To be a teacher is to submit oneself to a court of public opinion.
More so because, while some regard teachers as lazy, others treat them as paragons of knowledge— giving out more, in terms of effort, than the monetary compensation they get at the end of the month.
Teachers at Chingori Primary School, Nkando, in Mulanje fall in the latter category— proving, beyond measure, that teaching transcends class boundaries.
The teachers have touched hearts with their act of charity, especially when it comes to assisting Kondwani Wasi, a Standard Three learner who has not been treated fairly by circumstances.
The birth of 11-year-old Kondwani of Namankhunda Village, Traditional Authority Nthiramanja in Mulanje was least celebrated due to his condition.
His mother, Margret Mmangisa, explains that Kondwani’s father abandoned her two months after the birth of the child; a child whose birth attracted not applause or good will but all sorts of insults directed at her.
When Kondwani was born, his body was covered with wounds, such that clothes could stick to his body. Whenever he slept, parts of his fresh could stick to the mattress.
This challenge meant Kondwani’s life was always going to be associated with pain, threatening his academic future and general survival. Although Kondwani’s father left, the mother remained. It was her burden and she could not leave it in the hands of anybody.
At school, he was always alone as teachers and fellow pupils shunned him because they thought his condition was contagious. This forced him to abscond from classes such that, despite the passage of time, he is in Standard Three.
The learners he started with, when he reached the ripe old age suitable for school, are in Standard Six, two steps away from sitting Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations.
At 11 years, he has endured more pain than most adults. What, in life, can be more painful than being denied the opportunity to relate with others? But that is what Kondwani has been through, and he has only been here for 11 years.
Imagine, he could not play with friends; he could not sit properly in class; he could not perform in class. His general heath was dwindling.
His mother lost hope for his survival after knocking on the doors of almost all major hospitals in the country. Meanwhile, Kondwani continued to attract flies wherever he went— and goes.
“My husband left me because he suspects that there was something evil about him and he did not want to associate with evil,” explains 32-year-old Mmangisa.
Life for Margret and Kondwani has not been easy. Being a single mother, she has struggled to fend for herself. The mother jumped from one place to another in the eternal search for money to bail Kondwani out of his troubles.
To no avail. At least until she moved from Mthiramanja to Nkando. This meant that Kondwani would also relocate from Chisamba to Chingori Primary School.
At Chingori Primary School, Kondwani met a whole different set of teachers; human beings who understand that teaching is more than a means of making ends meet.
Quickly, and without hesitation, the teachers left their comfort zones to provide social and health support to their pupils on top of classroom work. This was the turning point in Kondwani’s life.
Kondwani is one of the many less privileged pupils at Chingori Primary School that receive support from teachers to aid their learning in class. With individual financial contributions, the teachers have, so far, managed to provide school uniforms to 54 learners in addition to other support which underprivileged learners get from the teachers.
In fact, after noticing that Kondwani was not doing well in class, the teachers mobilised themselves and started providing nutrition support, buying food for him and taking him to hospitals for medication when the need arose.
Ironically, the turning point for the teachers themselves came when calamity hit Nkando Trading Centre two years ago.
“In 2015, our school was negatively affected by floods. This led to some teachers being selected to under-go training in how to support learners in a special way in order for the learners to perform well in class. After that training, we sat down and identified children that needed special support and Kondwani is one of them,” says the school’s head teacher, Charles Chiromo.
Despite getting a salary that could, at best, be described as hand-to-mouth and facing an uninspiring workload every day, the teachers at Chingori are able to sacrifice some of their income to buy food such as eggs, milk, juice and other basic needs on top of spending their time following up on learners to see how they live at home.
“We did not give up on Kondwani. We kept on searching for medication such that we have been buying juice with medicinal elements and we are happy that our interventions have started producing results, such that Kondwani is now able to play with his friends. His class performance has also greatly improved,” Chiromo adds.
In keeping up with the expectations of their job, the teachers have been assisting Kondwani’s mother by giving her food rations on a monthly basis. The teachers also bought iron sheets for the family’s house.
The teachers do this despite facing all the demands that life can throw at them.
According to Unesco, Malawi has a total of 4.5 million learners enrolled in primary and secondary schools. About 3.7 million (83 percent) of these are in primary schools where the pupil to teacher ratio is 90 to one, against the desired ratio of 60 to one. This is an indication that teachers in Malawi are always over-burdened by work.
In the wake of such statistics, the teachers at Chingori Primary School have shown that it is possible to be socially responsible for pupils.
“We want to make sure that our learners are living in an environment which can help them perform well in class. Through this, we believe children such as Kondwani will one day be able to assist other people because they will have an example to refer to. This is the teaching we want our children to enjoy,” Chiromo explains.
As of Kondwani, the teachers have been told all sorts of stories regarding the origin of the skin problem. Whatever the explanation, the teachers are determined to help the boy.
“That is why we tried to improve his nutrition status before taking him to hospital. Currently, he is taking some medication for jiggers (matekenya) and juice with medicinal elements,” said Loveness Taulo, the school’s health and nutrition teacher who monitors Kondwani’s health on a daily basis.
Kondwani himself is impressed with the efforts of teachers at Chingori Primary School.
“In the other schools I have been to, teachers could not help me. Just like my fellow pupils, the teachers used to mock me and called me using derogatory names. But I am happy that the teachers are assisting me and my mother. My prayer is for God to continue assisting them so that they can help other people,” Kondwani says.
William Ward, one of the world’s renowned scholars, once said the mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains and the superior teacher demonstrates, while a great teacher inspires.
Chingori teachers do more than these.