From the Malawi News, 4th October 2003
BY BRIGHT SONANI
GOVERNMENT is probing activities of Development Aid from People to People (Dapp) Malawi following a whistle blown by students of its Mikolongwe Vocational School.
The students accuse the charitable organisation of forcing them to work like slaves with little time for learning, among other things.
Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training launched an investigation on the school in August this year, following complaints from the students.
The Ministry of Labour has since come up with a report which has recommended that some of the activities of Dapp be scrutinized.
The team which carried the investigation also made recommendations to the government to scrutinise procedures of offering scholarships and the packages that accompany the offer after revelations that beneficiaries are used to externalise money from Malawi.
Commissioner of Labour Zebron Kambuto said this week that the ministry was concerned with the complaints the students raised and after a visit to the school it was discovered that although it was a technical school, the standards were far below Malawi government’s requirements.
On the issue of the principal and the teaching staff, it was found out that they lack some of the qualifications. In Malawi we require that apart from a technical certificate, one should also have a teaching certificate from a recognised institution,” he said.
Kambuto said there were a lot of areas which the school has to improve on and recommendations have been made to various concerned authorities for appropriate action.
He could not say whether the charitable organisation has been given any time frame to rectify its shortfalls but said his ministry and other government institutions would be following the activities of the institution and Dapp as a whole closely.
In an SOS letter written to the Ministry of Labour, the students complained that despite paying tuition fees of between K18,000 and K25,000 a year they only learn for four hours a day and spend most of their time working in the school garden and doing what Dapp calls ‘common action’ which involves the students to build classrooms and other structures.
“We learn from Monday to Friday starting from 8.30 am to 12.30 pm and we spend most of our time doing hard labour in the name of ‘common action’ such as gardening, constructing school blocks and painting,” said the students in a letter which was copied to several government institutions, the donor community and the Malawi Human Rights Commission.
The students also alleged that most of the tutors were underqualified as some of them were incorporated into the teaching staff after graduating from the same college without any teaching qualifications. They said at times these tutors sit for examinations along side the students.
Mikolongwe Vocational School in Chiradzulu teaches Business Studies, Agriculture, and Building and Construction. Dapp mostly relies on donor funding to run the school.
However, the students said the school has no library, laboratory, a workshop and teaching aids.
“We would also like to ask the Ministry of Education to probe the qualifications of our principal because it is clear that there is no proper leadership at the school,” said the students in the letter.
The letter also indicated that the students are denied an opportunity to pray and instead they are kept busy working even during their days of prayers.
“It is also surprising that despite paying a lot of tuition fees we always eat vegetables only and sometimes soya beans with meat and eggs only once a week. When one of us fell sick we carry the patient on our backs to the nearest hospital which is about 12 kilometres away because the school has no car,” adds the letter.
Malawi News investigations last year revealed that the school was one of Dapp’s world wide money laundering machinery where donors are used to fund projects yet the money is never used for the intended projects but channelled to overseas bank accounts owned by the Danish-based group known as Tvind or Humana.
One of the teachers at the school said this week that although the students pay school fees and some money come from donors it was not clear how the funds are used as most of the activities are done by the Students.
“Most of the school blocks and hostels are done by the Building and Construction student but after completion we see some donors coming to hand over the buildings,” said the teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The teacher said even the tutors themselves are also involved in most of the school’s work in the name of ‘common action’.
The source said the students are also used to build structures for another Dapp institution, a Teachers Training College in Chileka, Blantyre.
‘We go there during some of the weekends and work from morning to 6 pm. Our work involves moulding blocks, constructing buildings,” he said.
The Ministry of Labour Inquiry was led by Chiradzulu District Chief Executive F Sapala and District Labour Officer George Chilonga and it made 20 recommendations to government.
Among the recommendations is that, the Ministry of Labour together with the Ministry of Education should review the curriculum and examining boards of the school and check qualifications of the teachers.
The team also recommended that work given to students in the name of ‘common action’ should be reduced, the college should provide freedom of worship and that the college should buy a car soon as possible.
Dapp Country Director Lisbeth Hansen who refuted an earlier Malawi News story on Tvind connection to her organisation was not ready to comment on the fresh reports.
“I cannot say anything right now because we have, to finalise discussions with relevant authorities,” she said.
MALAWI NEWS investigations into the alleged illtreatment of students at Dapp Mikolongwe Vocational School revealed that students are forced to hire their own labourers to assist them in the cultivation of a school garden which feeds them.
A teacher at the school disclosed that each student is given 30 ridges of 70 metres long every year.
“It is clear that this is too much for the students and when they complain they are advised to go home and get some money to pay hired labourers who would assist them to complete the assignment.” said the teacher.
He added: “Even teachers are hired to assist because sometimes we get concerned as well, especially for girls and those who are not used to such type of heavy manual work. From the way these students work, it is clear that the purpose of this school is not to assist the underpriviledged but to reap off the students.”
The garden, he said, produces up to 250 bags of maize annually enough food to feed the whole school for the year.