The Embangweni School for the Hard of Hearing began in a borrowed building in 1994 with 19 students and a staff of 4. Because this was the only school for the deaf in the northern third of Malawi, the students came from as far as 400 kilometers away and, of course, all had to board at the school. Education focused on “preschool” or pre-academics, with much work done to teach the children the very basics of language (like, “things have names”) and sound production.
The policy of the school was to increase the student body by one class (preschool 1) each year, admitting 10 to 12 new students each January. It soon became apparent that the school needed more space and in 1995 Marion Medical Mission provided funds to build the first classroom block, which was dedicated in 1996. Also built at this time was a dormitory block with separate bedrooms for boys and girls and a common dining room as well as a kitchen area and a latrine/wash block.
Marion Medical Mission also began an on-going program to provide teacher houses. Because Embangweni is so remote, and until the year 2000 did not have electricity, it is vital to have good housing so teachers will be willing to stay at the school.
As the school continued to grow, MMM continued to fund new buildings. A primary school block (to house Standard 1 through Standard 8) was funded in 1997 and dedicated in 1999. This block has 9 classrooms, a library/staff room and office space. Marion also funded a Vocational Education Center which was dedicated in 2006. The Center has two buildings, one for tailoring and needlecraft and the other for woodworking and tin smithing classes.
Others who love the school and its children have also helped develop the campus. The McGill chapel was begun in 2000 and dedicated in 2001. It is located, appropriately, at the center of the school campus because the Christian faith is central to the mission of the school. It is used for daily chapel, assemblies, dinners with special visitors and is also used by outside groups such as large Synod meetings, Women’s Guild and community meetings.
A new boys hostel was funded in 2001 by the Nussbaumer Charitable Trust. It houses 80 boys with 4 bedrooms, a dining room and a latrine/wash block. The original dormitory block is now used for the girls only.
The Embangweni School for the Hard of Hearing uses the standard school curriculum for Malawi and observes the national school calendar. School begins in January and runs until mid-November, with two breaks between terms. It is not unusual for the students to resist end-of-term! They say “we don’t want to go home, because there is no one to chat with.” Add to that the fact that the house mamas make sure the kids have 3 meals and 2 snacks daily — very different from the common 1 or 2 meals a day for many Malawians — and it is small wonder the kids consider the school home!
A typical school day begins with chores at 7:30 a.m. before chapel at 8:00. Students bring chairs and benches from the classrooms for chapel and return them after worship. The four preschool classes spend much of their day working on oral speech production, including exercises in air flow and learning to produce basic sounds. This training continues on as long as the student is attending school. Older students study the same curriculum as any other students in Malawi, including math, social studies and the two official languages of Malawi, English and Chichewa. Because the school is located in northern Malawi, students also study the regional language of Chitumbuka. No matter what the subject, the kids are very focused on learning!
Twice a week everyone participates in physical education and every day at 10:00 is tea time! After school and on weekends the children have chores to do, including carrying water from the nearby bore hole, hoeing the garden, sweeping the sidewalks and roadway and caring for the chicken flock and goat herd.
Celebrations are important, too! Whenever there is a celebration the kids love to perform dramas, ring handbells and perform regional dances. The staff makes sure that each region sending students to the school is represented in the dances.
Visitors are always warmly welcomed by the school! Whether the visit lasts an hour, a day, a week or longer, new faces are welcome and skills and interests shared are enjoyed by all. Just by being there, people are telling these children that they are important and worth spending time with.
Older students who have completed Standard 8 may continue to be a part of the Embangweni School for the Hard of Hearing. While a few students have passes the national school-leaving exam and are attending Robert Laws Secondary School (ROLASS), most need additional training in vocational skills so they can earn a living in the home village. The school’s Vocational Education Center teaches these skills at the same time earning a bit of money for school through the sale of items produced.
People who visit Embangweni School for the Deaf come away feeling that they have been in a special place. It is truly a wonderful statement of Christian love and concern; the staff genuinely loves the children and wants to see them succeed. The idea that these students somehow have less ability than their hearing peers is rejected! As a poem written for Standard 2 to recite at a ceremony reads:
“Deaf is not Death.
Our cry to you has been heard.
Disability is not Inability.
Glory be to God.”
Come and see for yourselves.
Today our dream is a reality.”