A Surprise Grateful Song

By Chifundo Banda, Education Coordinator, buildOn Malawi

Chifundo shares a heartfelt story from the field about the impact of our Adult Literacy Program (and a must-see video from our students!)

It was the 3rd of June 2024 on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I was still in the office finalizing the day’s work, largely report writing and data entry. Then as soon as I finished my last entry I heard my wrist watch sounding an alarm. I checked and it was exactly 12 o’clock midday. 

“Oops! I have to pack my laptop and other things for lunch lest I get late for field work,” I muttered to myself.  I hurriedly packed my laptop in the bag, then quickly confirmed my work plan which indicated monitoring the adult literacy class at Vyeyo school as my next activity. 

Adult literacy classes commence at 2pm and end at 4pm, so monitoring is also done within that specified period of time. I dashed out of the office to grab a meal that would last me the rest of the day during my work in the field––some nsima with boiled ‘utaka’ (a type of small fish in Malawi which is loved by many because of its affordability, particularly those who cannot afford elite relish.) With nsima, it is so yummy especially when you eat it roasted.

Utaka, a beloved Malawian dish, is dried fish that is either boled or roasted on open fire.

While eating my lunch, I began to visualize my field trip to Vyeyo School where I would do monitoring of our adult literacy classes. My means of transport was a motorbike which usually takes me about 1 hour to reach the destination, only if the speedometer is commanded to hover around 70 to 80 km per hour. So I speedily finished my lunch, got on my motorbike, and soon galloped into thin air, leaving a cloud of dust behind me. I did not need to stop at any gas station as my bike was already loaded with enough fuel for the trip. I continued accelerating hard into the dusty, bumpy road leaving shivers of wonder in whosoever saw me in such a speedy, perilous ride. I was only mindful of the time and nothing else.

Boom, there we go! At 2:30pm I finally landed at Vyeyo School. I softly started applying brakes on my fast moving motorbike while throwing my eyes around the school premises to check if all the adult literacy classes had started. Casting my eyes through the classroom windows, I noticed the participants inside, so indeed classes had started and I was late.

I climbed down the motorbike, removed my wind coat, perched it on the motorbike handles, and rushed to the classroom. This was a Chichewa class taught in vernacular language. Apart from this class, there was also an English class in progress in another room. I had to monitor both classes and so I started with the Chichewa class. I found the facilitator teaching about ‘deforestation and its negative effects’. 

“What are the ways forests are damaged?” the facilitator asked the learners while I sat at the back of the classroom listening to the unfolding lesson.“It is through burning charcoal, fetching firewood, and also the opening of new farms,” responded one of the learners. 

Everybody then clapped their hands in response. After that, the facilitator changed to arithmetic where he wrote some arithmetic problems on the chalkboard and later helped the learners solve them. I noticed some learners struggling to solve the arithmetic problems, but I didn’t mind because they were still learning and that was the sole reason they were there. I continued taking my observation notes which would be discussed with the facilitator after the end of the lesson. It was a nice Chichewa class!

Adult Literacy participants in Vyeyo work on their English lessons.

As time went by, I switched to the other classroom to monitor the English class. I quietly entered the room and sat at the back. The learners were doing reading comprehension so I found them busy reading a paragraph that talked about deforestation along the river banks. I noted it was the same topic which I observed in the Chichewa class. One by one, they read a paragraph and answered the questions that the facilitator was posing. I was interested in seeing how these adults learn to read English words and sentences. 

Just as their colleagues in Chichewa class, they too struggled, especially in pronouncing some of the English words. For instance: ‘river banks’ was pronounced as ‘river bus’ while some learners pronounced it as ‘river bakis’. The facilitator tried to read with them so many times but still, no one managed to pronounce it right. It was a funny scene but I quickly reminded myself that laughing is not allowed when adults are learning. After all, these are adults who dropped out of school a long time ago and we just need to help them learn.

It was 4:17pm and apparently classes were coming to an end as the facilitator started wrapping up the lesson. I glanced out of the window and noticed that Chichewa class too was winding down, so I walked out to bid farewell to the Chichewa adult learners and discuss my lesson observation notes with the facilitator. In no time, I went back to the English class to again say goodbye to the learners.

As soon as I had finished my farewell remarks and signed the visitor’s book, I turned towards the door while waving goodbye to the learners. It was at this point when I heard one of the learners shouting out loud, “Chifundo, before you leave, please, we have a surprise!” I was amazed and astonished, wondering what kind of surprise they had for me. I immediately stepped back in front of them. “Really, what surprise?” I asked curiously. “Look at the chalkboard,” they laughed, while pointing. I turned my head to see, and there I saw English writings with some misspelled words, of course. Seemingly, the writings were lyrics to a song that they wanted to surprise me with.

Below was the spelling of the lyrics on the chalkboard:

WE DON’T NO!

WE DON’T NO, HOW TO READ

AS OF NOW, WE ARE READING

WE ARE READING!

WE ARE READING FATHER AND MOTHER, AS OF NOW WE ARE READING

WE THANK YOU!

WE THANK YOU BUILDON, AS OF NOW WE ARE READING

“We just composed an English song and we want to sing it to you,” they revealed. Then they started singing the song with their eyes following the lyrics on the chalkboard. It was a grateful song, with a grateful message too.

In the song, they were thanking buildOn for introducing the Adult Literacy Program which has helped them learn how to read. I felt humbled and so I decided to film the song so that this message of gratitude from the participants of Vyeyo adult literacy school could be shared with the entire buildOn community. After all was done, I joyfully headed to where I had parked my motorbike and off I sped home. Viva Adult Literacy Program! Viva buildOn!

If you’re inspired by Chifundo’s story, please help us grow our Adult Literacy Program with a tax-deductible donation today.