Bandawe is situated approximately 50km south of Nkhata Bay, the same distance as Mzuzu. However, the connection is much worse and it takes us almost 3h to reach the school, first with a minibus and then with a pick-up. The school is in the middle of a forest of Eucaliptus and thanks to the many boards, it is very easy to locate it. Malita does not recognize us when we reach the school, but she is very happy to see Gresham and sticks to him till the moment we leave.
All the teachers, the headmaster, plus 3 more, are there to welcome us. They explain to us that the Bandawe School of Deaf is a government institution, which currently hosts 63 children, approximately half boys and half girls. To run the school they receive from the Malawian government 150.000 Kwa/month (approximately 750 €) with which they have to cover all the expenses, from the salary of the teachers, to paying the bills, to provide the students with food. Despite the topping up from the children fees, the situation is really hard and recently their connection to the running water has been closed, since they are not able to pay the bills (approximately 60.000kwa/month, more or less 300€/month). As a consequence they are dependent on the water of a well really close by. For the same reason they cannot feed the children with more than black tea, nsima (a sort of pap of cassava flour), beans, some sardine-like fishes and at times rice. To overcome this problem and try to offer a more varied diet, they have recently acquired 40 chickens, 3 pigs and 2 goats. They are also starting up their own vegetable garden and with this they hope to be able to provide better meals in the future.
With the warning not to get too sad, they bring us to the dormitory of the students, which is here mixed. Despite their warning it is practically impossible not to be shocked: the painting is falling out from the walls and, most importantly, there are no beds! The luckiest children are sleeping on a straw-mat, the rest just has blankets or even share them. A few of them have a mosquito net which however is in rather questionable conditions. We are also told that Malita has a way too less clothes and basically no shoes and we are introduced to the young lady who is supposed to take care of her. We brought for Malita the same things we had for the other kids, but in this case we definitely did not solve any of her problems here. Now Malita has bed linens but no bed, a few exercise books and pens, but it will take a while before she starts using them. We are in fact told that she was sent back to pre-school 1, since she has to be given a language before she can actually start to learn further.
Some more news on Malita
Here they will teach her the American sign-language, since they feel it is much more useful and complete than the locally used one. At the moment Malita is like a baby who still has everything to learn and that is where she has to start from. As a consequence, she still has 3-4 years to go before she can start at Standard 1, the class she was coming from.
The conditions of the place really raise more than a question mark in our heads. However, the teachers seem to be well aware of what they are doing and so we decide to come back to visit Malita next week. Moreover, we will give the possibility to Gresham and her mum to come once a month and to monitor the situation for a trimester. We will also try to improve the quality of her life here for the time being. Through Gresham we also want to evaluate some possible alternatives.
In the meanwhile, Malita, who has been in an extremely quiet and sober mood the whole morning, seems to relax a bit and, before we go, starts to interact, showing some interest in the colours and colour-book we brought for her and making more than one smile.