Fundraising transforms Malawi preschool

Otago Polytechnic nursing student Devon Kilkelly is working hard to improve the lives of children in Ngara, Malawi. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago Polytechnic nursing student Devon Kilkelly is working hard to improve the lives of children in Ngara, Malawi. Photo: Peter McIntosh

Devon Kilkelly has never felt so popular.

In the past week, the 20-year-old Otago Polytechnic nursing student has been on national television and has received calls from strangers, asking if she wants their help.

Two years ago, she had just finished secondary school in Greymouth and had no idea what career she wanted to study for.

So she decided to take a gap year and volunteer for an organisation in a third-world country.

"It was a great way for me to realise how lucky I was and learn how I could make a difference in the world. I was looking for a bit of an adventure as well.''

She found herself in an African village called Ngara, in Malawi, working at a health clinic and teaching biology and geography at a secondary school.

While she was there, she discovered the Ngara Nursery School - an early childhood education centre which tried to stimulate the minds of about 20 preschoolers.

"As a nursing student, I've learned 0-5 is the most important age range to stimulate children's minds.

"They start learning English when they get to primary school. All their schooling is done in English, so I wanted to give these children the best start possible before they head to primary school.''

One of the biggest issues she saw was the learning environment at the nursery was not fit for purpose.

It had large holes in the floor, no toilets and the children only had five toys to share between them.

"Overall, the nursery was an unsafe space that offered no stimulation.''

Since then, Miss Kilkelly has fundraised hard to transform the nursery.

Devon Kilkelly with some of the children she helped in 2015. Photo: supplied
Devon Kilkelly with some of the children she helped in 2015. Photo: supplied

Thanks to the financial support of family, friends and her local community in New Zealand, she said the nursery now had drop-hole toilets, a complete floor, steps to get into the building, lockable doors, painted walls with pictures, letters and numbers for learning, blackboards for teaching, chalk slates for each child, toys and sports equipment, bowls, spoons, cups and water filter buckets, and a qualified teacher.

During her six-month stay, she became so attached to the children and the community, she has continued to provide funding for the nursery school.

She is raising more than $2000 per year, much of which is used to buy porridge so the children get at least one square meal each day.

"I want to be doing this for the rest of my life, not just the next five years. It's something that's important to me.''

ASB heard about Miss Kilkelly, and as part of its Good as Gold programme, it has given her $10,000 to continue her work.

She was tearful when she heard about the financial support last week, because it meant she would be able to refurbish another building in Ngara to house the growing numbers of children going to the facility.

During the past two years, the nursery roll has grown to 90 children, and she expected it to grow to more than 130 during the next 12 months.

Adding to her delight, an Auckland playground manufacturing company, Park Supplies Ltd, has also offered to donate a playground for the nursery - another big item on her wish list.

"The children have very, very different lives to what we have here.

"What I've found with the people over there is even though they don't have much, they're the most happy and giving people I've come across.

"They're so genuine and grateful.''

For that reason, she planned to complete her nursing degree and "cement'' her knowledge by practising in New Zealand for a couple of years, before returning to Ngara to volunteer her skills again.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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