Now in its thirteenth year, the K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Desks) Fund, a partnership between UNICEF and MSNBC, has delivered more than 330,000 desks to schools across Malawi and provided high school scholarships to more than 27,600 girls.
The day the truck arrived, loaded with new desks, excited students rushed out of Nalingula Primary School in Phalombe District, Malawi. They formed a line, passing the desks overhead from student to student and on into the classroom.
No more sitting on the floor in a crowded classroom, no more feeling too shy to stand up and answer a teacher's question. It's an all-too-common occurrence in Malawi, where approximately 62 percent of schoolchildren struggle to learn without desks.
MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell was there to lend a hand unloading the desks. Thirteen years ago, the host of "The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell" partnered with UNICEF to launch the K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Desks) Fund. The aim? To bring quality education to children in Malawi.
Since then, O'Donnell has made many trips to Malawi to help out and meet some of the more than 1.1 million learners who have benefitted from the K.I.N.D. Fund's efforts. To date, K.I.N.D. has delivered over 330,000 desks to schools across Malawi and provided scholarships to allow more than 27,600 schoolgirls to attend high school.
See how desks transform young learners' lives in Malawi
"I feel very excited and grateful to sit at the desks," Abraham, a 16-year-old seventh grader, told O'Donnell in an MSNBC interview that aired Dec. 12. "This will save clothes from getting dirty. From today, I am a happy person."
I feel very excited and grateful to sit at the desks ... From today, I am a happy person. — Abraham, 16
After he has finished school, Abraham would like to become a carpenter in the factory where the desks are made. "I will certainly work hard so that one day I will be able to work there," he said. "We will work hard to keep the desks safe so that the next generation can also use them in the future like we did. We will take care of these desks."
Desks help students concentrate and provide them with dignity
Kalima Primary School in Malawi's Southern Region also received a recent shipment of desks provided by the K.I.N.D. Fund. "I felt so happy because when we sit on the floor, it becomes so difficult to write," said Alena, a 14-year-old student at the school. "I used to support my book with my knee."
"It is so problematic and more especially for us girls," Alena continued. "We always make sure that we cover ourselves and make sure that the boys are not seeing our private parts when answering questions. During our monthly periods, it has been very difficult for us girls to stand up and answer questions, realizing that sometimes our clothes are wet and the boys would be looking at us."
Educating girls is the smartest investment a country can make
Public primary school is free in Malawi; secondary school is not. Less than half of all Malawi's school-age girls complete elementary school; even fewer have the resources to continue their education. Many girls drop out after primary school due to early marriage or teen pregnancy. The country's high school graduation rate for girls is half that of boys.
The K.I.N.D. Fund provides merit-based scholarships to help girls attend and complete high school. Scholarships cover school fees, learning materials, bags, uniforms, sanitary products, boarding fees and transportation.
K.I.N.D. Fund scholarships help girls in Malawi complete their high school education
“Over the years, the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarships have given vulnerable girls in Malawi — especially those from rural areas — a chance to attend and complete secondary education," said UNICEF Malawi Country Representative Shadrack Omol. "By making education accessible to these girls, the scholarships provide an opportunity for the girls to transform their lives and support themselves and their families. UNICEF is grateful for the Fund's contribution which has provided school desks that have significantly improved the learning environment for these children in Malawi and contributed to making a tangible impact on girls’ education in the country.”
We also worked hard because we knew someone out there is working tirelessly just for us, so working hard in class and passing with good grades was all we could do to pay back for the support. — Maria Phiri, K.I.N.D. scholarship recipient
Maria Phiri, 20, is studying manufacturing engineering at Malawi University of Science and Technology. A K.I.N.D. scholarship helped her complete high school in 2018. "When I was put on UNICEF scholarship, I never lacked school basic needs; I had enough books, writing materials and a school uniform, just to mention a few," she said.
"It made a big impact to my academic life. My friends and I worked hard in class because we didn't have to worry about being chased out of class because of school fees or because you are not putting on school uniform," Phiri said. "We also worked hard because we knew someone out there is working tirelessly just for us, so working hard in class and passing with good grades was all we could do to pay back for the support. In our class, seven of us were funded by UNICEF, and out of the seven, five went on to public universities. This is an indication of how helpful the scholarship was to us."
The K.I.N.D. Fund has raised more than $44 million to support children's education in Malawi. Your donation can help even more children get the most out of school, forging a path to a bright future. Please donate today.