Dawn was stretching its fingertips and rising lazily as we set off for Malama, one of the remotest chiefdoms in South Luangwa. The air was refreshingly cool, and we were even a little chilly as we set off in open top convoy across the now mostly dry roads.
I was excited to visit these distant schools, the first time we have been able to since the annual rains cut off access. The road was still treacherous in some places, with some hairy moments as we ascended steep slopes and clung to sheer drops. Yet, the six hour round trip was certainly worth it.
For one thing, the inaccessibility also provides stunning scenery. A tower of giraffes watched us from a distance, delicately stripping the leaves from a combretum tree. Vervets, baboons and impalas were our constant companions, and I even saw my first Maribou Stork, pink neck sagging over a still pool, as it fished for breakfast.
As we approached the first school on our journey, Malanga, the cheers of the children rose up to greet us. Our arrival heralded food and sanitation support, something they had not received from anyone since our visit last year. For the kids in these far flung communities, they only get one meal a day, usually at lunchtime, and motivating them to attend school and study is a real challenge. With the added pressures of the pandemic affecting the livelihoods of so many tourism sector workers or dependents, children are often needed to help work in agriculture or even marry young in order to place less pressure on the household.
After receiving generous donations from Fundacion Livingstone, Lucio Londero (shareholder of Flatdogs Camp) and the Sundelin family, we were able to provide mealie meal, sugar, salt, cooking oil, washable sanitary ‘Ufulu’ pads and washing and cleaning supplies, to all three schools in the area. This will not only have a huge impact on school attendance, it will also have a real positive effect on the children’s lives.
In addition we were also joined on the trip by the Building Standards Officer from Mambwe, and contractor Muhabi Ngulube, as we prepared to start desperately needed construction work at the schools. After an exceptionally generous legacy from the Stott Family, we have been able to provide a new dormitory building for the girls (after their last one was condemned), and provide a strong room for Kalengo, allowing them to keep exam papers.
The dormitory project came about after we visited the school last year and saw that 12 girls were crammed into the small Deputy Head’s house, sleeping 4 to a room, with only a curtain to separate the doorways. The Deputy Head, Mwapa, is now also 8 months pregnant, so the work could not have come at a more fortuitous time.
As for the strong room, this will mean that the children from Kalengo no longer need to walk the 9km to Malanga school in order to sit their exams. In temperatures of 45 degrees, walking through wild bushland, this seemingly small gesture will have a hugely positive impact on the local children and teachers.
Despite the long day, we certainly made our way back to Mfuwe with lighter hearts. We are truly indebted to the unbelievable generosity of the Stott’s, as well as the great support of the Sundelin family, Lucio, and Fundacion Livingstone, for making such a difference in these children’s lives.