Now though, I sat in front of hundreds of nervous pupils as they received their marks. I was at the end of a line of the school’s twelve teachers, and tried to follow the proceedings as best I could. I was able to get the gist of the fact that they were reading out all the students marks from recent testing, and the results were not good. New testing formats had been implemented and it would seem that the majority of the students had failed. I silently wondered at the practice of reading grades aloud, so that everyone could hear how well or poorly one did, but then remembered their lack of supplies. They could not spare the paper to write down individual student's marks.
Once the dismal results had been read, speeches began. I was lucky to get a quiet English synopsis of the speeches that the teachers addressed to the students. There was an announcement that a new junior primary school was to be opened the next term. It would only be for Standards one through three, but it would help to reduce the walk that some of the children had to make, and the hope was that the school could be expanded later. I was shocked to learn that some of the students had to walk upwards of four-and-a-half kilometers to school every day. The reality of that would be that many of those children would just not bother to make it all the way to school on many a day.
The Head Master continued and spoke of the ills of “chamba” or marijuana. I looked out at the children in front of me and was saddened that this was a reality that needed to be spoken, but glad to hear that the issue was being addressed. Another teacher spoke against the practice of early marriages. It would seem that many families married off their children young, so that there were fewer mouths to feed. The problem with that though, was that it only served to create new young mouths to feed. When children begin having children at age 14 or 15, there was time enough to have quite a few babies.
I processed the experience the best I could through my translator, trying not to disrupt the proceedings. My head swam with the details and my heart ached at this very real picture of life in Malawi. All of these smiling faces in front of me held such beautiful promise, but their odds of success in the school system and later in life were bleak. Some of these children would continue on to high school. Even less would be able to attend university. As the ramifications threatened to overwhelm me, a young girl crept over and tugged at my skirt, reaching for my hand to touch. With a smile I returned to the present, and promised myself that I would not forget this day or the lessons that these genuine people offered me. The warm heart of Africa had stolen mine.