Thyolo — It is exactly nine o'clock in the morning and learners at Mwitere Primary School in the area of Traditional Authority Chimaliro in Thyolo District shove and jostle as they walk out of classroom for a health break.
The learners lined up in a single file like soldiers in a parade trek to the kitchen located just behind one of the classrooms and return with a grimy-yummy porridge.
"Let me eat fast so that I can help you eat yours," says Dalitso Mati, one of the Standard 4 male learners to his classmate, jokingly, as they come back from the kitchen.
The noise of excitement coming from the little bright innocent faces is so deafening.
This excitement among learners at Mwitere Primary School explains a thousand stories of the warm atmosphere that the porridge brings to the institution.
The way the children lick their fingers as they empty their plates that first seemed overfilled, unveils not only how the porridge blesses their vessels but also the hunger that haunts their homes.
Courtesy of Makande Prison, the learners no longer worry about leaving their homes for school on an empty stomach.
The prison embarked on a social responsibility programme to give back to the community through provision of flour for porridge.
Located in the eastern part of Thyolo, Makande Prison has a factory that produces and blends maize and soya flour branded 'Chikondi Phala for children.'
Chikondi Phala is a project being implemented with financial support from Crops of Love Ministries (CLM) operating in close partnership with Malawi Prison Service.
CLM Project Manager George Boby says, as the name suggests, Chikondi Phala is produced by the prisoners as a way of giving back to the community surrounding the reformatory centre.
"We always emphasise the fact that it is more rewarding to give than to receive.
"This is in line with the moral teaching that blessed is always the hand that gives than the one that receives; hence feeding the country's children with Chikondi Phala," says Boby who supervises the production.
The flour production process requires the inmates to roast soya beans in paraffin run machines then mix it with maize, sugar and other micronutrients.
"Our mission is to help in transforming the prisoners into useful and productive citizens.
"We strive towards ensuring that the inmates learn to work for themselves as well as cultivate the spirit of sharing. That is why this flour is given for free to various institutions," Boby says.
Mwitere, therefore, is one of the primary schools in the districts of Thyolo, Mulanje, Kasungu and Chiradzulu that have caught the eye of the feeding programme.
"We deliver the porridge to 22 primary schools around Thyolo, Mulanje, Chiradzulu and one in Kasungu. Community based organizations and nursery schools are also considered.
"We also feed other prisoners to boost their health status since the porridge is nutritious to both the young and old," he says.
The project, which is now clocking seven years since its introduction, feeds about 42,000 learners.
Boby says the feeding programme has positively contributed to the increase in enrolment and retention of learners in primary schools.
He, however, attributes slow progress of the programme to unstable prices of maize and soya.
Charles Mwakhiwa, one of the teachers at Mwitere Primary School hails the programme.
"The feeding programme has been helpful because most of the learners are from poor families and come to school without eating anything.
"Chikondi Phala entices the children to come to school since they know that they will find something to eat," Mwakhiwa says.
By embracing the giving doctrine, the prison has managed to clear its name in the eyes of the community, if Boby's claims are anything to go by.
He says the project has helped to create a good relationship between surrounding communities and the inmates.
"Everywhere, people have a negative attitude towards prison and prisoners but with this project, the relationship has been enhanced.
"This is because the prison is giving back something good to the community," Boby says.
Makande Prison's officer-in-charge Aubert Hande says apart from the prison's initiative to help communities, the inmates and authorities alike have equally benefitted from the programme.
"The porridge is rescuing us in as far as nutrition is concerned. We cook this porridge for the prisoners and it is doing wonders to their wellbeing," he says.
Hande adds that Chikondi Phala is also given to inmates in other prisons like Chichiri and Bvumbwe, apart from Makande itself.
"Most of the inmates are from within the district [Thyolo] so when communities see the prisoners giving out the food, they automatically develop a positive attitude towards the inmates.
"This means that when they complete serving their sentences and return home, reintegration will not be a problem," Hande says.
He adds that the factory equips the inmates with skills that would help them in their life after prison.
"This is in line with our goal of reforming the prisoners into responsible and productive citizens," Hande says.
Yuda Kanyimbi from Namitambo Village in the area of Traditional Authority Kadewere in Chiradzulu is one of the prisoners working in the factory and is upbeat about the skills gained so far.
"I have learnt a lot from this factory which I know will help me when I get back home. I will use the skills I have acquired here as a starter pack to look for a job," Kanyimbi says.