Once the team’s first week of training was done, over the weekend we filmed them back in Taonere’s community, showing how far she had come to be travelling to Rio to represent her country. We attended an official media event in Blantyre where the team was announced, with all major Malawian TV stations present, and took Taonere and coach George to one of the communities where Sightsavers supports an Early Childhood Development project. There, Taonere gave messages of encouragement to the parents of children both with and without disabilities, explaining why it’s so important to give children with disabilities the best start in life.
During our time at Kamuzu national stadium in Blantyre, watching the team train, and also on our visit to communities, it became very apparent just how big the challenges are that children and young people must overcome in Malawi, whether living with a disability or not.
The country is experiencing its annual long spell of droughts, in some places exacerbated by the impact of previous severe floods, which have led to serious food shortages. Taonere’s community of Nkhotakota, as well as the communities where Sightsavers is supporting Early Learning Centres in Chikwawa district, seemed badly affected.
The management committees, made up of regular community members tasked with the smooth running of the early learning centres, told us how parents usually pool together basic food supplies to feed the young children their morning meal of maize porridge at the centre. But during our visits, many parents were struggling to provide their share, feeling compelled to keep precious supplies within the home, and so the morning porridge rations were falling short. Without this meal, children are less inclined to come to school, and less able to pay attention and engage well with lessons and play sessions.