Signal’s International Programmes Manager, Karen Goodman-Jones, describes all things coffee, bumpy roads, pineapples and the sheer scale of distances involved in reaching out to deaf children and their communities in Northern Malawi…
Coffee is an essential part of most daily office routines and Signal’s office in Shrewsbury is no different! Aside from the usual demand to bring back the prized Mzuzu coffee, on my recent monitoring visit to our deaf awareness programme I got to see the coffee growing. I found acres of it under cultivation – from individual family plots and school vegetable gardens to the local cooperative, which cleans and grades the coffee beans prior to their processing into the final packaged goods.
But to reach this area was not easy.
It is over 7,135 miles from the Glasgow offices of our programme partners, Sense Scotland, to the most northerly school reached by our deaf awareness programme in Malawi – in Chitipa Zone.
This school is Chanay School, with six teachers and over 700 pupils. The school is miles away from the nearest town and, with its mountainous location and dirt roads, it is completely cut off and isolated during the long rainy season. Over the years, this has fostered the development and entrenchment of very different cultural values and communication locally, with over 26 different languages, rather than dialects, being spoken.
Forced by this geographical isolation, the communities are naturally self-sufficient, but in Chanay School the teachers, pupils and families have wholeheartedly embraced the ethos of our programme. The programme works with deaf and hearing impaired children, their families, schools and community leaders to encourage access to a primary education for these children on a par with their hearing peers. It works to remove the stigma surrounding disability and to encourage diversity and respect for all learners, regardless of any special needs.
I was lucky enough to visit this school and meet some of the parents, teachers and children during my recent visit with Andy Kerr, Sense Scotland’s CEO. We witnessed some of these teachers learning new skills on how to accommodate children with special needs in primary schools where classes of over 100 children are the norm.
The teachers’ enthusiasm and desire to learn new skills was evident, and they were so keen to be able to assist all the children in their classes and share the skills learned with their fellow teachers. Their thanks to us for giving them this opportunity was both heartfelt and humbling.
We also met some of the parents of children with special needs who have been enabled to form parent support groups by our programme funded by the Scottish Government. Designed to provide moral, practical and emotional support, these groups are also developing different income generating activities to ensure both their long-term sustainability and the ongoing financial support for educational resources for their children.
These parent groups are based around the schools where we work and benefit from a zonal support system to help with any particular issues around advocacy and income generation. The particular group which we met has already started saving money. It is thinking big and wants to open a bakery!
I am fortunate to be able to visit and meet these people and I always learn and take away so much from them. On this occasion, for the first time ever, I also saw pineapples growing by the side of the road and in the school vegetable garden, and I had to confess that I had thought they grew on trees!