It has always been one of my great regrets that I never went to work as a teacher in South America or Africa or as we used to say when I was young “go on the missions”. So when the opportunity presented itself earlier this year I decided now is the time.
And so my husband Malachy and I are off to Malawi in Africa for a month this summer. We are going to work in Matandani Primary School which is situated in a small rural area approximately 19km from the nearest town of Zomba in the southeast of the country.
The Matandani Project started in 2012 when Andy Monaghan, an Irish primary school teacher, visited the school while travelling in the region. He saw that the school faced many challenges, eg, large class sizes, overwhelming poverty, inconsistent teacher attendance and performance, limited and antiquated resources, as well as gaps in basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and sanitation.
As a result of setting up this project a number of teachers from Scoil Bhride in Portlaoise where Andy works, have been going to Malawi every year during the summer holidays. They have contributed enormously to improving the learning environment for the young people in Matandani through the building of classrooms, working with teachers, improving basic facilities such as proper sanitation and clean water sources.
I have been lucky to work with these teachers on an educational behaviour programme called the PAX Good Behaviour Game and it was in the course of this work that I learned about the project in Malawi. And so begins our journey.
Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” because the people exude a warmth and friendliness that make visitors feel very much at home especially the elderly which will certainly be of benefit to Malachy and me as we are not in the first flush of youth. Malawi is among the poorest countries in Africa and has been ranked as one of the lowest performing nations for literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Only 35 per cent of children complete primary school and eight per cent complete secondary school due to responsibilities at home or illness such as malaria, TB, etc. Razak is nine years of age. He gets up at 4.30 every morning to go and fetch water for the house before he goes to school.
Dropping out is particularly common for young girls due to marriage, pregnancy and contracting HIV/Aids. Many of these children have already lost one or both parents to AIDS. Tamara is one such child. She is just 11 years pf age and lives with her uncle who is a tailor.
The pupil/teacher ratio can be as high one teacher per 130 students resulting in hugely overcrowded classrooms. As a result many children have to learn under trees outside which in turn leads to the high drop out rates. Malawi also suffers from a huge shortage of teachers due mainly to the cost of hiring teachers.
In order to attract qualified teachers, rural communities must provide them with housing which is an added burden to already disadvantaged communities. Therefore teachers lack motivation due to poor working and living conditions. For the last five years we have held a fundraising tea party in our home in Clarinbridge and thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our neighbours and friends they have raised more than €26,000 for a number of charities all of which have touched us personally in one way or another.
They include Alzheimers Association, Cystic Fibrosis Galway, Galway Hospice, Cancer Care West and last year Clarinbridge Community Playground.
However there is one tea party which stands out and will never be forgotten. My friend and neighbour Katie Joyce suggested we fundraise for Cancer Care West which continues to help her and many others recover from cancer. Katie, her family and the community raised almost €14,825 in the course of one day. It was an amazing achievement for a 19-year-old girl.
This year it is the turn of Project Malawi and so Mrs Doyle’s Tea Party is taking place on Friday May 3 in our home in Stradbally North, Clarinbridge from 11am to 7pm. It is not just a fundraiser but it is also an occasion for neighbours to come together for a cup of tea and a chat.
We have also been known to continue long into the night with a sing-song and much laughter which has contributed immensely to the success of the tea parties.
Malachy and I merely provide the premises while the neighbours do the rest including all the local businesses which provide us with raffle prizes and food supplies. Without them there would be no tea party. Every year brings its own heart-warming stories such as the young children who made brownies and lemonade last year and sold them on the side of the road. They arrived at our home with jam jars full of coins to the amount of €126.55.
We were overwhelmed not just by their generosity but also by their initiative to do such a thing. Then there’s Saoirse who sets up her pancake stall outside our house every year regardless of the weather and feeds all the young people with her yummy pancakes. This year we are adding another feature, a book stall, so instead of having your books piling up on your shelves, why not consider donating them to our tea party and help us raise even more money. Matandani.com is a registered charity (Charity No 20108182 / CHY22113 ).
However the project leader Andy pays all the costs associated with the charity. Therefore all funds raised go directly to the school. As volunteers we pay our own expenses, flights, vaccinations, accommodation, etc. Mrs Doyle’s Tea Party hopes to raise approximately €4,000 which will build a classroom and an office and will go a long way to reducing class sizes. The reaction so far from friends and neighbours has been great with many generous offers of educational resources and medical supplies coming our way.
It is a once in a life opportunity for Malachy and me. Your support for this project means you are giving the disadvantaged children in Matandani Primary School a valuable head start in their education. Please come along to our home on May 3 and bring your friends. You will be guaranteed a warm welcome, a hot cup of tea or coffee and lots of home made goodies.
“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. How right he was.