Today, as I go through my camera, it reminds me of Makuta community in Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka district. I remember it was a Monday when we were supposed to prioritize needs of the community. I have been to this community which comprises of 17 villages for several times. As I walked through the community and observed, it was obvious to me that the community’s need is water.
The women explained to me that they wake up at 3am to come to this water source just to get a 20 liter bucket of water, otherwise by noon the source does not provide water. This was obvious to me as I found empty buckets waiting to be filled. Then I said to myself, “this community needs water”.
Prioritizing the needs was done in an open manner whereby the community voted. Contrary to my thinking and to my amazement, the community prioritized girls education. “The school that we have in the community goes up to standard 5 only. For standard 6 – 8, our children walk a distance of over 12kms to another school. Our girls do not make it, as such they end up getting married while young because they have nothing to do. Here, no school for a girl child, is equal to marriage” said one woman to emphasize the need to upgrade Mchinji primary school to standard 8.
When I heard this, I remember my heart missed a beat, but this is a big project. “Since independence Mchinji primary has been like this, without standard 6 – 8, why now” I asked. “Enough is enough. We are tired. I did not go to school. I have 7 children, 5 of which are girls. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to them. We just wanted someone to influence us, now you are here” Nabanda said as she smiled and looked aside.
I could read in their eyes, voices and actions that they were fade up with the problem. Unless, a community is fade up with a problem, they will never do anything. They know their problems better than anyone else from outside the community like me, and they are the experts in solving it. “If we educate our girls, they will give us water” group village headman Makuta emphasized.
As I listened to them talking, I learned that whatever people’s motivations are, but obtaining meaningful community participation and having a successful, sustained initiative require community leaders respect, listen to, and learn from community members. An absence of mutual respect and co-learning can result in a loss of time, trust, resources, and, most importantly, effectiveness. Imagine, just as I was thinking of water, they were thinking of education.
The community organized itself and we started planning meetings for upgrading of Mchinji primary school. It is important to design and plan with the community and not for the community.
Each village and household was given number of bricks to produce depending on number of people in the house. It amazed me how knowledgeable and organized Makuta is.
The last time I was in Makuta, below is how new school block looked like. Now it is finished but I did not have a chance to visit this wonderful community again. Knowing a community, its constituents, and its capabilities is vital in community development. Community solutions for community problems.
Educating girls results in healthier, better educated children and grandchildren. Fewer maternal deaths and reductions in the under 5 mortality rate, delayed marriage and better parenting skills, improved literacy skills leading to greater economic opportunities, more skills and knowledge enhancing women’s self-esteem and the well-being of families. What a great return on investment!
By Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo