Brick by Brick (brickbybrickeducation.org) was founded by David Aarons and Sarah Vallance-Goode in 2009 and the funding to date has been mainly by them.
David was a former development economist with a large British consulting firm and he has carried out many projects in Africa. Latterly he was a property developer in London.
Sadly he passed away very unexpectedly on 5 January 2019.
Sarah has spent many years working in Africa, focussing both on education and sport; she is also an expert research economist. She taught for many years in schools and now does human rights work in prisons.
My late husband, David and I wanted to do some charity work overseas. I was keen on VSO, but he was not. We had both lived and worked in Africa and were passionate about education.
Laying foundations for schools in Africa was therefore a natural conceptual extension for us.
We initially arranged a meeting at the Malawi embassy in London and were put in contact with the Malawi Education Minister in Lilongwe. We flew over and duly met Olive, the minister who only seemed keen to show us her grandchildren on the computer and offered us hot chocolate although it was 40 degrees outside!
Finally she gave us the names of 5 areas in the country which badly needed schools i.e. the children were in danger going to school on foot or walking over 10 kilometres for the round trip.
After studying each area, we decided to concentrate our efforts in the north of Malawi as it is considerably less developed than its southern counterpart.
We were keen to help the most far-reaching unconnected parts of the country with schooling.
We have always had a synergetic approach, working hand in hand with village chiefs, the elders and the main women of the community. We require the village to demonstrate a commitment to the project via a substantial contribution : the production of 80,000 mud bricks, collection of sand and quarry stones and carry out the unskilled labourer.
Brick by Brick provides the building materials gradually as the work is done and contributes for skilled labour when there is a shortage in the village. The elders are asked to appoint a building committee which takes responsibility for the building work. We also work with the regional education authority who help introduce us to the village initially and often monitor progress on our behalf. At a later stage a PTA committee is selected in which the women generally become quite involved.
So it is essentially a real team effort.
Brick by Brick is a highly efficient charity with no overheads. We do not run a local office, rather we entrust control of the village projects to the village principals who update the regional officers regularly on the progress being made.
When children are learning under the trees they are taught by parents and unqualified assistants, however when the schools are completed, the district education officers are obliged to take over the running of the school and provide qualified teachers; they also take over the management of the school in line with the Ministry of Education’s policies.
Once the schools are operating, we continue to support via additional building projects to assist their smooth running; we build houses for teachers, provide toilet facilities and have helped facilitate the building of wells. We also assist supplementary teachers, provide materials such as books, stationery, uniform and desks and finally are always at the end of the phone to provide general advice and support.
Finally, we have recently introduced feeding programmes (a warm porridge type meal served at school) in our schools and this has had a huge impact on attendance records. We have also tried to position our schools as learning centres for adults within the communities and have run classes in adult literacy and education, as well as teaching programmes in health, hygiene, agriculture and the environment.
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