After completing his training in teaching basic education, 22-year-old John Punja Nkhata decided to practice his skills through teaching elderly men and women in Mzuzu how to read and write.
Nkhata who completed his training in July 2018 at Karonga Teachers Training College teaches the elderly based in Mchengautuwa township in Mzuzu.
These are elders who dropped out of school way back without the basics in reading and writing.
The age range for his learners is between 40 and 60 years. He is, though with minimal resources, managing to drain-away illiteracy in these aged people. John, is, after one observes his lessons, convincing.
He is doing a service to Malawi, a country with highest illiteracy levels.
Ironically, his eagerness for this charity began in January, 2018 at a bank, where he was withdrawing his monthly training allowance.
There, he felt sorry for a woman who, because she could not write the amount of money to withdraw in figures on a withdrawal form and almost failed to withdraw her money.
Said John: “I helped the woman withdraw her money. That was how my desire to teach these people began. I imagined how illiteracy can expose our elders to scams in town when they want to access services that will require them to read and write.”
“Let’s take for instance on ATM, a person who doesn’t know how to read may, in desperation to withdraw, risk giving h/her personal identity number to other people, who may later siphon from h/her account.”
John is, as evidenced by his teaching methods and skills, creative. He can, if he wants to demonstrate a concept to his learners, compose songs, dance or even cry. No wonder, learners are never absent in his sessions.
He improvised some teaching resources, which are expensive in commercial shops. Talk of word trees, word cards and of course a chalkboard. The teaching and learning environment here is possibly, according to the learners, the most conducive.
“Time management is my priority. I have time for everything necessary thus the proper organization. You know, it requires creativity, hardworking and integrity to keep these people interested and attentive,” he said.
“Dedication is a requirement to my job. I make sure my learners find everything in place when they come, hence we don’t have, in as far as teaching and learning is concerned, many problems.”
John admits, it has never been easy to coax elders to enroll with him. Some, especially men snubbed him at first. Some warned their wives against enrolling at his school. Though, with time and of course his outcomes, many started streaming in.
“Even my friends discouraged me several times on grounds that the project was, in Malawi, useless and a waste of time. They recommended that I should have applied for jobs in private schools, so that I should be earning something rather than spending time teaching the elderly,” he recalled.
“But after proper evaluation, I thought of giving back what government invested in me to the community. We, especially as young people, must live by example. God gave us life and wisdom not to enrich ourselves but to share the knowledge, so that it benefits everyone. If God was greedy, he would have kept everything to himself.”
The enrollment at his school, is promising. Currently, he has about 25 learners, which is, according to him, a good start. In fact, he has the visionaries of doubling the enrollment by, the same time, next year. His checklist, according to him is manifesting encouragements. Most learners are now able to read Chichewa texts and write some words.
One of his learners, Joyce Khambuke, 49, is always all praise for John. She has, according to her, learnt how to read and write.
Said Khambuke: “e is a good child. He cares about us so much. Though teaching people like us is more challenging, he usually try to vary his teaching skills so that we learn. He is beneficial.”
Boyson Zgambo is a class leader and he describes John as the true replica of the biblical John, who preached, in the wildernesses, about the coming of Jesus.
He said: “We’re greatly appreciative to him. Some feel that as we are getting old, basic education is useless but he thought against all that. His expertise is priceless.”
“Our only worries are what will be of us after the government will post him to teach somewhere away. We feel no one will replace him. How we wish, we had him for a long time.”
Nonetheless, John is always assuring his learners that will be with them, until they graduate with knowledge on reading and writing from his school. He says, it will, if government post him, be simple to carry on with the activities, as he will be using part of his pay to run the school.
“Those concerns are there but I promise I will not leave them in suspense. Even if government can post me, I will employ a caretaker for them. I’m already training him for the task, so that’s already sorted out,” he assured.
If wishes were horses, John would have ridden one, to take him to his dreamland, where he sees his school spreading to other areas in Malawi. His dear wish is to see illiteracy levels, especially of elders, reduced to zero.
It pains him, when he see elders being forced, because of illiteracy, to sign some documents they have not even understood. If money was growing in trees, John would have plucked some to build a more conducive classroom block for his learners and buy learners books plus some other supplementary reading materials, which he is running short of.
Said John: “some of the challenges I would love to address are lack of my own school block as the one I am operating in is rented. I would also like to address shortage of reading books, so that I should be giving the learners books to be reading at home.”
“Above all, technical advice and teaching resources are also some of the requirements. Stationary for some writing exercises is also a problems. So, I have big plans despite the problems and they can’t even stop me.”
Everyone is, according to John, welcome on appointment, to pay him a visit and observe his lessons for free of charge. He operates his school in an uncompleted house in Mchengautuwa east, Kachere block leader.
“For anything, they can contact me on 0882688605 Watsapp/ text/ call,” he concluded the interview.