Written by our Commercial Director, Paul, during his recent trip to Malawi with the World Duty Free team.
We had an early start on our second day in Malawi to get to Nasundu School. We wanted to be there early to help with the school breakfast, which is maize (corn) porridge. Maize is one of the primary crops in Malawi and the bedrock of much of the nutrition. This particular porridge (known as phala) is fortified with soya, vitamins & minerals (and usually a little sugar) to make it extra healthy & tasty.
The only way to reach Nasundu School is to cross a river; barren during the dry season and a torrent during the wet season. Six years ago, the school’s headteacher, a mother and her 4 children drowned trying to cross the river. Having heard this awful story, World Duty Free stepped in to work with The One Foundation to build a bridge, ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again. As we crossed, the irony that the water they needed so badly had taken six lives hung heavy around us.
Nasundu School educates 512 children (aged between 4 & 16), employs 5 teachers and a headteacher named Kenneth. Kenneth, who, as all great headteachers are, is a multi-tasking extraordinaire. After 6 years at Nasundu School, he has a strong connection with his students as well as clearly defined boundaries & cast iron discipline. The children there seemed genuinely happy, full of energy and fiercely inquisitive.
Kenneth, his team and the framework of the school play a part in the future of Malawi, and if this school is representative, the future is indeed bright.
After breakfast we began working with the teachers and the children on some water & sanitation “basics”; from what source and where is it safe to drink water, to what you can do if you are forced to drink water from what could be an unhealthy source. In addition, we attended introductory lessons in how boreholes and pumps work, and the simple mechanics of being able to strip down, make basic repairs & then reassemble a pump.
By mid morning (break time), the temperature had reached somewhere north of 30°C. Naturally, this meant it was time for a football match on the school’s football pitch. The pitch was a dustbowl from a distance, but much worse on closer inspection. There were crevices to twist ankles, stones to shred skin, and the surface had a slippery, sandy, gravel texture. It was a Malawian astro turf without the grip.
Regardless of this, we were able muster a fine team of 4 Brits (aged 35 – late 50s), 3 NGO locals (mid 20s) and Kenneth. We would obviously be gentle and sportsman like against Kenneth’s pupils. Then running on to the pitch came 8 of the school’s 16 year old pupils in full, near pristine, West Ham kit that had previously been donated to them (as a Chelsea fan, usually a welcome sight, although at that moment I suddenly felt less confident). Tall, athletic and clearly not interested in showing us any mercy! Our secret weapon in the end was the referee, who was “one of us”.
The match itself was obviously of the highest standard and will remain amongst football scouts across the world as being the game they most wished they had been at when asked on their deathbed. The result was a 2-2 draw; somehow, when we were 2-1 down, our local hero, Bannis, scored a goal that will go down in the history of Malawian football as a top 10 strike. Honour was even(ish) and we retired to one of the classrooms, to recover (some requiring more time than others)! Wonderfully, the previously terrifying, strapping, 6-foot-something Malawian 16 year old boys had discovered a pot of bubbles to blow. It sounds terribly patronising, but they had gone from boys to men, back to boys again in less than one hour.
Fully recovered we set off on the 2 mile trek back down from Nasundu School, across the river, back to our trucks.
Two miles however, is less than half what many of the children do each day to get to school, come rain or shine.
But we now know that when it rains, even in the wettest of wet seasons, all of the children will get safely to school and home again each day thanks to the bridge funded by World Duty Free and The One Foundation.