The Start of Something Special

Some adults see children and think of naughty, playful creatures. But Memory Meja of the farming village of Madziamanga in Lilongwe, her daughter has become her own teacher. This may not seem a might feat.

But for Memory, who abandoned school in grade six while she could not read and write, her daughter has helped her cover up for a lost past.

When she decided to take custody of the then 8 year old Ndaziona some five years ago, Memory did not know she was going to have a teacher right in her house. 

On top of her own two children, she decided to take an extra responsibility with Ndaziona in order to allow her young sister Mwandida to go and work as a domestic servant in the city, approximately 30 kilometres from this tiny but beautiful village.

“Someone had found her a job as a maid and we thought it would be difficult for her to go with Ndaziona since she was quite young”, recalls Memory.

In 2017, Memory got pregnant. She gave birth to twins, Ecclesia, a girl and Kelvin, a boy. Her responsibilities more than doubled. But during this busy period of breastfeeding and taking care of them at home, she came across another big prize of her life.

Ndaziona had just entered grade 5 at her Kam’pheratsoka school when her siblings were born in late 2017. She was working hard but still playful. Every time she came from school, she could spend some time helping her with taking care of the children apart from washing dishes. Then went to play.

In this Central Malawi village, children run around the village, playing all sorts of games. During the rainy season, when the village returns its lush of green that comes from its surviving forests, the village looks beautiful. 

Madziamanga, like all the other 11 villages, has no electricity, only grass thatched houses that use kerosene lamps when night comes- yet life here is vibrant.

But when World Vision resuscitated a reading camp in the village, in April 2018, Ndaziona fell in love with reading. The organization supplied them with reading materials and book banks which they used to create their own library.

The community’s primary school, Kampheratsoka, which receives learners from 11 villages surrounding it also provided them with other text books that were out listed from the national syllabus.

“All she started doing was come from school, eat and run to the camp”, recalls Memory, adding that she never thought of stopping her. She was happy as a parent to see her child committed to learning.

At the camp, just a stone throw from her house, Ndaziona joins 66 other children of various ages in reading and learning through various fun activities with the help of their camp leader Christopher M’dzuma.

“And when she returned from the camp, she would wash dishes and get back to her reading”, added Memory.

It was during these solo reading moments by her daughter that Memory got interested in reading. The loud readings rekindled her interest to learn and make up for the lost past. 

Outside their grass thatched, gray soil-painted house, she requested her daughter to teach her how to read and write. And that was the start of something special.

“I was happy when mother asked me to teach her”, says Ndaziona, smiling, as she peeled through her book borrowed from her reading camp’s book bank. She is looking for another story to read with her mother on their afternoon reading session.

Like always, they start with their faint shouting of alphabet vowels. Memory would like to learn many words so she can build her vocabulary. By the time she left school in the summer of 1996, she had not yet learnt to identify even the alphabet.

Today, Memory can write her name. She is also able to read, though slow, a feat that has excited her friends in the Chiyanjano Savings Group to which she belongs. 

Since she started reading, the group has been using her as a stand in secretary. She reads out names of people in the attendance register during their savings group meeting and helps with organizing reports.

Her big smile, from any angle you look at her, is a sign of a confident woman making the most of her second chance.

“I feel valued by the group”, she says as she reads through a story, ‘Kalulu Akana kukumba Chitsime’, in which the hare refused to take part in drilling a well but eventually benefited.

She say she has learnt, from the story, about the need to collectively work together to achieve more. She is applying those skills in her life.

“In the past I used to turn down leadership positions because I could not read and write. Today, I am putting myself up to lead others and I am happy to help”, she said, adding that she has also offered to lead in a group farming programme taking place in her village.

Like many girls in her community, school was for the boys, girls like her belonged in the kitchen.  With no certificate or special skills, Memory has spent all her years farming on her husband’s less than acre garden for food.

Memory’s reading prowess has inspired other women in the village, old and young, who want to try their chance at learning how to read and write in their old age.

World Vision’s Development worker for education interventions in Lilongwe, Isobel Jere, says the progress of Madziamanga Reading Camp is very inspiring. 

Together with the Primary Education Advisor for the Kabuthu Zone, Chrissy Tandani, they visit camps in this village to interact with the three volunteers they trained in managing reading camps.

“Even the performance of children from the villages that have these camps is very encouraging. The role parents are playing in the camps is helping prepare children for learning challenges in the formal classes which is very good”, said Chrissy.

Across Malawi, 124, 012 children are attending 1, 671 Reading Camps established by World Vision. 

Lilongwe alone has 66 Reading Camps that are attached to 22 Primary schools which are supplied with porridge by the World Food Programme, WFP, who have also funded World Vision for the ‘Unlock Literacy Project’.