Building a school

Not just a good team, but a great team!

My first visit to the school in Luvuwu had been signalled by Harisen, so when we arrived on March 7 at about 10am the crowds had gathered, the chief, school principal, school board, teachers , students, women, men, gogos and of course Frank the African doctor: all colourfully clad, in their feet, and singing.
What a welcome.
Since the original picture of the school was taken in October, the community had managed to get EU funding for two classrooms, so we had our meeting in one of the new rooms.
There were four chairs from the principal’s house, so Harisen and myself got three (one for the cameras). The women and children sat on the floor and the men sat on pieces of wood from the forest.
I has introduced as his excellency and Harisen as the man of God who had taken the picture which first attracted the interest of the students from DIT, and which had brought us here.
After all the speeches (and they do talk) I got to the point fairly quickly: We were here to build a school and outlined what was needed on the blackboard.
They should supply the bricks and labour and we would bring cement, timber and metal sheets to the party.
The vital date March 31 was in big writing, we had to be finished by then. Could they do it? Of course they could. When asked about the need to bring outside bricklayers, four men stood up and were positive that they could do it, Plastering, carpentry and roofing? No problem.
After some debate among themselves they decided to begin on Monday, but I said they had to start today and pointed to March 31 at which all the women cheered and clapped. One old granny even got up and did a little dance.
Then I knew we had chosen our community well.
They should begin collecting bricks and sand, AH but what about cement. We will have it here before 6am tomorrow, Says I. (checking quietly with Harisen).
(In fact we delivered it about 3 hours later, just in case!!)
I did my best drawings, giving dates for each stage: The women danced, we shook hands and shock hands….not the simple wobbles you get at 9 o clock mass, but the real triple Malawian job.
After the Ambassadors Paddy’s Day Celebration, loading Catriona’s half ton of Luggage and the long drive north from the airport, we arrived in Luvuwu early on Thursday morning, March 20 to find the place a hive of activity, people everywhere, some walls built to roof level. Wow!!
Ten DIT students, jumped out of the 4×4 Hiace, (yes 4×4) like the arrival of the A Team, on a mission. They shake hands, lift babies and are totally at home in about 15 seconds.
The atmosphere was electric. The feeling spread that these 10 white Paddies meant business and the tempo was visibly raised. The fact that Chris, Dave and Liam were Business students or that Paul and Stefan would soon be Auctioneers and Valuers made no difference. The fact that Elaine, Emma, Ali and Triona had soft white hands and had never seen a hoe was immaterial. No one cared that Michael will be a Mechanical engineer next year.
Help was at hand. Someone cared enough to come all that distance.That was enough.
Anyone who saved hay in the West of Ireland, as I have, in the late 50’s will know the feeling, late in the evening of a long day, and some neighbours arrive to help make the last few cocks, everyone got a boost of energy. Just the same way, I feel our arrival inspired the community to greater effort.
When we left on Friday March 28, my comment could be, like the A Team, I love it when a plan comes together! Against all the odds and obstacles they had built a 3 classroom school in two weeks, (the pictures, on Flickr.com tell the story).
What did we do?: Nothing magical, we just did the good neighbourly thing, we were friends in need. We enabled them to box above their weight, somehow we inspired them to achieve what they had been convinced by years of well meaning AID that they couldn’t do. There was no outside expertise other than a little planning. They will now achieve more, on their own, with a little hand up when needed, from their Irish Cousins, in DIT.
I feel this could be the beginning of a lasting friendship. Just ask any of them.
The spin offs were many:
I didn’t mention the school garden.
Or Mary and Liam’s venture into the Community care of HIV/Aids patients and the setting up of a support group. Or Mary’s relentless pursuance of the Mary’s Meals man.
Or the fact that Triona showed everyone how to cuddle babies and Michael taught football skills amidst the pandemonium, or that Ali, Emma have become experts on hoeing, or that Paul showed everyone the simple logistics of moving bricks, or that Stef has a future in landscaping, or that the skills Elaine learned on route to an All Ireland Women’s Club Football winners medal, can be put to good use in one of the most remote places on the globe.
Chris did an amazing observation on the position of boys in a community, put simply, that they have no status. As a result I have asked the Chief to give the 12 to 20 year old boys a piece of land on which to work. It looks like the decision will be favourable.
The big transformation came with Dave who became a real bogger, able to hoe, build fences, get the boys to work and carry water on his head. All this from a Blackrock boy!.
We are proud of you all and what you have managed to achieve. If they in any way represent our Irish youth, then our future is in good hands.

Finally, a view from Brian O’Brien first secretary at the new Irish Embassy:
I hope you had a good journey back, and the weather isn’t too hard to bear after your stay in Malawi. It really was a pleasure to meet you and the students the night before you left. Thanks again for inviting me. The students were an inspiration and were great ambassadors for Ireland, it was great to hear that they had such an impact on the community in which they worked.

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