What do you do when over 50 learners need bursaries and there is only enough funding for 20% of them? If you are a learner at Umbwi Secondary School based in Dedza, Malawi, you start a poultry farming project to raise the necessary funds.
The school is solely dependent on government funding, and there is never enough money to support the many poverty-stricken learners who attend the school. For example, from the 2020 Form 1 selection list, the school had 53 learners who needed bursary support, but only enough money to provide bursaries to 11 learners. This means that dropout rates are high.
As one of the pilot schools in the FutureLife-Now! programme, Umbwi’s learners, with technical assistance from their teachers and the FutureLife-Now! youth facilitator, submitted a proposal to MIET AFRICA for support to carry out a learner-centred poultry farming project.
The proposal was accepted and the FutureLife-Now! programme provided support to kick-start the rearing of layer chickens at what has been named the Umbwi Poultry Farm. This included the purchasing of 1 000 chicks, as well as enough feed and vaccines.
The learners have taken ownership and leadership of the farming at the school. Currently 230 learners between the ages of 13 and 19 are involved in the day-to-day running of the farm. To ensure proper management, learners have elected a council of 10 executive members who provide strategic management. The skills they gain will also assist them with business skills that may empower them even after they have graduated.
“A dream came true for us on July 23, 2021, when the assistance from the FutureLife-Now! programme came through for us,” says Eneless Kanyori, a Form 3 learner and the Umbwi Poultry Farm chairperson. “Honestly speaking, we did not expect this to happen to us and all learners are 100% committed. We are doing everything possible to produce high quality eggs that we can use and sell to vendors.’’
The farm also uses the manure produced by the chickens in the school gardens. This is a way of promoting the use of organic material to enrich the soil while not polluting surrounding water sources.
The school is planning that the money made through the sale of eggs will be used to support vulnerable learners who would otherwise not be able to complete their studies. Learners also plan to use part of the proceeds to innovate other small, learner-led projects which will give them space to test their ideas.
“Eggs harvested from the farm will also supplement learners’ dietary needs as Umbwi Secondary School learners are housed within the school campus,” said Nover Kamthuzi, the school’s Deputy Head.
The poultry farming project has brought excitement both to learners and teachers and it offers learners practical experience to cement what they learn in class. It is a project that takes commitment. The biggest challenge learners face is walking 1.5 kilometres to fetch water from the borehole, as chickens are supposed to drink water free from chemicals like chlorine. But there are also good times to be had. ”The most exciting time on the farm is when we are feeding the chickens,” adds the farm’s chairperson. “Learners get excited when they see them scampering for feed!”
Croxley Nkhoma, FutureLife-Now! Country Manager, says the project impacts on the sustainability drive that the school has embarked on. “I am happy to see the learners at the centre of providing strategic direction to the project. This reinforces one of the critical aims of the FutureLife-Now! programme – promoting learner agency.”