T he Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is collaborating with the North American Division (NAD) Office of Education to offer educational development assistance at schools in Southern Africa. Recently, ADRA accompanied ten NAD education leaders to evaluate and assess the needs of schools in Malawi.
“ADRA wants to ensure that every child has the best opportunities available to thrive and succeed,” says Matthew Siliga, vice president for marketing and development at ADRA. “Nothing compares to the importance of providing access to quality education so that children—and their families—can break free from poverty during their lifetime.”
Siliga adds that in order to accomplish this, ADRA wants to utilize the expertise of Adventist educators to leverage the knowledge, teacher experience, resource development, and grassroots networks that are already in place in the United States.
“This initiative is important because the heart of Adventist Education is service,” reflects Stephen Bralley, NAD director of secondary education. “This is all about being the hands of Jesus in a world of need. The opportunity for our teachers to share and learn in Malawi will make a lasting change for our teachers, our students and Malawian teachers and students.”
Phase One Begins
Since 2017, ADRA has been spearheading a multi-year project called the School-Feeding Initiative, which is implemented in five countries in the Southern Africa region—Zimbabwe, Malawi, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique and Madagascar, to provide food relief to communities devastated by the El Niño drought and support them on their road to recovery. In total, ADRA has fed more than 50,000 children at 186 schools across Southern Africa.
“ADRA recommended the partnership start in Malawi since English is the country's official language,” Siliga says. “American educators will be able to communicate effectively with local teachers, provide resources, and offer professional development.”
More than 5,000 students are currently being served through ADRA’s school-feeding initiative in Malawi. The success of the initiative has resulted in improved nutrition, and increased retention and engagement of children in school.
The education leaders visited three schools where they observed ADRA’s school-feeding project. They also met with community leaders, government officials, teachers and administrators in the assessment process.
“We were asked to assess the capacity of the schools and the professional development needs of the teachers, and our team used multiple methods of data collection to assess five priority areas: instruction, curriculum, assessment, leadership and community engagement,” says Dr. Leisa Morton-Standish, director of elementary education at the North American Division. “Ultimately, our goal was to complete a comprehensive needs assessment in order to evaluate how we can partner with the schools to improve educational outcomes on a variety of measures.”
Observations were that many Malawian children don’t progress academically past the eighth grade because of the limited number of high schools in the country and lack of necessary materials i.e., pencils, desks and chairs, uniforms and textbooks. Additionally, girls enrolled in first grade were no longer in school by the fifth grade, and over 90 percent of girls were no longer in school by eighth grade.
“Many of the girls are married at a young age, are required to help at home, have children or are removed from school due to a lack of finances,” Morton-Standish says.
Class size was also a factor. Even though children are attending school, the classroom spaces are too small to accommodate students—one teacher, for example, teaches up to 150 students per class. Many classes are held outside under trees where students sit on dusty ground all day.
Other challenges identified by the educators included the immediate need to improve outcomes in mathematics and science, special needs instruction, vocational training, entrepreneurship and critical thinking skills.
“The Malawi teachers discussed the special education needs in their communities, including children with cognitive and physical disabilities. Some children have difficulty getting to school and the school administrators pleaded the case for providing basic necessities such as books and wheelchairs. Our hearts were deeply touched by the needs of the students,” Morton-Standish laments.
Apart from assessing the school environment, educators also visited nearby villages and met with parents, many of whom were illiterate. During their interview, they gained deeper insight into the damaging affects the severe drought brought upon the country, and what those effects could mean for their children. In a study by The World Food Programme, data indicated that 37 percent of young children in Malawi are chronically malnourished.
The population in Malawi is growing exponentially, while the soil quality is deteriorating. This is making it hard for Malawians, most of whom are subsistence farmers, to raise crops. ADRA has also implemented self-sufficiency programs such as providing goats for breeding, school gardens, and beehives for honey production. Profits from these micro-businesses are part of the plan to make the school-feeding initiative a community funded and independently run project.
Advancing Mission Service
The trip is at a conceptual stage and discussions are ongoing on how to best maximize the program in Southern Africa.
“This program has the potential to empower educators to improve learning outcomes, expand professional expertise, develop a greater sense of purpose, and provide ongoing mentoring of teachers to maximize their impact on students,” Siliga says. “The program isn’t about us, but the children and their community.”
“Ellen White encouraged educators to prepare students for missions and a life of service. We believe that this cross-cultural experience for both our NAD teachers and the teachers in Malawi will have a ripple effect as it touches their lives, the lives of the students they teach, and their wider community. Teachers can have a huge impact and provide a concrete example of practical Christianity,” says Morton- Standish.
ADRA and the Adventist Church recently kicked-off its Every Child. Everywhere. In School. education campaign spotlighting the need for 262 million children around the world who are denied the right to receive an education to be in school.