Empty Schools and Expat Ghost Towns in Malawi

 

201005 Article introduction TessaWhen COVID-19 started spreading across the world, Africa was recording some of the lowest infections and death rates compared to the then hotspots in Europe, USA, Asia and Latin America. 

During blueTree Group’s weekly team meetings, there was a huge contrast in the Covid reports from the Dutch team compared to the reports from the Kenya and Malawi teams. It was ‘business as usual’ in these two countries.

Africa seemed to be staying ahead as the virus was raging other continents, but this is no longer the case. Although lower cases have been reported than forecasted, the pandemic has hit Africa’s economy hard. Tourism has been disrupted among other crucial sectors. Work is at a standstill for many, companies are downsizing and there’s less money for food among other basic needs.

Hitherto, Malawi has recorded over 26,000 cases of corona virus infections since the first case was confirmed on 7th April 2020. While the numbers may be lower than other countries, majority of the cases have been recorded in the last 2 months.

The Malawian Government has tightened restrictions as the current Covid wave is pushing hospitals in Malawi to a breaking point. A night time curfew has been imposed and schools have been closed. Malawi has reported more than 800 deaths related to COVID-19. The deaths of 2 government ministers and 3 senior political figures led the government to declare a state of emergency. There are concerns that the already limited health facilities will be overwhelmed.

A large number of Malawians work in South Africa due to the poor economy at home. However most have since returned to Malawi. Some had returned home for the Christmas holidays and others returned home after COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa made it difficult for most of them to find work. A more contagious variant of the virus found in South Africa is adding to worries that the returning Malawians may contribute to the spread in Malawi.

Destination; Malawi

For blueTree Group, there was a silver lining despite the pandemic. Roel de Haas, the CEO was allowed to travel for a reading project in Malawi. This was the first trip in over a year since travel for most of the projects had been restricted. The decision to travel was not an easy choice to make due to the risks currently involved.  However, after conducting extensive due diligence and weighting all pros and cons, it was agreed that Roel would travel to Malawi. 

blueTree Group has been working in Malawi for almost 10 years, and feels like a second home for Roel. This means that he has travelled there frequently. However, when he landed at Kamuzu International Airport on the 22nd of January, he did not recognize it anymore. It was surreal walking through an almost empty airport.

While Roel drives to this hotel, where hardly any guests have checked in and accommodation costs are very low, he makes major observations.

People that have been to Malawi, or any other Sub-Saharan African country, will recognize the image of men, women and children along the roads at the traffic light, selling all sorts of products. from toilet brushes, phone charges to candy bars. Where before corona, 20 men would stand by a traffic light, now there were 40 sometimes even 50; men, women, old and young.

“The security guards are keeping watch on some of the houses, but the residents have disappeared, left in a hurry since the first cases were reported in Malawi. With their departure leaving behind  uncertainty among the people who used to work in these houses; cooks, gardeners and nannies„

The drive to the hotel was through an expat district where large detached houses with high fences rush by. The security guards are keeping watch on some of the houses, but the residents have disappeared, left in a hurry since the first cases were reported in Malawi. With their departure leaving behind uncertainty among the people who used to work in these houses; cooks, gardeners and nannies. 

On arrival at the hotel, Roel notes that he is one of the seven guests, in the hotel with over 130 rooms and a large conference hall complex, that has been closed since March. At the hotel, 50 employees keep the hotel perfectly maintained and clean, and Roel’s temperature is being checked three times a day by a waiter in white gloves and a transparent face shield.

“A lot of these young children that no longer go to school now, will never return…”

Education in Malawi is the cornerstone

The schools being closed, might be the worst thing that Roel has seen. A lot of these young children that no longer go to school, will never return, because of the costs and pressure from the family to work and contribute to the dwindling income. Girls will most likely be hit even harder.

On a positive note, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and other major donors are gradually beginning to come back to Malawi. Besides this, during his visit, Roel lay the groundwork for  producing mathematics books locally for hundreds of primary school children. This is good news, because when there are quality books in local languages present at school, children go to school quicker and tend to finish their school more often (UNESCO, 2014)

BlueTree Group

At blueTree Group, we believe that education is the cornerstone of sustainable development. Affordable, quality books in local languages, delivered by an efficient and sustainable local book chain, are a key ingredient for inclusive and equitable quality education. Therefore, we identify local opportunities and with this, increase the local capacity and improve the local know how for the development and delivery of schoolbooks.

We hope to see all colourful, bright and young Malawian school children back in school, just like in this image.