Mission co-worker partners with Church of Central Africa Presbyterian to reimagine schools
March 15, 2021
Loveness is a 9-year-old child in Malawi who has a new friend in mission co-worker the Rev. Cheryl Barnes.
Barnes serves as an education facilitator for the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), where she collaborates with the CCAP Education Department and the education departments of the five CCAP Synods — three in Malawi, one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe — to improve the quality of primary school education in the many schools under the CCAP umbrella.
Just before the coronavirus arrived in Malawi, Barnes met her new friend when she went to a nearby village to get supplies.
“As my driver and I approached the village, I noticed a group of young girls laughing and dancing on the unpaved road,” she wrote in a recent letter. “I watched for a few minutes until they noticed me. Almost immediately, one of the young girls approached and sat down near me, staring intently. With my limited Chichewa, I greeted her, and she flashed a wide smile seemingly impressed with my feeble attempt at the Chichewa language.
Her beautifully sun-kissed skin framed her soulful eyes. She wore an oversized boys cotton shirt. Her bare feet were covered in brown dust. After a few minutes, she became very talkative, and I turned to my driver for translation. Her name was Loveness. She wanted to be my friend.”
Barnes said Loveness didn’t remember her age, and the older children told her (in Chichewa, the native language) that she was 9 years old and intellectually impaired. Barnes secretly questioned their assessment because of the child’s inquisitive and outgoing nature.
The following week, Barnes found herself thinking often about Loveness. She decided to return to the village with some small gifts for Loveness’s family, gifts like sugar and bread, and to learn more about her new friend.
Loveness’ father told Barnes that as a small child, Loveness suffered from a terrible sickness and a high fever. The family prayed for God to spare her life, and she recovered from her illness. Her father said Loveness’s intellectual impairment was a result of the high fever. Since she was considered “impaired,” she was not attending school.
“There are many children like Loveness whose opportunities for education and advancement are not met because of the lack of trained and qualified teachers or programs designed to address what may simply be a learning disability,” said Barnes. “Children with special needs are often denied education. School in Malawi is often held in dilapidated buildings with overcrowded classrooms. The student-teacher ratio can be as high as 100:1, and the primary school dropout rate is 40%. These are alarming statistics. By the time a child in Malawi reaches adulthood, most have overcome unimaginable hurdles that may include malaria, typhus, cholera, food shortage, snake bites and child labor. The opportunity to receive an education would change their lives and help to lift them out of the depths of poverty.”
Barnes said her commitment to serve the children of Malawi, especially young girls like Loveness, is what drives her to continue to learn as much as possible about the personal struggles of the families she encounters, families that are hard at work educating their children.
“As an educational consultant, I am using my time to better understand the challenges of educating Malawi children by developing relationships with parents and children who willingly share their experiences, hopes and frustrations,” she said. “By doing this I am building a foundation of trusting relationships.
Barnes had just settled in Malawi when COVID-19 arrived. She felt it was best for here to shelter in place there, rather than taking the risk of journeying back to the U.S.
“As with all countries around the globe, the closure of schools in Malawi was an immediate and appropriate response to control the spread of the coronavirus,” she said. “In America, the virus has disproportionately affected Black, brown, Indigenous communities and immigrants. In Malawi, the children, especially the daughters of the poorest citizens, endure the greatest hardship since they are left to entertain themselves or care for younger siblings. Virtual learning is unfeasible because most Malawian homes lack books, computers or electricity.”
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Morning Psalms 119:73-80; 145
First Reading Jeremiah 16:(1-9) 10-21
Second Reading Romans 7:1-12
Gospel Reading John 6:1-15
Evening Psalms 121; 6
Today’s Focus: Children in Malawi
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Rob Fohr, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Lynne Foreman, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we give you thanks both for those who attend and for those who serve in places of learning. May all those who study and teach use their gifts to live out their calling. And may we remember that we are all teachers and learners. It is in the name of the greatest of teachers, Jesus Christ, that we pray. Amen.