Igniting a Cycle of Change

When buildOn partners with a community to construct a new school, it’s more than just a structure that’s being built. A new school can be the spark that ignites a whole village to come together to learn, grow and give, creating a cycle of change that will last for generations.

With the walls of their old school literally crumbling before their eyes, the residents of Chinguwo, Malawi were overjoyed when buildOn agreed to construct a new school in their community. It was 2020 and between the raging pandemic and the state of their school, the parents of this rural community worried endlessly for the future of their children. Eager to bring about a positive change in Chinguwo, the community members quickly mobilized local resources and a volunteer workforce, while buildOn provided the skilled labor and construction materials for the project.

After three months of hard work, the new buildOn school in Chinguwo was completed in February, 2021, providing much-improved learning conditions for over 700 youth in five grade levels. But that was just the start. Years of struggling to learn in crumbling, overcrowded classrooms had taken its toll on the students of Chinguwo, leading some to drop out. buildOn immediately began working with school administrators and community leaders to address this problem and successfully enrolled 44 previously out-of-school children back in classes. For those that were behind from years of missed lessons, buildOn provided accelerated learning courses that allowed those children to catch up on the education they had missed before being integrated into mainstream classes.

In April of 2021, buildOn partnered with the community of Chinguwo again, this time to provide Adult Literacy Classes to 96 adults. Now the same men and women who had worked tirelessly to make sure that their children received an education were also getting the chance to attend the school they had helped to build—women like Paulina Banda. Growing up, Paulina never had the opportunity to attend school, and the challenges she faced due to illiteracy had plagued her life ever since. Paulina says that she felt excluded in society because her fellow community members would not entrust her with leadership positions and her inability to be able read the Bible and hymn book at her church left her feeling embarrassed.

81 women and 15 men participated in buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program in Chinguwo.

Through buildOn’s innovative Adult Literacy Program, Paulina and other illiterate adults in Chinguwo learned basic reading, writing and math, all taught through the lens of health and agriculture. As their literacy and numeracy skills blossomed in the classroom, the program participants began putting their lessons into practice through several key initiatives including: animal husbandry, reforestation, organic fertilizer and soya bean production, and a village savings and loan program—all aimed at helping to develop their community and lift their families out of poverty.

To start, the Adult Literacy Class in Chinguwo was given seven goats, which they awarded to the participants whose families had the greatest financial need. As the goats reproduced, the original recipients would pass one offspring on to another participant and so forth, until every participant’s family received a goat. On average a goat can sell for around $38 U.S. dollars in Malawi, which means that these animals will provide the families of Chinguwo with much needed income to use towards household supplies and their children’s education.

Next, the adult literacy class focused on their environment and crops. Driven by its dependency on wood for energy—89% of Malawians don’t have access to electricity—as well as the international demand for hardwoods, trees in Malawi are disappearing at an alarming rate. Rapid deforestation has in turn created other problems such as the loss of biodiversity and wildlife and, most recently, catastrophic flooding that killed 33 people and displaced thousands in rural Malawi. To combat this, the Adult Literacy Class in Chinguwo has been working together to grow 1,000 trees, which will be planted throughout their community.

In order to improve their crop yields, the Adult Literacy participants were also taught to make organic fertilizer from manure, which they then applied to their maize and soya bean fields. Additionally, the class in Chinguwo was given 20kg of soya seeds, from which they were able to plant and harvest over 500kg of soya beans. Thrilled with their successful harvest, the Adult Literacy participants came together to figure out what to do with their profits.

They invested some of their money into a village savings and loan, while another portion was used to purchase more land to cultivate next season. But the participants also wanted to make sure that they used their funds to help the children of Chinguwo. “It wasn’t easy to identify the needy students to be assisted with part of the proceeds from our soya beans as there are many in the community,” says Adult Literacy participant, Bazilio Nyirenda. “We sat down as group to get the views of all participants. Finally, we all agreed to give priority to the orphans. That’s when we isolated four students.”

Thanks to the compassion of the Adult Literacy participants of Chinguwo, Mark Chingwalu is now back in the classroom and enrolled in the third grade.

One of those students was 12-year-old Mark Chingwalu, who was left an orphan after his mother died in 2019 and his father abandoned him and siblings. Thankfully, Mark was taken in by an uncle in Chinguwo; however, the family struggled to make ends meet and without enough money to pay for his school uniform, Mark was forced to drop out of school.

That’s when the adult literacy class decided to step in. Although items like school uniforms cost very little by western standards (roughly $5 USD), they can be incredibly cost prohibitive for families living in extreme poverty, so the Adult Literacy participants knew that in order to help Mark and the other orphans get back in the classroom, they would need to use their soya bean profits to help alleviate this cost. On a sunny Friday in June, 2022 they brought the four children together to present them with their new uniforms. Singing and dancing filled the classroom as Mark and the other students received their beautiful new uniforms—and with them the opportunity to return to school.

“In return for this good gesture, I promise that I will not drop out of school until I reach university!”

Mark Chingwalu, age 12

“I am very thankful to my people, especially the Adult Literacy participants for dressing me up,” says Mark, who dreams of being a soldier when he grows up. “In return for this good gesture, I promise that I will not drop out of school until I reach university!” Adult Literacy participant Paulina Banda couldn’t contain her joy either as she watched her granddaughter, Doreen, receive one of the uniforms. Paulina had taken Doreen and her siblings in after her daughter had died and, like Mark’s uncle, had struggled to provide for the new additions to her household. “It is a big relief to me as I have been left with a huge responsibility since my daughter Emily died last year,” says Paulina. “She left behind four children whom I have to feed and dress, as well as provide support for their education, together with my own two children.”

For women like Paulina, the change that began when they partnered with buildOn to first construct a school two years ago has now come full circle. The children of Chinguwo are learning in proper classrooms and the adults of the community are finally receiving the education that they have longed for all of these years—an education that they are already putting to use to help lift their community out of poverty and ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend school.