I am fortunate that one of my favourite buildings is within sight of my house. It is the tower of the Presbyterian primary school in Zomba. For generations it has stood near the centre of the town as a symbol of the value and dignity of education
It is an architectural inheritance from the missionary era. Though the missions were always strapped for cash, the decision was taken to invest in a signature building that would be a landmark and a statement.
Malawi has taken to heart the emphasis on education that first came with the Christian missions. Many families make enormous sacrifices to provide educational opportunity for their children. With a largely youthful population, schools and colleges play a central role in Malawian life.
Hence it has been a great dislocation to have them all closed since 20 March when the country was first alerted to the threat of the coronavirus. The spread of the virus was very limited for 2-3 months after the first cases were reported in early April. The Government task force looking at the reopening of schools mooted 13 July as a possible date. There were hopes that there might be a return to normality, albeit with new measures in place to combat the spread of the virus.
These hopes, however, have been dashed as July has brought a spike in the number of recorded infections. The numbers of infections and fatalities are still low by global standards but the risk of an unchecked spread cannot be taken lightly. Amongst a range of preventative measures, school gates remain closed for the foreseeable future.
This is demoralising for children and young people who have pinned their hopes on their progress at school. It represents a crisis for institutions, like those where I am working, that depend heavily on student fees to cover their running costs. It is, of course, part of a global crisis as yet unresolved.
In the midst of all this still stands the tower, an emblem of hope and ambition. Our prayer must be that it will not be too long before it witnesses again bustling school life beneath its walls.