A first time volunteer, returned

img-20160802-wa0003From 7 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon the Chifundo Campus is alive with the sound of children. Smiles, laughter, shrieks and yells pierce the air. We could be in any playground in the western world, we’re not. We’re in the heart of Zomba, one of the poorest places on earth. Broken hose pipes form skipping ropes one minute and impromptu telephones the next as imagination runs wild. The girls clap their hands while singing songs and the boys leave dust in their wake tearing after one another. In the classroom their desire to learn is insatiable, they devour books and do not stop until they understand words like “rustle”, “smokey” and “Belfast”. They hang on our every word and some now pronounce “thumb” with a strong Wexford accent.

It’s winter in Malawi, the clock strikes 6pm and the sun disappears. Cold air replaces the scorching heat of two hours previous. Darkness invades every space. The houses in their villages have no electricity, no heating, no running water… the kids disappear across their threshold where they stay until light returns. Childhood should be full of stimulants and sensory activities as they explore their world, here it’s not. “Go inside and read, draw a picture, learn a song” or “Play outside with your brothers and sisters”… worthless statements once the sun goes down on these villages.

There are no psychologists or child experts on hand but it’s hard not to wonder what impact this has? A prisoner knows why they are locked up each day, these children suffer the same fate because of the lottery of their circumstance.

We all have potential and generally we are afforded the opportunity to fulfil a large part of it.

Go right back to your earliest memory of school, take a look around the classroom. Pick out your classmates, the uniforms, the pictures on the walls, the coats hung neatly on their pegs, the nature table… Delete everything except the students and keep adding kids until 99 surround you. Bring in a teacher, watch him trip over students, forced to sit on the floor, as he makes his way to the blackboard. He begins his lesson and you strain to see beyond the cluster of heads in front of you, your ears betray you as they ignore the teacher and pick up the constant background noise. This is your reality, day after day you come to primary school.

Secondary school is your goal, to get there you need to achieve 60% in your English exam. Good luck!

The Chifundo Foundation takes some of the poorest children out of this situation and gives them a chance. Your donations send these kids to private schools, where they are taught in smaller groups, by better teachers. Their education will lead them to a job and break the cycle of poverty.

One boy can draw a full skeleton and name all the parts. His father earns €30 a month as20160802_091502 a tailor who’s regarded as too old fashioned to require his services.

One morning we called the children to class. They came running, all except one, he lay motionless in the shade of the tree. He did not have the energy to move from his perch. No wonder, he hadn’t been fed since the previous afternoon.

There were 25 girls in our group, innocent, happy and intelligent. Without education, the dark shadow of prostitution looms large.

There is a boy of 12 who lives with his brother and sister, his parents are dead. His brother and sister are 4 and 6. He missed the first two days of class and on the third turned up in a shirt, trousers and shoes, doing his best.

A wonderful Belfast man set about gathering discarded kids football jerseys. Each day we20160801_152549 handed out a new jersey to three deserving recipients, by the end of the two weeks they all had one. Now there are kids wearing football jerseys with Gotze, Alonso, Coutinho and one poor fella with Ibe on the back, daring to dream. Their gratitude was incredible, bowing before us as they received their gift with open arms.

In the morning we taught them English, in the afternoon we played sports with them. The way they stared, they way they listened, the way they marvelled… If nothing else the children of Chifundo know there is something beyond their village and education can get them there.

20160728_112848They don’t know your name, what you look like or where you are from but these children know you exist. One day, because of what you have done for them, they will express their gratitude to you in person.

When you strip everything away, circumstance, hardship, geography, disease… children are children. Check out these kids being kids!