If you want a girl, you go to Heim Secondary School

Together with Youth Organisation GEMACCADET we did the EduToy presentation at a secondary school in Rumphi, Malawi. About 75 students in the age range of 13 up to 18 years attended and we were again surprised with the effects of the EduToy.

GEMACCADET is an organisation run solely by young adults. The director of the organisation is Tinku: a young man of 22. Compared to MVO and more specifically Yoneco, GEMACCADET differs. It operates from a single, small, rented room, has only one computer to work with and receives no funding. Undeterred, it has ambitious future plans. About twelve GEMACCADET volunteers are working hard to educate the youth in Rumphi district on HIV/Aids, provide their target group with sports and leisure, inform prisoners on the risks of blood to blood transmission, share ideas and methods on positive living (such as small scale farming) and much more. They have also stated that they would want to work on abuse cases, particularly after the presentation day at Heim. For them to remain anonymous, I’ve named the school Heim in this blog post. The lack of funding, means, but also the fact that GEMACCADET is a young organisation, poses challenges. Again, GEMACCADET remains undeterred. Indeed, these challenges did not stand in the way of an interesting EduToy presentation.

Heim is a private school with boarding facilities. Around 900 students are enrolled and about half of them make use of boarding. As Rumhpi is a rural district and villages can be quite remote, most of these students live for three months in a row on the school premises before they visit their family homes for a week. They sleep in halls that in the Netherlands aren’t even fit to house emergency shelters and are being watched by no more than two matrons and two patrons for the girls and boys respectively. Tinku and Geartsje had visited the school two days before the presentation. Even during that visit and a short talk to some of the Heim girls, they had noticed that under the surface much was going on. An ominous remark by one GEMACCADET staff  member prepared us for worse things to come: “Everyone knows, that if you want a girl [to have sex with], you go to Heim”.

They sleep in halls that in the Netherlands aren’t even fit to house emergency shelters […]

One critical look at the school lay out and one already notices the dangers that Heim students are exposed to. As at Bolero Primary, just about anyone can walk in or out the school premises. Walls around the main buildings circle only halfway round, the other half was never built. Heim is situated close to bars, clubs, shops and the inner city of Rumphi, so finding a non-student on the premises happens more than often. The quarters for boys and girls are separated from the main buildings by a street and have no fence whatsoever. As matrons and patrons cannot always keep a close eye on the students, boys and girls stay out for the night, get visits by older men and mingle (and not always with right intensions). During the presentation the students were attentive, but it wasn’t until the presentation was finished, that questions were asked and revelations were reached. A lot of the queries were on the subject of sexual education. A few mishaps that were mentioned are “They put a liquid on condoms which causes cancer” or “We tested condoms by filling one up with 2 litres of water and hanging it out for a day. Water was leaking through the condom at the end of the day. Therefore, condoms do not work”. We can add these to: “Sex in the water prevents the contracting of HIV” and “Circumcised men cannot get HIV positive”. Geartsje came across another mishap. Having a boy- or girlfriend means that you have to, nay, must have sex with one another. Apparently,  relationships and abstinence are considered a contradiction. We came across another, even more harrowing matter as we were told of the things that happen between teachers and students at Heim. As these matters are of such a nature that they need to be followed up by experienced parties, I will not disclose them through this medium. Suffice to say, that we are happy GEMACCADET and the social welfare office are there to do follow ups.

Apparently,  relationships and abstinence are considered a contradiction.

As mentioned in a previous blog, in Rumphi we stayed at Matunkha. A NGO that also runs a lodge and campsite. During our stay at Matunkha we befriended Amon, an employee of the NGO, and his family. They live on the premises of the NGO and invited us to eat beans and nsima, a local dish, with them. What started with one invitation, soon became four evenings during which we felt at home within this family. One night we just enjoyed watching the stars together, as electrical company Eskom had decided it was time for one of their weekly blackouts. It was one of the few times we thanked Eskom for their ‘wonderful’ service.

But the power cuts by Eskom were the tooth fairy compared to the malfunctions we have had with Robbie: our I-will-not-start-demon-of-a-car. We cannot even remember the first time Robbie broke down, as it is lost in a misty plethora of vague malfunctions and hoarse curses. What we can vividly remember was the night Robbie got overheated and we had to pull over in the middle of nowhere on a pitch black night. Fortunately, the car soon got surrounded by drunken Malawians on their Friday booze night. As we are used to the horror of the South African carjackings, this committee didn’t give us good vibrations. But, fortunately, and I’m not being sarcastic when I say: fortunately, Malawians tend to be rather friendly and helpful. In fact, they helped us reach Geartsje’s birthday destination, the fabulous beach lodge: Ngala. After a night of peaceful sleep, we woke up and were wrapped up in a blanket of luxury. We soon forgot all about Robbie’s troubles and decided to extend our stay by a day. Monday morning we faced Robbie’s wrath. The road back to Rumphi was tedious. The fuel shortages that have been hammering the country for the last months almost detained us halfway, but we came through and were able to finish our program with GEMACCADET. Now, I could go on to produce a Tolstoy weight novel on Robbie, but I won’t. Let’s just say that in one week, Robbie broke down six times. ‘Nuff said.

[…] the car soon got surrounded by drunken Malawians on their Friday booze night.

The road from Rumphi to Lilongwe takes you through some very depressing areas. Not depressing in the sense of financial poverty, but that of natural poverty. Kilometre after kilometre took us through an area that used to be a massive forest area of hundreds of square kilometres. Nowadays it has been completely stripped and deforested. It leads up to Malawian capital and from then on it’s only a hundred kilometres to get to the border with Zambia. Unknowingly, we had overstayed our visit in Malawi by one day. This caused major problems at the border, as this is considered a criminal offense. I kid you not. If we had known beforehand, we would have done everything to prevent this violation from happening. Luckily for us, we got some help at the border and were able to negotiate our way out of a tight situation.

After our borderline situation and two very intense, hectic weeks with two NGO’s in Rumphi, we decided it was time for a short holiday. So we drove to South Luangwa, which according to wildlife experts, is one of the best parks in the world to spot game. The herd of elephants that greeted us when we arrived at our campsite at the beautifully situated Track & Trail site, agreed with those experts. The grazing hippo at six metres from our car whilst our diner approved as well. Although his presence made us finish our meal in the car, it was still a nice experience to share diner with a 1,000 kg beastie. Although, the next day we didn’t see that many game, the meandering Luangwa, the campfires and the great variety of birdlife we saw, provided us with a lovely stay.

Luangwa also provided us with enough energy to power through to Lusaka and the capital of the Copperbelt, beyond. Here in Ndola we are currently working with Hope Humana. But, more on that later.

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