They were looking for hope. When Simon and his brother Rafik arrived at Chiyembekezo School in Malawi, they were aged 9 and 8, and had never attended school before.
Orphaned and living with their ill grandmother, the boys had heard about the school and that there might be someone there who could help them. “They said they had been going to bed without food and had nothing to cover themselves with in the night,” said Peggy, head teacher at the school run by OM.
Peggy gave the boys blankets and food and enrolled them both in the first grade. The brothers thanked the school, saying: “Today we can cover ourselves during the night, and our grand-mother expressed happiness when she received the gifts.”
When Chiyembekezo School first opened its doors in 2013, the teachers went out into the nearby villages, looking for children who were orphaned or in difficult situations. They invited them to be the school’s first class. Today, the school boasts 145 students from preschool to grade five and has people asking for their child to be accepted into the school.
“We have a manageable number of students in each class compared to some government schools, which means we have time to help each student,” Peggy explained.
In addition to individual attention, the school provides students with two meals a day, uniforms, shoes and stationery. As most of the children come from families who cannot afford school fees, the guardians are instead asked to work a number of hours on the school farm. This farm grows food for the school to then use.
But it’s not the class size nor the daily meals or even the lack of school fees that makes Chiyembekezo different from other schools in the area – it’s what the children are learning.
“We teach them biblical principles,” Peggy said. Around 75 per cent of the students at the school are from Muslim families, while the other 25 per cent are from Christian families. Regardless of background, all of the students learn how to pray and are taught Bible stories. If there is a problem, the teachers help the children understand what is right, what is wrong and why – based on what the Bible teaches.
Chiyembekezo School continues to be a place where children are welcomed in regardless of circumstance and loved. Just like Simon and Rafik, who found at the school what they were looking for: hope for the future.