It is like everything is new - Phoebe Wright

Changes to the nursery school programme at Mphatikizo

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For some months now, three untrained but enthusiastic local volunteers have been running a nursery school around the feeding programme at Mphatikizo. Using what they remembered from their own schooling, they led a group of 30-70 children between the ages of 2 and 5 in singing the alphabet, counting, and various other rhymes and chants.

This was a great start, but there was clearly an opportunity to make the programme far more educational and stimulating. Over the last two months, we have trained teachers to add the following to the nursery programme:

·       Age-appropriate writing skills practice using chalk

·       Fun exercises for letter recognition

·       Counting and maths games using bottlecaps and other objects

·       Read-aloud sessions using picture books from the library

·       Free-play time where adults play interactively with children using Mphatikizo’s supply of donated toys

·       Encouragement to include Chichewa folk stories and songs in the programme

·       A wide range of exercises for learning English vocabulary, using pictures and movement

·       Beginner’s Phonics for a head-start in literacy

Children in this area, while rich in community, are poor in educational opportunities and many kinds of mental stimulus that Western children take for granted. This programme is working to give local kids a stimulating educational boost at a crucial time in their brain’s development. It has been wonderful to see the joy with which children partake in these new activities, and the joy of their teachers as they find a new layer of meaning in their work.



Over the last 2 days we have also trained teachers from 14 other nursery centres in the district, in all of these skill areas, and provided them with a set of books and flashcards so that they can recreate these learning experiences for their own groups of children. The teachers learned enthusiastically. My favourite comment was ‘It is like everything is new.’


Afternoon literacy boosting

One teacher has shone above others in her enthusiasm and capability. Esther Doreen is now trained to teach a full curriculum of Phonics, which is a system of learning literacy through sounds and is widely regarded to be the single most effective method of teaching literacy, particularly for children from non-literate homes. Esther has been using this new skill to teach two classes of primary students directly after school. Sadly, literacy teaching in schools in Malawi is limited mainly to rote learning, which is far less effective than phonics. But children lucky enough to live near Esther’s class at Mphatikizo have shown marked improvements in their reading, writing, and comprehension.


Book exchange

Children also have the opportunity to take one book at a time out of the library (newly catalogued by volunteer Rosa), study their book at home, and exchange it the next day after reading aloud to Esther, a volunteer, or Diana, who has also been a wonderful help to the afternoon education programme. This is a great opportunity to increase children’s comprehension of English and instil in them a love of reading and books.


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A big congratulations to Esther and the other teachers! I can safely say that this has already had an empowering impact on local children and has the potential to do exponentially more so if education continues to be prioritized by the charity. This is also an area that any volunteer with a Western education could easily help with.


If anyone would like to talk to me directly about volunteering, literacy and phonics, feel free to email any time – I also sporadically keep a blog: and

I learned to train teachers in a version of Phonics specifically tailored for literacy in Africa when I lived in Uganda, with an excellent organization called Read for

Megan Fitzgerald