School building

Dilapidated, inadequate school buildings

When I started visiting some of the primary schools, I quickly realised that they needed much more than just assistance with buying exercise books and pencils. There are far too few classrooms for the teachers and children to work in anything approaching comfort or in some cases even to work at all. Very few primary school classrooms have furniture. Some are structurally dangerous. They suffer from leaking roofs, unfinished floors, missing windows, and uneven and pitted floors.

Mwanazanga Primary School

At Mwanazanga Primary School, a volunteer had paid to have four grass roof shelters erected (like the one at Chinjika on the photo to the left). When I arrived in December 2016, two of them had collapsed in the rains. A month later, the other two were down as well.

Collapsed grass shelters at Mwanazanga Primary, January 2017

The First New Block

The picture below shows Mwanazanga Primary School in January 2017. There were just 2 school blocks on the right (you can see just the far end of one of them), a small hut where porridge is prepared for the children each morning, and a 3rd block in the centre of the picture. Each block has 2 rooms, so there were 6 classrooms in total for the school's then 1,400-odd students.

Mwanazanga Primary December 2016

The need was so obvious, and the cost so small by UK standards, that it seemed ridiculous not to try to build replacement classrooms at the school. Within two weeks, I had costed a full schedule of materials, and appointed contractors for the work. By February 2017 it was under construction, with the assistance of a locally appointed management committee and project manager. It was completed in May 2017.

Digging foundations for the new classroom block at Mwanazanga
March 2017
The picture below shows the scene behind the trees in July 2017. The building to the right of the tree is the one you can see in the picture above: the one with the shiny clean white windows on the left is the first of our new blocks.

Of course we had to have an opening ceremony and a "tent" for VIPs. And chairs brought on bicycles from a neighbouring school - and some from the house I stay at.


And of course I had to have a dress for the ceremony - somewhat improbably bought in a sudden panic in Blantyre.


The lady in blue is the Primary Education Adviser for the district.

And there was singing and dancing, of course, as well as lots of speeches, a formal ribbon cutting, and an internal inspection.


The Jimu Chief

Cutting the ribbon with the District Education Manager

 And inspecting the rooms

The 2 classrooms were in use the following day.

With the knowhow, knowledge and experience we had gained, and - wonderfully - enough money in the bank to do it, I was able to commission another block almost immediately. The foundations were being dug as I left the village on my way home on 7th July.

The 4 classrooms have cost £5,500 - £6,000, including labour, materials, and transport.

The 2 new school blocks at Mwanazanga primary school as at December 2017
A third block is due for completion in December 2018. That doubles the size of the school and brings to 12 the number of classrooms for the school's 1,600+ children.

The third block, October 2018

Internal plastering November 2018

Using cement and quarry dust for a really strong finish

Mpasa and Mlirankhunda Primary Schools

At Mpasa Primary there was a different problem. A government funded classroom block (the usual pattern is 2 classrooms to a block) had been started, and never finished. The children were sitting on half bricks, with windows open to the pouring rain and hot sun. For less than £300, MSP has been able to pay for the floors and windows to be completed, for the walls to be painted and a new blackboard to be installed. £300 goes a long way in Malawi!

These are the classrooms at Mpasa Primary which we completed - new floors, windows, blackboards and paint. Have a look at the bottom 2 pictures of the children sitting in windowless rooms on chunks of brick.

A classroom as used by the children at Mpasa Primary School,
January 2017. The adjoining room was the same.

And we have replaced a leaking roof at Mlirankhunda Primary School. Enough of the old tiles have been salvaged to enable us to repair 3 other roofs at Mlirankhunda, which had also been leaking.