I delivered 100 desks to Chimwala Primary School in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. This was the first batch of desks to be delivered by UNICEF under the Kids In Need of Desks (K.I.N.D) project.
I had spent the previous day at M&G Industries, one of the two local manufacturers we have selected through a competitive public tender to produce 46,000 desks with money from K.I.N.D. The factory was buzzing as scores of workers set about their tasks with precision: steel pipes were bended, welded together, and sprayed with a jet black paint, block boards were sanded and varnish-sprayed to give them that glossy look, and nails and screws were driven hard into the boards to affix them to the steel frames. About 200 desks were made that day.
|Eighth graders at Chimwala Primary School in Malawi sit on desks for the first time in their lives. View the entire photo essay on flickr.|
These desks were part of the first order we have made from the $1.9 million in K.I.N.D funds raised to date.
Moshin Musa, a director at M&G, told me that this is the largest purchase of desks he has ever received and he was employing 20 more people to increase his capacity. In a country where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day and jobs are hard to come by, the K.I.N.D project is not only taking kids off the floor but also creating jobs and enabling poor families to put food on the table.
Chimwala School has a population of 3,000 students. It has only 8 classrooms, forcing 12 classes to be held in the open under trees. I’ll never forget the scene when we arrived. Upon seeing the truck, the children spontaneously broke into song and ululation, never mind that they were in class. The head teacher, Ms. Aluchy Zintambila, her voice breaking with emotion, could only exclaim, “This is a miracle! It is a miracle. This has never happened in a long time. We are very happy, too happy. I don’t know how to express myself.”
I too fought back tears. I thought about the individuals who have donated to K.I.N.D and wished they were here in that moment to see the joy on those children’s faces. Eighth-grader Jacqueline Jairos told me it’s the first time she was sitting on a desk. “Now, I feel happy coming to school knowing I’ll sit comfortably on a desk and my clothes will not get dirty.”
In a show of appreciation, the school staged a ceremony, the kids and teachers singing and dancing for us. They recited poems and sang, “may the people who have done this live for a long time.” The village chief was there, so were members of the parent-teachers’ committee. In all my 13 years working with UNICEF, I have never seen a day quite like this.