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Retired Fil-Canadian teacher sets up school for kids in Malawi

Rose Apilado left to found a school in Malawi.

Rose Apilado left to found a school in Malawi.

BRAMPTON, Ontario — Retired Ontario schoolmarm Rosario Apilado flew to Malawi in southeast Africa Monday, April 27, to be back with her “kiddies”– the pupils of a kindergarten

program she started in early 2013 at the request of Malawi Bishop Barnett Phiry.

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Apilado, who retired from teaching in 2011, had been looking forward to a quiet and restful period filled with reading her favorite authors and devoting her time to her painting.  All that changed when she went to visit friends in Malawi that same year.

“Ma’am Rose,” as she is known to her students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, felt called to serve once more, this time to bring her teaching skills to a small village named Liwonde, miles away from the closest primary school.

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Apilado shares her story:

INQ:  How, when and why did you go to Malawi?

RA:  I went to Malawi in 2011 as a tourist, to visit my close friends, Lloyd and Melinda McDougall, who are missionaries.  We went to Lake Malawi Resort and several places.  The highlight was climbing Mt. Mulanje.

How did you end up working with the kids?

Coming back from the climb, I met several church people.  One was an Anglican bishop in charge of a Bible college in Liwonde.  Another was the bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Malawi.

So it was an ecumenical group?

Yes, in Africa, especially there in Malawi, when you are Christian, all the Christians are united.  They don’t think of you as Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, or Seventh Day Adventist.  They are all united.  It’s just being unified as Christians; as you know, Malawi is predominantly Moslem.

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How did you get involved?

I was introduced as a just-retired teacher.  So the Bishop said, “If you are retired, you are able to come back here and help us put up a primary school in the village. In this small village here, the children from kindergarten to grade 3 are too little to go to Maplot, to the primary school.”

What made you decide to help?

I had to go back to Canada first to ask my family.  But it seems I was really destined to go back and help.  I went back the following year, in 2012.  I had recovered from cancer, and I was contemplating maybe the Lord had some special assignment for me, that’s why I went through healing and went back to where I seemed to be working my strength.

When you went back in 2012, what did you do?

I started the school in the village. Bishop Phiri distributed some flyers, that they were starting a kindergarten.

How many kids?

Only five kids started that September!  We held our classes under the shade of a big eucalyptus tree.  So I said to the Bishop, how can we start a school with only five students?  And the Bishop and the ladies there told me not to worry, the children will come.  By the end of ten months, 25 children graduated from kindergarten.

In December, I put up a Christmas concert.  It was very nice and really represented the unity of Christians and the embracing of Moslem children.  I planned the Christmas concert just for the Evangelical Baptist students that I had.

I was helping also a Catholic school, named Chinguni Hills Primary Catholic School.  The principal, who became my friend, said “Rose, I heard you are going to have a Christmas concert.  Are we not invited to join?”

And I said “But of course!”   So they joined and sang songs in their local language.  The big kids in grades 7 and 8 did a play and one girl read the Christmas story from Luke.

My friend, who used to be my neighbor, operates a school in Malawi, so I used to help her out too.  And I taught her children how to play the recorder.  I brought with me ten recorders and a guitar.  I accompanied them on the guitar while they played eight songs I taught them, starting with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and ending with “Ode to Joy.”  She ran a nonsectarian private school and she asked me why I have not invited them to participate in the concert.  And so I said, “But of course!”  Most of her students are Moslem.

It was very nice, at the end of the ceremony was the lighting of the Christmas candle.  Everybody sang, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna make it shine.”  The Bishop was the one who gave the Christmas keynote; the welcome remarks were done by the pastor of the Evangelical Church and the principal of the Catholic school did the closing prayer.

And there were other people, highly respected members of the community — one was the principal of the secondary school.  He said “I can’t believe what you’ve done, Rose.  First time I ever saw Moslem women coming inside our church.”  The mothers were sitting in the pews, and the fathers were outside listening to the children singing inside.

Where was the physical structure where you held classes?

The foyer of the admin building of the church!  Finally when I had so many kids, I changed the conference room into a classroom, decorated with all my classroom materials and charts from Canada.  I brought mats for the children to sit on the floor and I borrowed the benches from the porch outside.   When they are practicing writing, the kids kneel on the mats and use the benches as tables.

How did you get the land for the proposed school building?

I had to go back and register the school officially, in 2013.  In order to operate a school, you have to register the school as a private school, but not in my name.  I was the applicant but the owner is the Evangelical Baptist Church of Malawi.  After I got the registration, we started Grade 1.  We have 25 Grade 1 and 31 kindergarten pupils.   This coming September we will have Grade 2.  Our problem is where to put them.  I “borrowed” every nook in that admin building!

So now I have a kindergarten teacher, who is not certified, but has experience as a daycare teacher.  I handled grade 1, but I had to go back to Canada, so I hired a girl who is certified at the teachers college in Malawi.  I will need to borrow more space.

In December 2014, the Bishop negotiated with the town council and the village chief to grant a piece of land where to build a school.  They initially allowed us 1 hectare.  But we need more, we need grounds for a playground, we may need to put up a secondary school.  So we got 2.8 hectares.  We were asked to pay 1 million kwacha per hectare;  1 Canadian dollar equals 386 to 404 kwacha, depending on the exchange rate.  I needed 2.8 million kwacha, around 6000 Canadian.

How do you plan to raise the money for the land?

I met Terry Orchard, a pastor in Ottawa, in 2012.  He was in Malawi and his wife is Filipina. He was a founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Malawi.  He was one of those who unified the churches to become evangelical.  So during the 40th anniversary in 2012, he was invited to be a speaker.

My participation is voluntary. I paid my own way — my fare, food, lodging, my share for the night guard.   He met me the first time carrying a little girl and followed by a flock of kids, and called me a Pied Piper.

When he went back to Ottawa, he told his congregation about me.  He phoned my husband Arthur before I returned to Canada.  He invited me to speak to his congregation, and they have offered to assist with payment for the land.

Thank God there are so many kindhearted people in Ottawa who are helping me defray my expenses.

How about the building?

Fund raising activities are planned for the building.  Two architects in London who had also built schools in Malawi will meet with me to share their plans and help me in getting the permits.

What is your objective for this trip?

I will bring the receipts and the coordinates for the land.   The school is to be called Liwonde New Hope Community School.  Although it is owned by a Christian group, the school is open to the whole community.  The school is not to be limited to the Christian children but is for all children.  The opportunity for a good education is open to all.  Who knows, one day one of our students may grow up to be a person of influence, maybe even president of Malawi?  We should not limit our students.

Do you have a message for our readers?

 My message is that all my life I have been a teacher, I want to make sure that every child, rich or poor, Moslem or Christian, should be given the opportunity to have a good education.  I love all children–no matter their color or religion.  They are all the same — we have to embrace all children and give them the opportunity.  It is only through education that a country can progress.

(Readers interested in supporting Rose Apilado’s work can send donations to Emmanuel International Canada, P.O. Box 4050 Stouffville , ON L4A 8B6,  or to Emmanuel International Mission, Dept. 1357 – P.O. Box 21820 Tulsa, OK 74121-1820.  Please specify that the donations are intended to support Rose Apilado.  All gifts $20 or more are tax deductible and donors will get receipts.  Rose may be reached at [email protected] and at 011-265-088-284-5032.)

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TAGS: Chinguni Hills Primary Catholic School, educational mission, Liwonde, Malawi, Malawi Bishop Barnett Phiry, Rosario Apilado, starting a kindergarten in Malawi, Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, volunteer work
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