Working closely with our partners on the ground in Malawi, the Development Aid From People to People (DAPP Malawi) and Wungwero Book Foundation (WBF), African Library Project is learning how Malawi and its education system and libraries have been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Stay tuned for more updates or subscribe to our newsletter for the latest stories from our partners and staff.

Updates on our work in Malawi: Due to a wonderful response to our ONE BOX project, we have managed to fill all the applications for libraries in our Malawi container! Please continue to save your gently used children’s books as space permits, for use in a future book drive, or ONE BOX project. We will update our website as soon as we have mailing dates for upcoming containers, so please check back often. Thank you for your support!

Despite the complications of COVID-19, our work in Malawi isn’t done. We will continue to search for innovative ways to spread literacy in a time when education and libraries are more important than ever. Learn more about our past work in Malawi here.

Update from African Partner and librarian Gibson Dzimbiri, from the Malawi Institute of Education

The pandemic has paralyzed all sectors of our lives, including education. Schools have closed, and other institutions that promote education are not in full operation. For example, the Malawi Institute of Education, a curriculum development center, is partially operating to support the essential services such as producing learning materials for schools. The institution has also collaborated with other organizations to develop learning materials that learners could use in their homes.

On the side of supporting literacy, things are not working out as expected. With the closing down of schools and libraries, children are not accessing the necessary reading resources. I can confess that my work has been negatively affected. I had plans to visit some libraries this year, but with the pandemic at hand, the plan has been put on hold.

We also planned to conduct trainings for teacher librarians in April or May in partnership with Wungweru Book Foundation but the program has failed due to COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 affected how you communicate with school facilities and school libraries, and/or how are you continuing your work on the ground during this time?

Linking up with schools has not been affected because we have been using technology such as WhatsApp, emails and phone calls to communicate with them. With the coming in of lockdown, nothing has changed in terms of communication.

Currently, even if we can communicate with libraries, nothing could be implemented on the ground because students and teachers are no longer in schools. Our Malawian setting and Africa in general demands that individuals have to meet physically to work together.  The digital divide is an issue in Africa that is making it very difficult to work with schools virtually.

What are ways we can encourage children to read even when schools are closed?

Almost 80 percent of the Malawian community lives in the rural area (which is also common in Africa), and these communities work better when individuals are in close contact with each other physically which is not possible in the current situation. Therefore, when it comes to providing reading resources children from these communities have to meet and distribute the reading materials to them.  As it is now, this method cannot work until the situation returns to normalcy.

The best strategy would be to request schools and libraries ask parents to collect books for their children to read them at home and return them after a set period. On the other hand, the approach is not right when it comes to the preventive measures on the spread of Coronavirus because the materials will need to be disinfected each time they are returned. Very few schools, mostly private schools, can afford to follow this approach. Currently, I have not yet contacted schools on this matter, but very soon it will be done.

Anything else you would like to share?

We are planning to develop a virtual library where we will upload textbooks and syllabuses for primary and secondary education. Schools and individuals will be subscribing for the copyrighted materials that will be uploaded on the virtual library. But for those materials that are on open source, they will be accessed for free as long as they are connected to the Internet.

Malawi Institute of Education is partnering with Tanzania Institute of Education on the possibilities of implementing a virtual library. The link between these two institutions has be facilitated by World Bank through Equity for Quality Learning In Secondary Schools (EQUALS) project, which aims at promoting science in secondary schools. I want to take advantage of this initiative to upload other storybooks that could be accessed for free.

Update from Nancy Mpekansambo of Chancellor College

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

When the outbreak first presented itself  the college was directed
to close indefinitely. Meaning we all had to leave the place of work
and just be home. Getting used to the idea of staying home was not
easy at all. As a department we had arranged some activities such as
teacher-librarian training  scheduled for 4th &5th June and a lot of
participants showed interest to attend. Now the dates have gone past
and we are still at home. Painful situation. We have had to miss the
ALP Summit as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. So to answer the
question I have been affected negatively as not much is being done. We
are told to stay home.

How has COVID-19 affected how you communicate with school facilities and school libraries, and/or how are you continuing your work on the ground during this time?

In terms communication with school libraries. We do have a whatsaap
group where we are able to talk and share our frustrations. Off course
no all schools have the prev allege of a whatsaap phone. In such
situations we just call each other and tall. Money to buy airtime is a
constraint in this regard.

What are ways we can encourage children to read even while schools are closed?

Children in private schools are lucky in that their schools have
made efforts for their learners to learn online. These ones can be
given electronic content to read. However, the challenge is that such
children are very few in comparison to children who have no access to
both  hard copies or electronic content to read.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Currently, with the realization that COVID-19 is here to stay the
Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Education are working on modalities to have schools open. The nation is happily waiting to have
the schools open. The tentative date is 13th July 2020.

List of COVID-19 Resources – Malawi