Editorial, by Tim Nießner
“A dream became reality”: Tim Nießner from “Let’sBuildASchool e.V.” personally visited the Ndalapa Primary School, whose expansion was made possible by his vision and initiative.
How can students improve their performance at school? This was the subject of two bestsellers I published in 2020 and 2021. I then realised that there are many young people who cannot even go to school. This gave me a new idea: to build a school in Africa.
I therefore founded the association “Let’sBuildASchool” in April 2021 and, together with my team, I focused on approaching influencers as a target group for donations. But seeing as we had never built a school before, we needed a partner organisation to build a school on site. We had very high expectations, but we found the ideal partner in the Christian-Liebig-Stiftung e.V. (CLS). We started fundraising around the 2021 Christmas season and to our surprise, the YouTubers “Arazhul” and “LarsOderSo” promised to meet our fundraising target of 60,000 Euros from their own funds. We were gobsmacked. That really was the best Christmas present! Thanks to these generous donations and a notable financial contribution from CLS, Ndalapa Primary School was completely renovated and expanded in 2022.
And I was able to attend the opening ceremony in October in person – my absolute highlight.
But not only that. I was allowed to accompany CLS boss, Beatrice von Keyserlingk, on the entire trip. I was fascinated by the country and its people as soon as I stepped on Malawian soil for the first time: The incredible culture, the joie de vivre of the people, the hospitality, the pride in themselves and their country, the importance of always dressing well – I got to experience all this first hand. Janet Kasambala-Phillips lived and embodied these values the most. Beatrice and I had the honour of staying with the family of the Malawian CLS representative. Her whole family welcomed us affectionately and I felt like a family member after just a few days.
Building a school in a remote area can change lives.
Spontaneous soccer match with the children of the Ndalapa school.
Besides this wonderful personal experience, we had a busy programme every day with visits to the many CLS schools. I will personally never forget the first time I arrived at a school and we were suddenly surrounded by hundreds of beaming children. It was at that moment that I realised the impact building a school in a remote area can have on a child’s life. I was able to learn a lot from Beatrice during these visits. I was impressed by how warm yet consistent she was with everyone.
Even though our joint school only opened towards the end of my stay, Janet and Beatrice surprised me with a spontaneous visit there two days before. I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw the colourful buildings for the first time, the school is simply beautiful. Ndalapa Primary School is especially unique because it has been colourfully painted outside and has yet more paintings inside. We are all incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve.
My conclusion: I not only fell in love with Malawi during this trip, but also with the incredible work that CLS does. I couldn’t imagine a better partner, even before the trip. Being in the country, being there together, only reinforced this feeling. Hopefully we will be able to work on more, big projects together in the future!
Finally back in Malawi!
Eight intensive days lie behind Beatrice von Keyserlingk. Our association chairperson was finally able to fly to Malawi again in October 2022, after a three-year break due to the pandemic restrictions. There was much to organise, visit and celebrate.
Read a summary of her travels here.
Tired but motivated travel companions: Beatrice von Keyserlingk and Tim Nießner at Blantyre Airport.
A long journey, with check-in staff who turned a blind eye to excess baggage (“I couldn’t bear it if the children didn’t get their presents!”), into my birthday and accompanied by Tim Nießner, 20 (see foreword) from Frankfurt. Finally arriving in the afternoon of 17th October with all our luggage, we are warmly welcomed by the Kasambala-Phillips family, including an informal celebration, a visit from our scholarship holder Deborah and the gift. Right, let’s go!
We had opened Nkuyu Primary School in 2021 with a small celebration, but without us being there. Our renovations here started in the first year of the pandemic, under the supervision of Janet Kasambala-Phillips. Now I can finally visit this remote but beautifully landscaped school myself.
The journey there is one of the most challenging I have ever had in Malawi – a road like a washed-out river bed. I am deeply grateful that our construction manager Nick Gaunt had taken on this job.
Productive dedication: Fruit and vegetables are thriving at Nkuyu School and the children are learning in new buildings.
We are warmly welcomed by 500 singing children, there is a wonderful second party with very traditional dances. Lettuce is currently growing in the school garden, other fruits and vegetables are also thriving thanks to the commitment of the community and the three wells we drilled. What is missing? Teachers and electricity! We will support the school in building another teacher’s house on their own – we will pay for the material. And as for electricity, we hope to get another solar energy project off the ground in Nkuyu.
We have a busy day today.
First stop: Christian Liebig Secondary School (CLSS). The girls’ dormitory is in good condition, but 18 years have left their mark on the school buildings, which need a lot of renovation work, from furnishings to blackboards. The maintenance should really be done by the school or the government, but there is rarely money for that. There is, however, great news about performance: The deputy headmaster reports that everyone in the graduating class has passed their exams (2021: 99%).
“We missed our heroine”: Beatrice von Keyserlingk was welcomed at CLSS with lovingly designed posters.
Crowds of children: 1700 pupils are at Muonekera School – they need furniture and new blackboards.
Second stop: Muonekera Primary School. Welcomed by about 1000 cheering children – not only my travel companion Tim Nießner is impressed, I am too. The headmaster is the same as he has been for years, very modestly asking for paint for a new blackboard and some classroom furniture. All 182 pupils in the reception class sit on the floor, there are 1700 pupils in total. We definitely want to support here, as the school has not received any help from us other than the two classroom blocks and teacher houses in 2019.
Next, we visit Mpalapata Primary School, which too has a dedicated team around a new headmaster. Teacher shortage is a big problem, as it is everywhere, although there are enough teacher houses here. I find the headmaster’s idea of motivating villagers who have finished school to train as teachers very exciting, as it is cheaper and shorter than studying for a similar qualification in the primary school sector. The future teachers would come from the area, would not need accommodation and would be more connected to the community.
We will stay tuned to see what becomes of this idea.
Last stop: Ndege Primary School. In the presence of representatives of the Ministry, we ceremoniously hand the solar system, which we installed in the summer together with the organisation “SoPowerful”, over to the school.
The school is now self-sufficient in this area, the well is electrically powered and the permaculture garden is flourishing.
A complete success!
Let there be light: The community, school and garden in Ndege are now sustainable and self-sufficient thanks to solar power.
Anniversary project: A completely new accessible secondary school for 480 children will be built in Liwiro in the next few months.
A visit to the construction site of our anniversary project today. As the work in Liwiro is only really starting, all you can see is trenches and a lot of material; but since “nothing goes unnoticed” in Malawi, we are warmly welcomed here too: by politicians, the headmaster of the neighbouring primary school, children, community members and Moses Kasitomu, the representative of our partner organisation CCAP. Excitement takes hold of me: We are building a completely new school for the first time in 18 years, developing a whole new site.
21st October is reserved for the preparation of the big opening ceremony of the Ndalapa Primary School. The visit of five people from Germany is something special this year. Tim Nießner has been accompanying me all week, and today Roman Fink and Lars Pohl from Arazhul GmbH and their film crew will join us too.
We are almost on time for the opening ceremony. The new buildings are great, the outside walls are colourful and inside the walls are decorated with characters from the Arazhul family (comic figures), immortalised by two local artists. The children and adults that are here can paint more bricks in the classrooms.
The visitors from Germany are enthralled and hand out presents, play football with the children, are delighted by the presents for the guests (so many chickens!) and everyone is overwhelmed by happiness and the filming going on. The elation makes us forget the scorching heat.
Donators from Germany: Lars Pohl and Roman Fink celebrated the expansion of the Ndalapa Primary School with the children.
The expansion of the Ndalapa Primary School is largely thanks to two donors: 60,000 Euros came from Roman Fink (left, Arazhul Studios GmbH & Co. KG) and another 10,000 Euros from Lars Pohl’s company (right). Now they have been there, they are both convinced that their money is well invested in the future of the children.
Roman Fink: “The school is simply unique. We are particularly proud of the collaboration between our design team and a pair of local artists who painted characters from our book series on the interior walls of the classrooms. As the creator of these characters, this really makes me happy. I didn’t realise at the beginning how important teachers’ houses are for a school. With this infrastructure, we have created something that will immensely improve the productivity of their work. Malawi is such a beautiful country, it simply needs the means to grow.”
Lars Pohl: “I was thrilled to see how many children are able to attend classes in the new classrooms. Thank to this education, they all now have the opportunity to create a safe and bright future for themselves – as bright as our colourfully designed rooms. I wish everyone well and just that they have a great time at our school.”
Mtakataka girls hostel: Mattresses and bedding are the ultimate luxury for the young ladies.
My last “working day”. I head north with Janet and her family to visit Mtakataka Secondary School. The transformation of the dormitory we extended there is still impressive, from a miserable ruin to a bright, cheerful place. The girls emphasise how much they like it. Mattresses and bedding are the ultimate luxury for them, the cleanliness of concrete floors and the time left for studying make life here special. I agree to finance two more bunk beds so that soon 60 girls will be able to live in the dormitory.
A spontaneous visit in the dark to Chief Theresa Katchindamoto under a huge baobab rounds off the day. It was at her request that we started working here; I met her for the first time five years ago.
What a trip!
Pictures: Kelvin Banda, Beatrice von Keyserlingk, Dimitri Metzler, Tim Nießner, Chifundo Takomana.