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Eighth nursery school set to open this October

We’re delighted to announce that our eighth nursery school will be opening in October in the remote village of Mtsinje near Mangochi.

Vounteers with Malawi children

Set up in rural communities, our nursery schools provide a hot meal and a morning’s education for around 60 children. This helps prevent malnutrition, gives them a safe place to go and builds a good foundation for their education.


This year’s project is in a remote village, 30 minutes’ drive away from the Open Arms home in Mangochi. Two children who live in the village had been cared for in our Infant Home and are now reunited with their families. Due to the remoteness of the village, there’s not much chance of passing trade meaning it’s especially difficult to earn a living. There is no nursery school so this development gives a boost for the village.

The 12 km journey from Mangochi to Mtsinje is a challenging drive. After leaving the main road, you have to carefully navigate a dirt track and a river bed by either driving through it and up a steep bank or crossing a narrow timber bridge – deep breath and drive on!
Having seen the challenges in Mtsinje though, the motivation and determination to complete the project remains high. It is rewarding to know that for the first time there will be a Nursery School, where children will have good meals and basic lessons. With primary school class sizes of over 100 children, any early preparation significantly increases the chances of children finishing school.

Building on strong foundations

The school will be made up of a classroom building, a toilet block and a kitchen to care for the children that will attend.

Although this is the eighth nursery school that we have built, as the walls go up, each project presents its own challenges. Getting the quantities of materials correct and in the right place at the right time is not always easy. And as with any build, the communications with local builders and forward planning is not always straightforward. We saw this with the pit latrine (toilet) that our labourers accidentally dug too wide! After some thought, we decided to leave the enlarged pit as it is and the village will now have six closets instead of four. They have no public toilet so this is not really a bad thing!

Despite the difficulties, it is fantastic to see the progress develop and the excitement build. Our corporate partners have been instrumental in making this possible. SMBC Aviation Capital, an aircraft leasing company headquartered in Dublin and our long-term partner, Johnson and Johnson International have both supported with not only funding but also by sending teams of volunteers to help.


“My impressions in Malawi were heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time! But in the end what I took home with me was love. The way the women and men take care of the toddlers, the way families take care of each other (kids already carrying their little brothers and sisters around), the way they treat foreigners. I felt like part of a huge family!” - Jessica

Getting involved with the building and community

The construction is led by four Malawian builders and four local labourers and supported by a host of Open Arms volunteers, including J&J, SMBC AC, Verde Valley School and more recently Ashville College, who have come together to make a real difference to this village. The teams have dug foundations and pressed soil-stabilised-bricks in block mould-machines. This avoids using fired bricks that require burning hardwood, which adds to the deforestation that causes a host of problems in Malawi already. You can see the solid block machine in action in the pictures, while the blocks in the background are drying and strengthening in the sun.


“I volunteered in Malawi in May 2017, and I can’t find the words to express how much it touched my heart. The smiles of the kids, their runs after the van, are still very present in my head. It took me some time to adjust back to the European life where saying “hi” and waving to everybody is not a habit. As a team we were proud to make cement, carry bricks and see the result through walls going up, so ultimately more kids can go to school. It was a great experience, extremely rich for me as a human being. I am so thankful I got the chance to help and discover such lovely people.” - Marine

All volunteers have completely embraced both the project and the community. Becoming part of the village life, chatting with the builders, and entertaining the children who had never seen ‘Azungus’ (foreigners) building in their village until this year. An unforgettable experience for many, which will leave a lasting impact on each and every child that attends the school.

Not just a classroom

The nursery schools are a key part of our Outreach programme which monitors and supports children within their home communities. We work closely with villages as they take ownership of the schools we build. Open Arms provide the funding for the teacher and food but cooking and the daily running of the nursery is done by community volunteers. And that is what makes them so successful, they are sustained by the community. Local children benefit enormously from the schools but the impact spreads further as they also help guardians to go out to work and older children go to school as they don’t have to look after their younger siblings.

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