We consistently hear that developing and building schools is a priority in the rural areas across Africa. As we are committed to supporting the education of children in all the areas in which Universal operates, we have made this a top priority.

One example of this is in Malawi through our subsidiary Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company (LLTC). Field technicians were reporting back to the head office in Lilongwe that there was a great need for school improvements and expansion. Specifically, in 2014, the technicians identified the need to build additional classroom blocks at a primary school at Mwakhundi in the Central Region, which is an area with a high concentration of farmers who are contracted with LLTC.

The technicians found that there were not enough classrooms for the children at this school. The school was overcrowded, which led to a poor learning environment. In this situation, many children drop out of school to stay home, where they often end up involved in some form of work, or worse, in child labor. Attending another school is not an option as they are too far away.

LLTC confirmed that expanding the Mwakhundi school was in line with the company plans for community support and set to work finding availability in the budget. We set up meetings between company representatives, a village committee, community leaders and parent-teacher associations to discuss the needs.

The Mwakhundi School is a full primary school, offering 1st through 8th grades. Before the LLTC leaf technicians identified it as a priority, the school had 653 children enrolled and only four classrooms, which meant that many children had to sit outside for their lessons.

After an extensive review of the situation, we decided to build two classroom blocks with two classrooms each, as well as provide the necessary desks and chairs for the students and teachers. We hired a local company, Nansenga Contractors, to build the blocks, and also sourced the desks and chairs from a local carpentry company, Mapanga Furniture.

One of the issues that surfaced during discussions concerned the contribution of bricks. It is typical in Malawi for communities to contribute a supply of bricks to building projects. However, in this case, community leaders explained that they could not supply bricks due to the poor soils in the area. Therefore, LLTC agreed to take on the full cost of the building project.

On December 5, 2015, we held a ceremony to hand over the new blocks to the school. The Malawi Minister of Agriculture, His Excellency Mr. Allan Chiyembekeza, attended the ceremony and cut the ribbon for the new blocks. He said, “I am very happy because we have grown tobacco in this area for many years. There was no company who had the initiative to come down and build new classrooms until Limbe Leaf decided to develop this place. The whole idea is to encourage kids to go to school. I am sure there were so many children who were not able to be in class because when it rained, they did run away. But now most of them will be able to stay in school.”

At the end of the first academic year, LLTC plans to conduct a full impact assessment of the school to determine what improvements can be made. We are also conducting a review of a project proposal for the construction of a staff room and for an additional toilet block. New toilets are a high priority for the school, especially for the girls. Additionally, we are looking at renovating the old classroom blocks to further improve the learning environment, as well as sanitation at the school. LLTC also continues to conduct projects in health and sports in the community.

Renovating and building schools helps with our ultimate goal of eliminating child labor. To this end, we are pursuing other projects in Malawi. In the Northern region in Malawi, we are currently constructing classrooms and teachers' houses at the Majiga Primary School. We are also working to renovate the Chatata Primary School in Lilongwe. We will continue to seek invaluable input from our field technicians on how we can improve the lives of those in the communities where we work.