By Doris Christelis, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Who could imagine that something as simple and as small as a pencil could prevent a child from attending school? Yet in Malawi, in Africa, a student cannot attend classes unless he or she has a pencil.
Malawi is among the world's poorest, least developed and most populated countries. Free education is provided only to those in primary school. However, the number of students significantly drops off after these first years for many reasons. Only 35 percent of children attend secondary school and only 44 percent of those reach graduation.
One of the barriers to a student continuing with their education is that they need a pencil. In a country where a family brings home only a few dollars a day, owning this simple writing implement can be a luxury.
A few years ago, Sister Gladys Marhefka, a Sister of Charity and chair of the Grey Nuns Ecology, Justice and Peace Committee in Lexington, raised this need for pencils at a meeting of area directors of religious education. Sister Gladys had collected over 2,000 pencils, but she needed more to send to Malawi, as well as Kenya. Pat Contie, assistant to the director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish in Hudson, knew this was a calling her school could participate in. As a result, the students at St. Michael Parish School in grades 1 through 5 began their own pencil drive.
“We chose the Lent period to begin the drive,” Contie said. “It was an excellent way for the children to not only understand just how lucky they were to have schools and be able to go to school, but also to understand how many children have so little that a pencil is considered a luxury. The kids were particularly impressed to learn that students in Malawi are excited about going to school. This and the level of poverty in Malawi was an eye-opener for them.”
The 400 students at St. Michael Parish School collected hundreds of pencils as well as pens, erasers and sharpeners.
“It was a very heavy box,” Contie said and added that Sister Gladys is now collecting donations to ship the pencils to Malawi and also needs funds to help a school that is being built to help educate the poorest residents of Malawi. The school is being built by the Jesuits in the Kasungu district of Malawi, where only 25 percent of students can now enroll beyond grade eight due to a lack of schools.
The new Loyola-Jesuit Secondary School, which will open for classes in 2013, will house 500 students, both girls and boys. The school will be grant-aided, meaning the government will pay teachers” salaries and provide other resources so that school fees can be much lower than those of other area schools. Twenty-five percent of spaces at the school will be reserved for local students from poor families in Kusungu. One thing for sure though – there will be plenty of pencils.
For more information or to donate to the new school building, visit www.loyola-malawi.org.