Today, on World Teachers’ Day, we celebrate and thank teachers around the world – be they in classrooms, communities or churches.
The teachers in my life are some of the most precious people to me, because they helped challenge me to become who I am today. Their words still echo down the years motivating me to try – to try and improve myself, and the world around me, by taking my education and putting it into action.
It’s a pity that as children we don’t fully realise just how incredible some of our teachers are. I’m sure you can think of that wonderful teacher from your school years who continues to inspire you to this day. For me, his name is Mr Chapman. Mr Chapman was my history teacher – but instead of having us memorise facts and dates, he taught us to ask critical questions, and discover history for ourselves. He never shied away from teaching about injustices, and introducing our class to those who fought against them. It’s down to his lessons that I still ask: whose story aren’t we listening to? What injustices are being perpetrated, and how can I help fight against them?
This World Teachers’ Day I want to introduce you to another amazing teacher whom I had the honour of meeting last year in Malawi. Her name is Ms Nsugazo and she teaches at the Mchacha Centre in the rural southern region of the country.
The Mchacha Centre is a very special school, designed and set up around the needs of girls who have been forced to leave school and abandon their education. Some girls have left school because their families can’t afford the cost of schooling; others because through neglect and abuse they have become pregnant and are now mothers themselves. Each girl’s circumstances are different – but what they all face is a society that often sees little value in girls, or in their education. Except, that is, for people like Ms Nsugazo and her colleagues at AGLIT+.
AGLIT+ is an amazing local organisation that All We Can is working in partnership with to improve the lives of girls in southern Malawi. Their vision is to set up local centres like the Mchacha Centre throughout the area, to teach girls who have had to abandon their education and are left illiterate. Classes are scheduled around the girls’ chores, and those with children can bring their babies and toddlers to class so childcare doesn’t pose a barrier to learning. The classes teach the girls reading, writing and maths, along with life-skills such as good nutrition and how to access health care. These are skills that are vital if the girls are to fulfil their potential – and that of their children. But most importantly, the girls are encouraged to embrace their own unique strengths, and have confidence in their abilities.
This includes girls like Sitera , who was 15 when I met her, and had a 1 year old baby. Sitera was vulnerable to abuse, and didn’t intend to become pregnant. When she found out that she was expecting, she was terrified. No one looked out for her, and she struggled to feed and clothe herself. Then one day her life changed for the better. ‘There were messages around the village about AGLIT+ classes. That’s when I came and registered for the classes’ she shared.
Sitera loves learning, ‘With maths, I have a desire to know multiplication and subtraction. I have an interest in English because I really want to learn to read and to speak so I have no difficulties when people are speaking English, I can know what they are saying.’ With an education, her ambition is to start a fish selling business to support herself and her little boy. ‘After finishing school, I want to start a business selling fish, I want to be a fish-seller. I want my child to be educated and continue with school up to the point that he finishes, that is why I want to start a business so the proceeds may go to support my child in school.’
Sitera’s dreams are possible thanks to the education she receives from Ms Nsugazo and AGLIT+, who come to Sitera’s community five days a week to teach her and the other girls. It is not an easy job, but Ms Nsugazo, like so many wonderful teachers, is motivated by the change that learning brings for her students. As she explained to me, ‘I was interested in this job because I want to help the girls learn. The girls face challenges to come to class. But the work is rewarding because the girls are so interested in learning.’
Malala Yousafzai, the incredible champion of girls’ education, said that ‘one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world’. This vision is embodied by the work of teachers like Ms Nsugazo and AGLIT+ – for they are helping change the world for girls like Sitera. Let us today celebrate these amazing teachers – for it is through their efforts that a better world will come about.