Sabina from the September Team: Education is our main goal
Take 10 Volunteer’s September 2019 Team had to prematurely leave the projects they have been working on due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The team was divided into duos and trios working on different projects in Malawi and India. They all managed to achieve a lot during the time spent at the projects and despite having to return to their home countries unexpectedly everyone keeps supporting their causes in any way possible from a distance.
Sabina (Romania) and Carlos (Spain) were working as a duo in Mzimba – the northern part of Malawi. Their work with preschools and teacher training showed great results but they are still hard at work from Romania and Spain. We already talked to Carlos about the projects and his experience so we wanted to hear Sabina’s insights as well. This is what she had to add.
Watch this video where Sabina explains why she decided to do this programme.
What was your project connected to and what was the situation when you arrived?
I would say our project was about Another kind of building.
All we knew at the beginning of our project was that before we started any action, before we gave the preschools any kind of support or materials, we needed to make sure that they were going to take good care of them. And as we had seen in our visits at 32 preschools, in nearly two months of observation, the rather unstable character of the preschools could not guarantee that this was going to happen.
As their name says, CBCCs (Community Based Childcare Centers) are institutions for early childhood education (children aged 2-5) based on the active help and support of the community. This means the caregivers receive no salary or honorarium from the government. It had already been verbally agreed at the preschools, in the very beginning, that the community would support the teachers by working in their fields, by contributing with flour for children’s breakfast at the school, by providing materials for the preschool, and with other administrative issues that were to make the work of the caregivers less overwhelming.
Did the observation period at the start of the project help you decide how to approach the project work later on?
On out first visit we learned that all CBCCs needed to have a basic internal structure before being officially recognized by the government. A structure that involved, besides the 3-4 caregivers, a chairperson, a secretary and a treasury worker. Also, the Chief had a key role in making decisions and finding solutions regarding the preschool, together with the community.
But the existence of all these responsibilities within the structure of the preschool, as well as the verbal agreement on helping the caregivers, was definitely not enough. The people in charge had no idea what they were supposed to do at the CBCC. No one ever really told them what their exact duties were, and the agreement regarding the caregivers was not being kept. This fact was confirmed later in our first Teacher Training when we asked the caregivers 6 key questions about their situation at the preschool.
We made conclusions
So when the time to take action came, for us it was first of all about building trust among the communities. We wanted to reinforce the bond between the people in charge of the preschool and their self-confidence by helping them understand how important their role was not only in running the preschools but in the development of the new generations. Something we promoted through our first action, the Contract Project.
The idea was to reach all the 32 communities with this Contract in meetings with thorough discussions, sometimes lasting up to 6 hours, without which the Contract mission couldn’t have been completed. It was not about bringing a simple paper to the people, it was about bringing a change and directly involving all of the people in this change, helping them understand everything before signing. We would always encourage everybody to speak up when their part of the Contract came up. We wanted them to communicate not only with us but especially with each other, to understand the core of all of the issues, coming up with their own solutions and systems that would best suit their preschool. And we can proudly say that this is exactly what happened.
There is more
Besides this, we wanted to help the communities understand what their duties exactly were and start practising them, something we believed we achieved through a special CBCC Training we held at DAPP Mzimba for the chief, chairperson, secretary and treasury of the 32 preschools we were working with.
In the end, education is what we aimed for, and our idea was that once the internal structure of the CBCC was reinforced, the preschool would be taken better care of, the caregivers would receive the support they needed and deserved from the community and be able to focus more on teaching.
Do you think health is an important factor for learning and education?
Our project was also about building confidence in what concerns healthcare and sanitation.
Education was our main goal, but triggering development in the communities meant a lot more than improving educational methods. I believe health is tightly connected to education: if health in the communities is damaged, education is directly affected, and if there is no education or no knowledge on health practices, health cannot improve.
At the same time, the environment children develop in is definitely not just the CBCC, it is the community itself. By focusing on healthcare and sanitation, we found a way of improving the conditions in the preschools while improving the conditions in the communities.
The First Aid Action
At the preschools, one caregiver could be sometimes found alone with a lot of children aged 2-5, out in the open. Small children require a lot of attention and extra care, and it is very difficult to pay attention to every move each one of them makes. The environment was not always completely safe, injuries sometimes were inevitable, so knowing how to safely take care of them should be a must at least for the teachers. But besides the knowledge, there was also the need for sterile materials, which the communities could not easily acquire. Also, as a government standard for Early Childhood Development, it was mandatory for every preschool to own a first aid kit.
In our Contract meetings, we were reported the need for First Aid Kits by the communities themselves. With this, we had officially decided that our next action would be reaching the 32 communities one by one with a First Aid Kit and a First Aid Course. This interactive course would consist in sharing instructions regarding the use of the kit’s contents, healing wounds, practising CPR and techniques like the Lateral Recumbent Position and the Heimlich Maneuver.
It is extremely important
Sometimes doctors can take a lot of time reaching the place where the patient is located, and transporting the patient to the town hospital is something not everybody in the communities can afford. If some of the people learned how to take care of wounds, for example, infections and other disasters could be easily prevented. So the idea was not only for the caregivers but for the other people in charge with the preschool, as well as for any community member interested, to participate in this course and learn by doing, engaging in role-play activities, where they would get to face different incidents and work in teams to simulate offering help.
Our course was meant to raise awareness on the fact that anyone, if properly trained, can give the first aid and even contribute to saving somebody´s life. Our objective was that by the end of the course, all the participants felt confident about giving the First Aid and using the Kit´s contents.
We achieved a lot
We have managed to buy 32 First Aid Kits which are currently at DAPP, waiting for the right time to reach their rightful owners, together with the written Guide we are still developing.
However, the activities in this sector were not meant to come to an end once the course and the kits reached the communities. We had many more pending activities concerning healthcare, especially due to the misinformation that was circulating in the communities related to the new Coronavirus.
Initially, our actions regarding healthcare had nothing to do with the virus. The preschools were in an obvious big need for an improvement of sanitation and some accurate information regarding diseases. Later on, though, we saw the big need for breaking false rumours regarding the new virus, because people in the communities had very little access to information from trustful sources. We wanted to take action in further Teacher Trainings. We were planning on continuing to focus on healthcare by other actions carried out in the monthly Trainings, such as:
- busting myths on local, frequent diseases;
- raising awareness on the negative impact of unhealthy food and drinks, and emphasizing the proprieties of fruits and vegetables;
- sharing techniques on how to safely lift up weights from the ground;
- bringing a doctor to the Teacher Training in order to provide the caregivers, who had little access to medical services, with trustful information and approved ways of combating frequent illnesses.
These are just a few ideas that we had before we left, but the turn towards Healthcare that we had taken would have gained even bigger amplitude because it was among the biggest needs of the communities of Mzimba, who had very little access to medical services.
We keep working
Now, from our homes, Carlos and I are very happy to be able to develop a new action within the Health sector, regarding the pandemic. On the initiative of our project leader who believes, just as much as we do, that the project should not be stopped by our departure, and especially not now when the communities of Mzimba most need our help, we started working out a way of bringing sanitation materials and instructions to the communities, that would help diminish the spread of the virus.
It all started with a movement of MZUNI (University of Mzuzu, Malawi), which had started producing hand sanitizers according to a formula released in an official document by the World Health Organization and supported by the Malawian Bureau of Standards, and sharing these sanitizers to vulnerable social groups. Our project leader took the initiative of applying these measures in order to bring help to the communities around DAPP. This formula for the sanitizer consisted mainly of two ingredients, rubbing alcohol (spirit) and glycerine, which can be easily found in pharmacies and shops of Malawi.
We have just started developing this action and we want to make it as complete as possible, planning on sharing, in small kits:
- the hand sanitizer containing spirt and glycerine safely made at DAPP and distributed in small 100ml bottles, for the people to carry with themselves when going out in the city;
- a soap bar for people to use at their homes;
- step by step instructions on:
- how to effectively wash hands and use the hand sanitizer;
- how to build masks at home, possibly also sharing a model of a handmade mask in the kit;
- posters with facts about the Coronavirus and how to prevent its spreading adapted to the Malawian reality;
- busted myths about Coronavirus, from the WHO.
Right now we are in the process of sending our Project funds to Malawi and purchasing the needed items.
We had more initiatives
Another one of our achievements was starting a project for the students at DAPP, aiming, again, at another kind of building. This time it was about helping students build confidence for the future, and prepare for it, which is exactly what we had called the Calendar of events we had developed for them: “Let’s get ready for the future”.
We decided to call this project like this because it was meant to engage the students in workshops and events not only by participating, but by planning them themselves in organizing teams, and then summarizing them in videos, in media teams.
Of course, achieving such a thing wouldn’t have been possible all of a sudden; this required using a Snowball method, having the students become familiar with the whole concept step by step, starting everything with a single, simple workshop, and getting to organizing events each time bigger and with more experience and confidence.
Our Calendar was a mix of workshops and events, plus a First Aid Course.
In the workshops, we had included
- a little bit of interaction with technology that would later serve the students in their professional lives, supporting the idea of preparing for the future: editing videos, creating posters for events, business cards and logos, with the help of mobile applications.
- a little bit of art, meant to have the students and other participants explore and develop their creativity, unleash skills they never had the opportunity to discover, and activate their brain in new ways. This included three painting workshops, creating a mural for the college, working in a team, and creative recycling, turning unneeded polluting materials into beautiful, useful artwork and household objects.
The four events that interlocked with the workshops above were:
- the Solidarity (Obstacle) Race meant to have DAPP staff, students and people from the communities running in competing teams for the cause of First Aid Kits, having DAPP pay an amount of money for every kilometre people ran, which would be used to buy Kits.
- Another Kind of Sports Day – engaging students in many different innovative outdoor activities, according to their wishes, while promoting the idea that sport means much more than ball games.
- DAPP Oscar Awards, a competition of short movies created by the students, as a result of their experience gained over time creating videos that tell a story;
- a Talent Show meant to have people united by their hobbies and passions, sharing them fearlessly, and presenting at the same time some of the videos they had been making and the best results from the art workshops.
Besides the workshops and the events, we were planning on doing a First Aid Course for the students and other people interested at DAPP. We knew that the DNS students had received some training regarding the first aid since it’s required for their bussing period. However, practice makes perfect, and we wanted to use our knowledge for the communities in order to organize the Course at DAPP as well, planning practical role-play activities in teams, in order to simulate accidents and offering help to people in need.
Unfortunately, our sudden departure had us stop right after the first workshop, but I was extremely happy with how the project had started and with how excited the students were to engage in these activities and work in teams.
What else did you want to work with if you didn’t have to leave early and had time to develop the project more?
Among the things Carlos and I would have liked to achieve during our staying in Malawi was supporting the communities with whatever physical needs the preschools had, especially once we had made sure that people started to care more about everything that was being built.
We would have liked to develop eco-friendly ideas for building, and this is how we started the plastic roof project, using interconnected pieces of plastic bottles that would be put on top of buildings. Although we didn’t manage to test this idea while we were there, we presented it to our project leader and supervisor, and with their help, it can still be done, just like many other actions that we didn’t manage to carry out for the communities of Mzimba while being there.
We would have liked, for example, to plant trees, to draw on the preschools’ walls together with the talented people from the communities, to build ovens, to organize workshops for building educational materials out of local items.
How do you see the current situation?
There are two ways of looking at it now: getting disappointed about all the things we hadn’t managed to accomplish, or taking action and moving on with whatever can be done from here. And right now the communities are in great need of support. I believe that a well-planned action can work just as well as we would have been there. I am happy to be still working with my very committed team, currently in Spain and Malawi. Together we are able to say that the project is not over.
I am happy to be still working with my very committed team, currently in Spain and Malawi. Together we are able to say that the project is not over.
– Sabina, September 2019 Team
Education was our main goal, but triggering development in the communities meant a lot more than improving educational methods. I believe health is tightly connected to education: if health in the communities is damaged, education is directly affected.
– Sabina, September 2019 Team
specifically designed posters, in cooperation with graphic designer Eike Einmann from DRH Lindersvold. The posters are simple, clear and “low-ink”.
Read more about projects in Malawi
Even though we were forced to leave Malawi prematurely, Sabina and I are still supporting our projects in Mzimba (Malawi), from home. We have different kind of projects and this one is about sustainability.
Leyre worked in Dowa, Malawi with pre-schools and teacher training. We talked to her about her project work, achieved results, learned lessons, and overall experience. Read about her main insights and take-aways.
The unfortunate development of the COVID-19 crisis forced Take 10 volunteers to pause their projects. We talked to Carlos about the project in Malawi where he worked.