The vision of the community in Mzuzu, Malawi, to provide safe and accessible schooling for its children has been kicked off as part of a new school designed to remove obstacles to education. When the school site is complete, it will accommodate 250 pupils from 18 local villages.

Work on the building of a new block at the Thitmira Secondary School in Mzimba North, 66 km from of the city of Mzuzu has started. At its heart, the project aims to improve the health and wellbeing of future generations by providing educational opportunities, with a focus on equitable access for girls.

RSK Chief Executive Officer Alan Ryder said: โ€œNothing is more important than education but we recognise that there can be many reasons why some young people donโ€™t have the opportunity to attend school and this has been an important focus of this project.

โ€œWorking closely with the local community to create a school that, as part of its architectural design, creates an environment for girls and boys to learn has been a rewarding experience. We know that, armed with this education, the pupils from this school will go on to make their community proud and contribute to it with all they have learned and go on to learn with further studies and training. We hope that this approach to school building can be replicated to give everyone the opportunity to learn and realise their full potential, their dreams.โ€

Currently, work is ongoing for part of phase 2 for the site, which is focusing on building additional classroom space, sanitation blocks and dormitory space, to include wheelchair accessibility. The provision of dormitories and sanitation blocks will contribute directly to ensuring students from the wider catchment area can attend. Planned sanitation blocks include dedicated space to wash and dry sanitary pads: facilities to overcome a barrier girls face to attendance during their menstrual period. In this second building phase, a kitchen and facilities will be provided for a volunteer-run cafeteria to provide a full meal to students during the day.

Access to safe and clean drinking water has been secured at the school site through the installation of a borehole and hand pump. Many families and young people in the area walk long distances each day to collect water, so the installation of the pump will remove the need for these journeys and ensure water remains accessible.

ASC Foundation Trustee Newton Matupi said: โ€œThe Thitmira School project has been entirely conceived by the local community and its ambition of supporting its children to attend school. Overcoming the obstacles that many children in the region face in attending school was a priority for the community, especially for its young girls. Not only do children often walk long distances, but on average, girls miss three to four days of school each month due to menstruation and lack of facilities at school sites. This school provides them with the facilities they need and funds have also been raised to provide sewing machines so that a team of their mothers can make sanitary pads. These things all make such a difference.โ€

Creating an inspiring outdoor learning environment was a further key ambition of community leaders. Plans have incorporated dedicated spaces for outdoor learning and vegetable gardens that will support the school kitchen.
Additionally, girls attending the school will be able to observe and be inspired by space within the wider school complex that has been set aside for businesses owned by women, thus encouraging them to achieve.

Nicholas Oโ€™Dwyer Director Michel Davitt said: โ€œRealising the vision for a safe and equitable learning environment is vitally important for the community here. The engineering team at Nicholas Oโ€™Dwyer has been on hand to provide civil engineering technical support when requested in relation to the school block and its construction using stabilised soil blocks (SSB), which are an energy efficient, low embodied carbon alternative material for structural masonry. Nicholas Oโ€™Dwyer is delighted to be able to support this sustainable initiative with the ASC Foundation.โ€

Environment consultancy RSK is providing funding towards the building of two classroom blocks as part of the project, which is being delivered in partnership with the Action for Sustainable Communities (ASC) Foundation. Following three years of work undertaken and funded by the community, the build committee invited the ASC Foundation to provide further funding and support. Nicholas Oโ€™Dwyer, an RSK Group company, is providing the project team with technical assistance for build. It is planned that the new school block will be ready during the new school year, in November.

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