Our first series of blogs from Mwananachi's country programmes is rounded off by this story from Malawi. Hassan Nkata explains how local radio and community discussion can facilitate service delivery changes in village level education.
Makungulu Junior Primary school in Chitenjere village, Zomba district, Malawi, is the only primary school within a 7km radius and caters for a local population of over 2500. Although the school was established in 1995, until recently there were no permanent classroom buildings and no teachers’ houses. Pupils took their lessons either under a tree or in an improvised grass thatched structure and teachers walked long distances to the school, reducing time available for administration and meetings and making them late for work during the rainy season.
Although government introduced a free primary school education policy in 1994, an inadequate learning environment hampers both teachers and pupils, meaning attendance has dropped over the past few years. Such was life at Makungulu Junior Primary school before Development Communications Trust (DCT) implemented the Liu Lathu project in Machinjili. Through the project, we can see how the combination of the right method of linking community voices with decision makers, and a focus on issues that really matter to ordinary citizens, can produce change in local accountability and service provision.
The RLC in Chitenjere village mobilised people to discuss the various development challenges the community is facing. Community members present at the meeting included school committee members, parents/teachers association (PTA) members, parents, traditional chiefs, teachers and school children.
Many challenges were mentioned and listed down. The RLC led the community through a process of issue identification and issue prioritization, to determine which issue affected the community most: lack of teachers’ houses and a classroom block came first on the list. Then the RLC facilitated the recording of a ‘Village Voice’, a radio programme in which the community expressed their need for the provision of buildings to improve the quality of their children’s education. School children expressed how unfair it is for them to be learning under a tree when their friends learn in classrooms. Parents and traditional chiefs explained their dissatisfaction with the delivery of education without classrooms, and teachers told of the challenges they face teaching under trees and walking long distances to and from school.
At the end of the Village Voice, the Director of Planning & Development (DPD) at the District Council was identified as a key service provider, and was invited to the Chitenjere village for a dialogue with the community. The DPD responded to the demands of the community by promising that the Council was going to provide a teacher’s house and a classroom block.
This is an example of what happens when the local community has the skills and knowledge to demand their right to development. Before DCT introduced Liu Lathu project in the community, local people did not know about their right to development; as such they did not have the capacity to demand such rights.
'Our eyes are now open; we can make demands on the development we want from the council,' said Enifa Saladi, a member of Lifani RLC.
‘Many people did not know that we have a right to development, we did not that money that government uses to facilitate development was from our taxes’, commented Chief Machinjili during a community sensitization meeting at his headquarters.
The poor educational infrastructure at Makungulu Junior Primary school was despite the government-established Local Development Fund (LDF), a basket of government funding to local district councils. Through the fund, communities are supposed to be able to demand different development initiatives, for instance improvement of quality education and health delivery, agriculture, infrastructure development, water and sanitation, establishment of produce markets, etc. Demand is articulated through local structures called Village Development Committees (VDCs). However, where VDCs are not functional, government continues to use a top-down approach to development implementation, which can fail to respond to community needs. Radio Listening Clubs were able to use the principle of decentralization and the Local Development Fund in order to press the local council to attend the meeting and take action. To ensure the DPD would be keen to comply, the Village Voices programme was also broadcast on national radio.
RLCs have played and continue to play a crucial role in facilitating community mobilization to make development demands through the power of voice of the voiceless. Their depends on skills development: Development Communications Trust (DCT) built the capacity of Lifani Radio Listening Club (RLC) through training in human rights and good governance, leadership, monitoring, basic radio production and negotiation skills. This helped to empower the club to manage community mobilization for development demands, issue identification and prioritization, production of a village voice, facilitation of a dialogue and project monitoring. It is hoped that these skills are a sustainable way to amplify citizen voice at the village level and enable communities to hold their duty bearers to account for adequate service delivery.
Our blog series will kick off again next week with another story from our Ghana coordinator, Glowen Kyei-Mensah. You can read Glowen's first blog, on a project using drama to change attitudes towards women's land ownership, here.