A Laois brother and sister born and raised in the Slieve Blooms are on a mission in Malawi and hope the people of Laois can help them by donating the building blocks for their project.
Evin Joyce and his sister Ailbhe hail from Glenbarrow, Rosenallis. They are working with a team of local volunteers in the rural part of the country on small-scale educational and health projects in the charity Evin founded called Ulemu.
The charity aims to help communities develop and implement strategies and initiatives that address unmet health needs and improve the literacy and numeracy of children in poor and rural communities.
Evin has worked as an aid worker in Africa for most of the last 10 years but has lived in Malawi for the last 2 years.
While working for a major aid organization Evin visited Malawian island communities hit by Cyclone Ida in 2019. There he saw the stark lack of quality education - an unmet need and a barrier to progress and development. That experience was the incentive for School in an Envelope.
After his contract ended, Evin went back to Malawi in 2020 purely on donations from friends to test the School in an Envelope idea as a concept. Then COVID-19 hit. So he pivoted his work to respond to the pandemic instead, and has been distributing masks, soap, and healthcare education ever since.
In July 2020 the Irish government gave Evin a grant for €7,500. This got the ball rolling and even more has come in from private donations through the GoFundMe he's set. So far, he has raised up to €30,000 most of it from people in Laois - with 400 donations.
His sister Ailbhe is a primary school teacher. She left her job in the UAE in late 2020 and has been working on the charity since.
One project they focused on to react to the pandemic was the production of masks to protect against Covid-19. Evin spoke to the Leinster Express about what they have been doing.
"We worked with local tailors and teenagers to produce 50,000 masks with second hand masks. We distributed and sold them at low prices to elderly people," he said.
When Covid-19 infections began to ease, Evin and Ailbhe returned to their main and long goal of helping to educate children with the model they have developed.
"Schools out there are extremely overcrowded. There are no school buildings and the an the average class size is over 80 children. Classes usually are taught under a tree. The best you can hope for is that there will be a blackboard and the child will have a copy and a pencil," he said.
Evin worked with Ailbhe who used her teaching training and experience to come up with ways to provide education in the context of these limitations. They are spreading the School in an Envelope model.
"Ailbhe has been training women who volunteer in preschool nurseries and have primary education on how to use the flash cards we make to improve literacy and numeracy," he said.
They've returned home to Ireland, Laois and the Slieve Blooms for a visit but also to gather supplies for their African venture.
"Ailbhe, and I are visiting primary schools across Laois to collect unused sets of readers for junior infants up to 3rd class and spare Lego that we will give to under-served schools and preschools where we live in the Zomba District," he said.
They are trying to fill a container with school books and Lego for toddlers. To reach this target they have been travelling around Ireland in a campervan visiting schools and collecting donations in the process.
They return to Malawi on October 17 but their final school stop before leaving will be their own primary school Clonaslee National School on Monday, October 11.
In the meantime they are appealing to anybody in Laois who can help out to get in touch with them
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