Grassroots Development in Malawi

By Skyler Badenoch, Director of Development – East Coast

Sometime in the next two weeks, men and women from the village of Kasikidzi, Malawi will harvest and sell one acre of cassava, a starchy tuberous root used as food in many developing countries.  They strategically worked together as participants in buildOn’s Community Education Program (CEP) with the goal of generating revenue to be reinvested in their own lives.

Their journey started in 2008, when a group of U.S. high school students from buildOn’s Trek for Knowledge programs in Connecticut and New York spent two weeks in Kasikidzi working to help build a primary school for the children in the village.  The school was completed in 11 weeks and the men and women of the village contributed more than 2000 volunteer workdays to finish the project. Currently, 396 students, 210 of whom are girls, benefit from the additional classrooms.

Following the construction of the school, men and women from the community eagerly enrolled in buildOn’s Community Education Program, an 18-month course designed to teach literacy and community development skills to mostly illiterate adults. The course is now near completion, and the participants are taking stock of the noticeable improvements in their lives and in their community.

“Before the Community Education Program, most of us could not read, write, or do basic math,” Aida Akimu explained to me as we walked through her village. “Today, we can read street signs, write letters, read the bible, and understand how to account for money.” Mrs. Akimu currently serves as treasurer for a club her CEP class created to collectively increase agricultural output and invest in livestock.

The club’s chairman, Anton Chipemba, debriefed me on their strategy. “During CEP class one day, buildOn brought in a guest speaker to talk about raising pigs and goats. Afterward, we decided to work together to plant, harvest, and sell an acre of cassava and use the revenue to buy and raise pigs. Using the construction skills we learned during the school project, we built a covered pigpen that is now ready for use. Our goal is for the pigs to reproduce to the point where every member of our class has a pig of their own.”

This is the definition of grassroots development at the most basic level. buildOn programs provided the men and women of Kasikidzi with the opportunity to improve education and community development, and they met that opportunity with a high level of dedication, enthusiasm, and follow-through.

Their journey, however, is not complete. With the imminent completion of CEP classes in Kasikidzi, buildOn and the community will begin preparations on the next phase of this meaningful partnership—a second school block to meet the needs of the growing demand of primary school students in the village.

Women particpants of buildOn's CEP class stand in front of the cassava they planted together

Kids in Kasikidzi in front of their new buildOn school

1 acre of Cassava grown by the buildOn CEP participants in Kasikidzi