Report for Anno’s Africa pilot programme in Malawi

Overall, our pilot project in Northern Malawi went very well.  We partnered up withthe Bristol based NGO, Temwa, who run many varied projects in Northern Malawi, amongst which are some youth and health education programmes where they felt our charity remits could allow us to combine forces.

For this pilot project they set us up with four schools, where we engaged with a total of 450 children who took part in two fortnight long programmes in Art, Drama, Music, Dance and Acrobatics/Circus skills.  These classes were held in the afternoons on weekdays, from around 1.30 Pm until 5.00 pm and all day on Saturdays.  The children were fed a midday meal each day and fruit squash at the end of the classes.

The programme ran from June 11th until July 10th.  Our teaching team from Kenya arrived safely by road from Nairobi, although they were a few hours late after being held for 4 hours at the border with Tanzania by officials wanting bribes. We too were also a day late as our bags didn't make it through from London to Lilongwe, via Nairobi and didn’t arrive in Malawi until the next day. This meant we had to stay overnight in Lilongwe and were therefore half a day late starting the classes.  But due to the efficient prior organization from Fishani Msafiri for Temwa, we were able to make up the time and plunge straight in without too much preamble.


Usisya on the lake shore

Usisya on the lake shore

We all met up in Mzuzu, spent one night there and then headed to the village of Usisya on the lake shore. It was a fairly rough drive over deeply rutted roads and along a final rather treacherous cliff path - but we made it in three and a half hours, in two vehicles, heavily loaded, one with 50 live chickens strapped on top of the bags on the roof, for the children's food. (The live goats came later and were bought locally!) We had hired a seven seater four wheel drive Pajero from Lilongwe for transport for the Anno’s Africa team – rather expensive but not by Malawian standards apparently - but we would not have managed the roads without it.  Temwa helped out by loaning their land-rover and driver to deliver (and later collect) the extra luggage and the Malawian trainers to and from the Usisya valley.

For the workshops we had asked all of the schools to arrange for 20 to 25 children in each class (Art, Circus and Drama) with 50 in the combined music and dance group. Of course other children asked to join in so we had a few more than planned in some groups and there was very little drop off which surprised us. The children at the Lake Shore spoke virtually no English in spite of the fact we had been assured that they did all their schooling and exams in English! But it seems they generally copy from the blackboard and learn things parrot fashion with no real understanding of the grammar and practical use of the language. This lack of language posed a few problems as it meant we all had to use our Temwa teachers and the two peer educators who had been allocated per class by Temwa as translators, which was okay but not ideal as everything took twice as long to communicate. But everyone rose to the challenge – although for Jarek (our drama teacher from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) it was certainly a baptism of fire. After a somewhat difficult first day he had to re-think his planned programme but he managed to overcome the hurdles and he and Kades – and Malawian actor/trainer James who was working with them - held some brilliant classes and taught the children so much about drama and how to use humour and make it all fun. Before getting involved with Anno's Africa the children had predominately seen or participated in drama sessions based on health education, particularly with regard to HIV and how to avoid infection. So our drama course became something rather different for them, with the emphasis on improvisation, trust games and non- verbal theatre. This made it a really creative and enjoyable experience and the children loved the classes. It was a huge pleasure for us at the end of workshop when they performed their very funny and original sketches for the show-case day and had all the children (and adults) in the audience convulsed with laughter.

Music and Dance, led by Abdulla (Lulu) and Consolata, from Kenya, proved to be a great favourite (as always) and Emmanuel, the Malawian musician whom Temwa had found for us, was a great asset.  Here again the peer educators were a valuable addition to the classes and joined in enthusiastically.  The music and dance kids' performance at the open day finale combined contemporary dance with traditional Kenyan and Malawian steps. The choir learnt songs composed by out Kenyan musicians as well as some Malawian favourites and the Kenyan classic welcome song, “Jambo Bwana” which everyone loved and all joined in singing... 

Consulata and Lulu have been teaching with us for 10 years now and know just how to excite and engage these children so it was a joy to sit in on their classes and see these extremely talented children learning so fast and having such fun in the process.

The circus children too achieved so much in the two week programme, thanks to Irush, our Anno’s Africa teacher from Kenya and his Malawian co-trainer, Hassan. These kids always drew an excited crowd when practising the acrobatics, aerial silks and tightrope and hugely impressed the other children and the community when they performed at the open day events.

Joni, our experienced art teacher from the UK, did a spectacular job with her group, following the foundation art course that she had devised in Nairobi. The kids started with colour mixing, as they had never used paints before in the Lake Shore schools (and in the Uplands schools too, only a handful had ever had access to colours and brushes). After making colour wheels and learning how to create more colours from the basic primaries, they then progressed to painting, pastels and mono-printing as well as marbling which they used to make beautiful covers for their sketchbooks that they adapted from old cardboard boxes and which they were so proud to display at the final showcase.

The fact that it gets dark every night at 6 pm (and light at 6am) all year round  at the Lake where there was no electricity,  made it hard to do much preparation in the evenings so we tended to rise early - with the dawn in fact - in order to keep on top of things and plan the lessons .

We were rather disappointed in the general lack of involvement from the teachers from the schools in Usisya as we had hoped they might be inspired to join in and become a part of the programme - but it was not to be.  However, thanks to the beautiful location, and the great advantage of Temwa having a base there and allowing us to use the community hall they had built in the village, it was a very enjoyable and productive couple of weeks. And the children were lovely and desperate for us to come back, of course…


mgzola school in the uplands

mgzola school in the uplands

Two weeks at the Uplands schools followed the Lake Shore programme and for this we based in Mzuzu which is - at 4,000 feet above sea level, quite a different climate – (it is renowned for being the wettest part of Malawi!) It was pretty cold at night in our tents and cloudy and cool during the day. But fortunately the heavy rains held off so the roads to the villages were not too treacherous, although we still had hour long drives there and back each day.

We felt extremely welcome in the uplands and found the kids to be more confident and inventive than those at the lake – especially at Chikwina School. But the big difference was that in both Uplands schools we had huge support from the headmasters, the teachers and the community in general so it was a very different atmosphere to Usisya, with teachers actively participating in classes and wanting to learn so that they could carry on the programme. Here the kids were a little more sophisticated than their peers by the lake and did better in exams and Chikwina and Mgzola, although still pretty isolated, had notably higher teaching standards and some kids here did speak English - especially those whose parents were fluent and taught them the language at home.

The schools in both upland areas are all brick built but very dark inside the classrooms so in the Drama classes took place outside under the trees and Circus also had perfect outdoor situations for Ariel silks and for the tightrope, so conditions were pleasant and the noisier classes didn't disrupt the quieter ones. 

The workshops followed the same pattern as in Usisya but we could only do a performance in one of the schools as they were too far apart to link for the Saturdays as we had done by the lake. So we chose Chikwina for the main final performance as it is also the best “sustainability” pilot school for the future classes to be run by Temwa.  However at Mgzola School we did still manage to have a smaller open day at the end of the run where the kids performed for their friends in the other classes as well the school teachers too - so they too got a chance to show what they had achieved.   

At the end of the workshops we gave all the participating children certificates confirming they had attended the classes and reached the standard expected of them. We also gave similar certificates to the Malawian artist/teachers and peer educators, confirming their training and support during the Anno’s Africa programme. We have found these documents to be very important acknowledgements in the other regions in Africa where we work and are regarded highly by children and adults alike as they really can make a difference to work and further education applications. 


We would like to return to Malawi next year for a further set of workshops, but if this is to be viable it is vital that Temwa organizes a sustainability programme in the interim. This should take the form of classes once a week in one of the schools in the uplands as well as some kind of weekly arts/creativity youth club at the lake shore so that all the children  who participated will stay engaged until we can return.  Anno’s Africa and Temwa will be getting together to discuss this in September but meanwhile we have left a plentiful supply of art materials,  circus equipment and safety crash mats, plus a set of drums for music and dance so the schools have all that they need practically for the classes to continue until we go back.

We very much appreciated the support from our partners, One Fine Day on this project as they not only helped with some of the funding for the programme but also released the Kenyan trainers from their Nairobi teaching commitments for over four weeks.

We would also like to offer our sincere thanks to Claudie Pierlot for their generous donations to Anno's Africa.  The Malawi programme was funded mainly from their contribution and we - and the children who participated, are extremely grateful to them.