Malawi Trip April 2022 – Report 4

Malawi Trip April 2022 – Report 4 – St Montfort School

Having recently returned from Malawi, Geoff Yeldham has written about the successes of the April
2022 trip. This is the final report. Report 1 – Mulanje Mission Hospital. Report 2- Existing eye units.
Report 3 – Transporting equipment.

The final days of my trip were spent at St Montfort school in Nguludi. The charity has worked with the school for many years and uses it as a base for its blind football projects.

The school offers primary education to around 800 children. There is a wide age range of pupils, as progression on to the next year is dependent on exam results. There are about 50 blind learners at the school, who board in accommodation a short walk away.

We met with the headmaster, Clement Kaleso, and expressed how happy we were to be back at the school after such a long time. Mr Kaleso told us about how the school had dealt with the pandemic and thanked us for the support that we had provided. He also explained to us that three of the school’s four special needs teachers had been “promoted” since we had last visited and now had jobs at secondary schools. The career progression of teachers in Malawi follows the same pattern as the children; in order to gain more prestige and a greater salary they are promoted from teaching at a primary to a secondary school, and then on to a college or university. While this reflects well on the training that the teachers themselves receive at St Montfort, losing three highly skilled individuals in such a short space of time will clearly have a significant impact on the education of the blind learners.

Mr Kaleso took us to visit the accommodation block. Although the walk from the school is only about 5 minutes, it is on a narrow, uneven path with no lighting. In 2019, Sight 2020 funded the construction of a toilet block at the accommodation – prior to this the children would have had to make their way back to the school if they needed the toilet during the night. Seeing the route for the first time me a far clearer idea of what a challenge this would have been and how much of a difference the toilet block has made. Additionally, I was able to inspect the boundary wall for the first time. The wall is far larger than I had appreciated and encloses the whole accommodation compound. Mr Kaleso explained that parents who had previously been worried about sending their children away to be educated were now confident that they would be safe while boarding at the school.

We discussed our ongoing plans for the blind football programme with Mr Kaleso and the sports master, Thokozani Kanyong’o. Our long term aim is to introduce blind football to schools throughout Malawi and to host a national blind football tournament at St Montfort. In November 2019 we had organised a two day training course for teachers from 8 schools across the region and provided them with the kit needed to start teaching blind football. The intention had been to work more closely with these teachers and to provide support and advice as they introduced the sport to their schools, but this was severely limited due to the pandemic. We had also hoped to have had two further training camps by this point and to have invited teachers from across the whole of Malawi. With restrictions now easing we were keen to push forward with these plans and we agreed a date with Mr Kaleso for November to train the next group of teachers.

Mr Kanyong’o told us of the school’s own plans to level an area of land behind the school to create a permanent football pitch. He explained that the main aim was to create better facilities for all the pupils at the school, but that they would also be able to hire out the pitch at weekends to generate some additional funds. They have already begun work on the project, clearing some trees and looking into the practicalities of building a small stand for spectators. This kind of facility would obviously be ideal for blind football tournaments in future, and we will look to provide support where we can.

We organised a party for the blind learners on the final day and provided food and drink for them. Mr Kanyong’o arranged sports activities in the afternoon, such as goal ball and relay races, as well as blind football. The other children at the school were keen to stay and cheer on their classmates. After watching a competitive game of football between the children, we were invited to try blind football for ourselves. Just from watching I was already incredibly impressed with the skill of the children and they way in which they were able to locate the ball and other players. Once I was blindfolded I discovered that even basic things were nearly impossible for me, such as knowing where I was on the pitch and having the confidence to run without being able to see what was in front of me. At one point Mr Kanyong’o had to redirect me as I ambled off the pitch and into the spectators!

Blind sport is something that can make a significant difference to the lives of the visually impaired children. At a basic level it is just good fun – the children get a great deal of enjoyment out of playing which in itself makes it a worthwhile activity. It also a form of physical therapy and helps them to build confidence, fitness and co-ordination. On a societal level it can also have a positive impact, as it challenges some of the widely held perceptions about children with disabilities. Seeing blind children running after and kicking a football emphasises the potential that they have when given the correct support and training.

I am very grateful for the time I spent in Malawi. I had the opportunity to meet and build relationships with inspiring people such as Mr Kaleso and Dr Glas, who I had only interacted with virtually. I was able to see the positive effects of previous projects and felt we made good progress towards setting up the eye clinic in Mulanje. Malawi is beautiful, with stunning landscapes and delicious fresh fruit! I look forward to returning in the near future, to continue supporting the great things that are being done in the country and to have a chance to work on my blind football skills.

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