Cycling for Literacy

We took on this cycle challenge for CharChar because every child deserves a chance to fulfil their potential, and that starts with becoming literate…

Having both grown up in Malawi, where we were very aware that a lot of children weren’t in school. We have since learnt the sad reality that the majority of those in school still emerge illiterate.

After a long period in lockdown we were both motivated to find a way to get out into nature, be active, and contribute to CharChar’s vision.

We cycled 2200km from Land’s End to John O’ Groats (southern coast of England to northern coast of Scotland) over 6 weeks, wild camping along the way. It was a huge challenge, especially battling through the first 3 weeks of rain, but it was one of the most worthwhile experiences of our lives!

We would like to say ‘thank you!’ to everyone who generously supported our challenge and CharChar’s work through your donations!

Covid-19 Impacts

In March 2020 we had begun an interim assessment of Standard 1 (Year 1) children’s progress at each of the 10 schools taking part in our literacy intervention…

Despite having evidenced significant progress of over 430% improvement on the baseline in the first year (2018-19) we were blown away in March 2020 by the phenomenal progress of the second cohort of CharChar supported learners. These children were now evidencing an even steeper trajectory and were on course to supersede the achievements of the previous cohort (pilot year) by quite a margin.

Of course there are a number of reasons for this, not least the fact that the literacy programme had been in implementation at the schools for over a year, so staff and the wider community were more accepting of the new methods and practices etc.

However, you can imagine the crushing sense of disappointment and worry we all felt as the pandemic reached Malawi and all schools had to be closed.

We soon realised that we needed to find other ways of supporting the government’s education policies and aims to ensure that Malawian children have access to quality education.   

Understanding the already urgent need to advance literacy acquisition for primary school children and realising the negative consequences of school closures on children’s ability to learn we switched focus and began to develop an important partnership with Emmanual University in Lilongwe, the country’s foremost teacher training institution. 

Throughout the year and into 2021 we also continued to support past and present CharChar trained teachers as they struggled to cope with the many challenges thrown up by Covid-19. Challenges such as; reduced class sizes meaning teaching in shifts, ad-hoc school closures, staff shortages due to illness and  trying to maintain basic Covid-19 prevention measures within schools, all whilst trying to continue to teach huge numbers of children in extremely resource poor environments.

Through Whatsapp mentoring and coaching, psycho-social support and donations of educational resources we have tried to keep our vision of accelerated literacy acquisition alive and a reality for as many children as possible, whilst continuing to develop our partnership with Emanuel University in the background and maintaining a presence with government and all major stakeholders. 

CharChar has been part of the Covid-19 Emergency Response Education Cluster since the outbreak of the pandemic and continues to collaborate with all partners and stakeholders in primary education in Malawi. 

With your continued support we aim to bring these new teaching methods to accelerate literacy acquisition into teacher training institutions. Providing a live demonstration to government the true potential of Malawian children and their dedicated teachers. 

Climbing for Literacy

In June 2019 I decided to lead a trek to climb the unforgiving Sapitwa Peak in Mount Mulanje at just over 3000 metres in support of better education for underprivileged children in Africa. It was the third mountain I have ever climbed and definitely the hardest, with kilometres of scrambling on all fours (!) but every challenging step we took in aid of CharChar was worth it to help to improve literacy in schools and benefit thousands of underprivileged children in Africa. Visiting the schools and seeing the direct impact of the great work of the CharChar trust was one of the most rewarding moments of my life…

Dear friend, It was just as Sally said! We walked, climbed and scrabbled on all fours to get to the highest point in Central Africa with the team of fundraisers for the CharChar literacy intervention in Malawi.

We had plenty of time to talk about our individual motivation for this challenge. All of the team had seen first hand how illiteracy cripples people and disempowers and disadvantages them.  From material health to job prospects literacy is vital to any kind of development of people and their communities. We all agreed that increasing opportunities and access to quality education was as good an inspiration to climb the peaks of Mulanje as you could ask for!

Now that we have returned back to wifi, we can say a big thank you for your support! I can report that we’ve all returned safely minus the odd toenail! 

Before we set out for our hiking challenge we went to see the inspiring literacy teaching and learning in action in two of the ten schools and I have no doubt this is already making a big difference to the 3000+ children’s lives. We are all extremely grateful for your support and look forward to updating you on CharChar’s work in the future.

Inspired and  invigorated, 

Sally Nelson & Nicky Robertson