Written by Nikki Luxford
Andy Monaghan has a smile across his face as he takes me on a tour of Matandani School, proud to show off the changes that are taking shape at this primary school in the poor, rural south of Malawi. Mr Monaghan, a teacher at Scoil Bhride Primary School in Ireland, arrived here on a year-long sabbatical in 2014 with a plan to help this school improve.
Having visited this school on previous trips to Malawi, the beginning of a transformation is clear to see. Visiting each classroom, I see they’ve gone from being dull and boring to exciting, colourful places. Floors have been repaired, the rooms have been painted, and bright paintings of the alphabet and numbers decorate the walls.
Mr Monaghan is keen to show off the successes outside the classroom, too, including the two water taps that must be a godsend to a school with 1,100 children. The toilets are now clean and hygienic and, all-in-all, the school is a much safer place for staff and pupils. A lush green netball court and manicured flowerbeds are also taking shape in the school courtyard, which was previously awash with sand.
Speaking to Mr Monaghan about the changes and improvements, he plays down how proud he is, telling me that he isn’t really proud of himself – yet. It’s clear that while he is happy that the school has had a facelift, won’t be content until he makes a difference in the classroom – and not just with a lick of paint. It’s great that the walls now ‘speak’ – a new term I’ve learnt whilst I been here – but the easy part was repairing the cracks in the floor. The hard part is still to come.
Mr Monaghan wants to make a real difference to the pupils that attend Matandani, something he is passionate about at his school back home in Portlaoise, too. He is intent on working with and helping educate Matandani’s teachers so they know the best methods not only to handle the huge class sizes they battle each day, but to know how they can make a real difference to each and every child in their classes. Not only that, but by building the first new classroom block, Matandani will be able to welcome new teachers and reduce class sizes, another positive for the students.
Speaking to Andy after the tour, I asked him what inspires him to want to make a difference. Here he tells all.
|Tell us about your background|
I grew up in a small village in Ireland, an hour from Dublin. I have a brother and sister, both older, and because it was a village I was able to walk or cycle to my primary and secondary schools. I had a very good childhood, not wanting for anything in particular. I had a big interest in sports, animals and computers. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
I enjoyed coaching kids in soccer and other sports, and always enjoyed being around them.
|What and who inspires you?|
I remember the advertisements as a kid of the children in Africa needing help, especially the famine in Somalia. As a teacher, I hate to see any child have a tough time, and while I currently work in a disadvantaged school in Ireland, I wanted to do more. I decided to combine my love of travelling with helping children in need, and having already fallen in love with Africa I knew that would be the place.
Realising the unjust nature of the world and hearing the constant complaints of how the government do not do enough I began thinking Why not start something myself?, something manageable and something that anybody could replicate in other areas.
I also wanted to work with other like-minded individuals, and it’s through meeting some of the people here that have kept me energised and hopeful that soon, more will be done to eradicate needless poverty and to provide a decent education to all children, no matter where they were born!
|Why Malawi? Why Matandani School?|
Four years ago I spent two-years travelling around the world and nine-months of that was spent travelling Southern Africa.
Africa has always been top of my places to visit since I was young, probably because of the animals to start with but as I grew older I heard and learnt about the problems that the continent has. I wanted to be a help in some sort of way and learn more about African culture and the lives these people live.
While travelling from South Africa up as far as Uganda, I was on the lookout for a small organisation that could do with my help and expertise instead of just money. I found out about Tikondwe after meeting another volunteer that had just left and spent three months in Malawi helping to set up and develop seven nursery schools in a rural setting. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to return the following year but as I was working I could only spend my two month summer holidays there. We continued the improvements of the seven schools and then organised a training course for the volunteer teachers.
With the nursery schools up and running quite effectively, my focus started to turn towards the huge project of the local government primary school. When I thought about the children in our nursery schools turning six and starting at this school, they were leaving well-resourced and bright coloured schools to a dull, oversubscribed classroom with no resources, it made me really want to do something positive for the whole school.
Matandani is also the main government school in the area and our nursery schools were like feeder schools so I knew I was still helping the kids we had been helping.
I knew if I was to give it a good go I would have to spend a decent amount of time to help this school. I knew money was not the only thing the school needs, it also needed a teacher to help sort out some of the problems with a different Western view and experience too. It would also teach me much too, as spending over six months there on a day-to-day basis I learnt a lot personally.
|What are the main struggles you experience in Malawi?|
Some of the main struggles include getting good value for your money and not paying ‘white-man’ (azungu) prices. With over 1,200 children, we had to change the mentality of people and encourage them to look after the new things being installed. Another problem is water being cut off so we’ve installed a 2,500 litre tank to help.
And one of the biggest struggles is with the locals and their mentality is that children are more useful helping out at home or at the market and trying to sell the vision of what education can do for their families and as a tool for getting out of poverty long term can be frustrating!
|During the hard times what pushes you forward?|
During the hard times I just have to remember why I came out here in the first place. I never expected it to be rosy all the time, I knew it would be hard with lack of water or electricity or transport. After travelling I have got accustomed to “going with the flow”! I always know that it is never the people who I am directly helping that cause the hardships so I can’t stop these hardships from getting in the way of what I am trying to do here.
This is a long term project that I have set up and I am in it for at least five years until I know this project can go from strength to strength on its own two feet.
I have some fantastic teachers who have really been great to boost morale and are an unbelievable help and I do not want to disappoint these people.
I also try and surround myself with positive thinking people and I believe I am that kind of person too, to always try and see the positive of every situation, even if it’s a setback – it’s a lesson learned!
I have been told personally that I am a positive thinker and I think that’s a must for spending time in Africa!
I also never let something get in the way of a goal. Even back home in Ireland, I always think of a way ‘around’ the problem – as long as the goal is reached and get the desired result!