2 New Classrooms

December 20 2021 | by

CAN YOU imagine a school classroom with over 200 children in attendance? That was the case at Ntcheu Primary School, Malawi, until, thanks to the generosity of St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, it was possible to create two new classrooms.

The Malawi government set a limit on the number of people who can be in a class at 80 learners and one teacher. At Ntcheu Primary, that just wasn’t possible with the existing facilities – and even though it wasn’t ideal or safe to have over 160 in a big group in a class, it was the only possibility. Clearly, action was needed and a project was set up to construct two new classrooms.

The town of Ntcheu stretches two kilometres along the M1, the main road that crosses Malawi from north to south. At this point, the M1 is 1,000 metres above sea-level and the road narrows due to the closeness of the valley slopes and the many houses built on both sides. The centre of the town is very dangerous and witness to many accidents which often involve inhabitants.


Sr. Ornella Sala


The Sacramentine Sisters of Bergamo were founded by Geltrude Catarina Comensoli in Bergamo, Italy, in 1882. The Sisters practice daily Eucharistic adoration, and are concerned particularly with youth education. Now present in much of Europe, Africa, and South America, they established themselves in Malawi over 40 years ago.

“We arrived in Ntcheu itself 20 years ago,” explains Sr. Ornella Sala. “Since then, we’ve worked with the local parish and the primary school not too far from the parish. We’ve seen great progress in the school over the years: we found just two classes when we arrived, and gradually, with great effort, we added 12 more with small storage rooms for scholastic materials, which have inevitably been transformed into more classrooms.”

With the help of parents, the school council, and volunteers the school now covers the full ‘standard eight’ years of primary education mandated by the Malawi government, but the school population has continued to grow and classes of over 80 aren’t unusual. The headmaster can’t turn pupils away because there are simply no other schools in the area where they can learn something.


€17,500 donated


In reality, many more classrooms are needed, but the current space on the school grounds allows only for two. A small contribution from parents with children at the school was made available towards the construction, and the foundations had begun to be prepared. The cost of the proposed project would be €27,500 in total. An Italian priest who celebrated 50 years of priesthood donated €5,000 to the project, collected by his parishioners during the celebration. And a friend of that priest donated a further €5,000 to thank the Lord for the gifts received by his family. So, a sum of €17,500 was requested from and granted by St. Anthony’s Charities to allow the project to proceed.

The headmaster asked Sr. Ornella to supervise the necessary work on the project, and ensure the correct management of funds and payment of invoices associated with it. And not only that, but to make sure there was some regularity in teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was happy to do this,” she says, “because the construction site wasn’t too far from the community where I live, and I could get there easily. With everything in place we had great hopes that everything would go to plan.”


Personal joy


And, indeed, it did. The work progressed quickly with few difficulties – perhaps the rain slowed down the transport a little, but at the same time it provided the water needed for the masonry work! “We didn’t encounter any difficulties with the work, except perhaps for the sometimes cumbersome presence of the numerous, continuously curious tide of pupils who began constantly to circle around us, asking when the work would be finished and snoop around,” says Sr. Ornella. “They wanted to see the work completed. And we were just as impatient as they were!”

They didn’t have to wait too long. The project was completed in July 2021 and now the school had two new beautiful spacious classrooms!

“What a great result!” says Sr. Ornella. “The whole school had been waiting for this with great anticipation and desire. So, immediately after the floors had been laid, the headmaster divided the ‘standard seven’ into two classes. Until now there had been over 160 pupils crammed together in one room! It’s a personal joy for me, too, as I have always felt sorry for these numerous children who overcrowd this school so close to where I live, and who fill the air with their bangs during the class exchanges which, during the pandemic, took place late into the afternoon.”


The best reward


The school is completely independent and, as it has grown over the years with the addition of new classrooms, each time the school had let the Malawi department of education know so that a new state teacher could be sent to the school. All the teachers receive their salary from the State. Ensuring the maintenance of the school is part of the remit of the headteacher and the school council, and the new classrooms will also come under that remit.

“I really don’t have the words to thank St. Anthony’s Charities and all its benefactors for the great good they distribute in this part of the world, which helps it become a little more habitable,” Sr. Ornella continues. “The headmaster, teachers and parents know how much gratitude they owe you, and they ask me to convey their thanks to you as well: they’d actually like to send you some of their gifts – a bag of potatoes, and some wheat and rice that we could eat together. But I am sure that the best reward that the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony will experience is the pleasure of seeing their donations being put to good use. Be assured of our prayers.”

Updated on November 08 2021