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Chicken initiative is just ‘fine’

Woman smiling at the camera
Karen Goodman-Jones

Our Malawi Project Coordinator Karen Goodman-Jones reports on an unusual approach to inclusive education in Northern Malawi ….

“Chalk and cheese” and “chicken and egg”. We’re all familiar with these phrases, but what about “chicken and chalk”? For one enterprising community in Northern Malawi this is their approach to a more inclusive education for those with disabilities. And it’s working.

Chicken walking along the grass
The chicken fine is a win-win situation.

Six months in to our four-and-a-half year project, which is funded by the Scottish Government, it’s a good time to take stock and assess our progress. 

Our project is designed to work with rural communities in Northern Malawi, challenging negative attitudes towards people with disabilities, especially children with additional learning needs. We believe every child has a right to an education and the lifelong opportunities and choices that this offers. 

To reach this goal we’re working with our local partner – Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Livingstonia Education Department. And we’re working with respected community leaders, teachers and head teachers, parents and brothers and sisters of those with disabilities. We offer the chance to learn about children’s rights and their abilities, and to encourage an attitude that with support, children with additional needs can attend school, can learn, can make friends and can achieve academically.

To date our project has directly reached nearly 2,200 children, parents, teachers and community leaders with training and support to champion the rights of all children to an education. 

But behind these numbers, what has changed for the individuals?

This is where the chickens come in… as a way forward for the community in the village of Mfinda, in Chitipa District, to support their learners with additional needs at their local school, Mpale School.

Mfinda village has a population of nearly 5,600 people and this training was the first time any of them had been exposed to the idea of inclusive education. Following village meetings, they decided to put in place new by-laws with those ‘breaking’ the by-law facing a ‘chicken fine’.

Those who failed to attend the village’s development meetings, which look to improve their community’s future, faced a fine of one chicken. This was then taken further to support inclusive education, with every family failing to send any of their children to school, regardless of any additional needs having to pay a ‘chicken fine’.  With each chicken worth around £2, this money is donated to the school to purchase chalk and other essentials necessary for learning.

According to the School Management Committee Chairman, Mr Mark Mtambo, in only the first few weeks since the by-law was introduced, two families have been fined, £4 has been raised to buy chalk and two children with additional needs are now registered to attend school.

For the village of Mfinda, and indeed Mpale School, it’s a win-win situation; all the local children will now have a chance to learn and, if they fail to attend, their teaching resources are being increased. With over 1,800 pupils, of which nearly 100 have been identified as having additional needs, boxes of chalk are in short supply!

This is just one small story from the dozens of communities where we work, and just highlights some of the 2,200 people who are now being offered the chance to change their lives for the better, thanks to the people of Scotland.

We will be following Mfinda Village and many others over the coming months, so please do check back and see what a difference your tax is making to children in Northern Malawi.

Thank you.