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Background: Nyumba ya Masambiro

Nyumba ya Masambiro's Mission Statement

"To provide health resources and educational materials to both children and adults in Ruarwe and its
surrounding communities, and to create an environment that focuses on long-term sustainable
community development"

The Background:

In 2009 Phunzira started raising funds to construct a centre in the north of Malawi called NYUMBA YA MASAMBIRO (literally, House of Learning) that could act as a healthy learning environment for students from nearby schools and members of the local community to access free-of-charge. The primary construction phase of the centre was from July 2010 until January 2011. Every facet of the centre has been constructed by training unskilled, local labourers to use rammed earth building techniques - compared to bricks this has proven to be extremely energy-efficient and affordable.

The emphasis is on sustainable development, and through the implementation of income generating activities the centre aims to be financially self-sufficient within 5 years of construction (2016). Within this time, ownership will be passed on in full to representatives of the communities involved.


The centre lies between two secondary schools and a number of primary schools. Secondary schools in the north are fairly remote: each one is a walking distance of about one and a half hours from the centre, which is not considered long by locals. The north of Malawi is lagging behind the south in terms of urbanised development, hence basic infrastructure such as road systems and power grids is scare at best. Consequently, students are greatly lacking the materials necessary for education, ranging from critical scientific equipment to basic items such as chalk and board dusters. Upon entering adulthood, many are left unemployed with no real potential for job opportunities.

The aim is to tackle this by providing useful and relevant education so that people can start to better their lives by sharing knowledge and implementing income generating activities specific to their surrounding environment.


Health services are limited and development is slow in the area. It is easy for the population of such a remote village to become the ‘forgotten’ people of Malawi, and yet a great proportion of Malawi’s population live in rural areas like Ruarwe. Before 2011 Ruarwe had not had a fully operational health centre for many years. During that time villagers travelled exceptionally long distances usually by foot just to seek basic medical attention. The result was that people were falling sick and in many cases dying of otherwise preventable diseases. Despite vast global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, changes are slow to reach areas like Ruarwe, which continues to suffer high levels of poverty and hunger, a high burden of disease, limited access to education and inadequate maternal and child health services.

Our vision is to improve the standard of living through education, community empowerment, and initiating sustainable, innovative, health development projects.

Who is involved?

Nyumba ya Masambiro has four target areas that are all located in Nkhata Bay North: Ruarwe, Khondowe, Bunga and Banda. None had roads or electricity at the time of building the centre, and phone reception in all four areas remains extremely limited at best!

In August 2009 Rosa Nissim founded Phunzira - the idea resulted from a two month stint in Ruarwe in 2008 followed by a research trip in 2009. After nearly a year of fundraising, in July 2010 Rosa returned to Malawi to start construction of the centre, which has since then hired numerous permanent members of staff as well as provided short term work for many hundreds of people during the construction phases of its building projects. All paid members of staff are from Nyumba ya Masambiro's target areas.

The centre works in collaboration with two primary schools, two secondary schools and two health centres. It is supported by three separate bodies: a board of trustees, an executive committee and an advisory board.

There are three trustee members that hold the assets of the centre in their name: Village Headman Jolote (Chair Trustee), manager and chef of Zulunkhuni River Lodge Flare Singini (Secretary Trustee) and Rosa Nissim (ordinary member), who is holding a temporary position on the board of trustees until the centre is financially self sufficient.

Executive Committee:
This committee consists of five members of Ruarwe's community, who work alongside the staff of Nyumba ya Masambiro to ensure the centre's long-term success. Their primary role is to support the staff by informing them of the changing demands of the wider community (making sure that the programmes and classes remain relevant in the longer term), as well as assisting the centre to achieve its objectives in the target areas outside Ruarwe.

Advisory Board:
The board currently has ten members, most of whom are affiliated to government such as the MP for Nkhata Bay North (Hon. Mganda Chiume), the Traditional Authorities (TA's) and Sub-Traditional Authorities (STA's) representing the target areas, the District Educational Officer (DEO), District Development Officer (DDO), District Health Officer (DHO) and Primary Education Authority (PEA). Their primary role is to ensure that the centre has the necessary support from government in order to register with the relevant departments (i.e. Social Welfare Office, Community Development Office etc.), as well as assist the centre in the longer-term by providing information concerning the government's developmental plans in the region (e.g. introducing power grids, erecting phone masts etc.).


What the Centre Offers

    »    Community rooms, including a library, learning rooms, a youth centre and an IT room (free-of-charge)

    »    Weekly junior youth club for under 15's and senior youth club for 18-25 year olds (free-of-charge)

    »    Learning sessions and workshops on academics, health, agriculture and other life skills (free-of-charge)

    »    Sports initiatives such as football/netball tournaments and sports days (free-of-charge)

    »    Support for nearby schools and health clinics (free-of-charge)

    »    A nursery for 3-5 year olds (monthly tuition payment)

    »    Solar/Hydro power for education (free-of-charge) and private charging of phones (payment)

    »    Income generating activities for disadvantaged groups within the community (free-of-charge) 

    »    A media room with computer training sessions (free-of-charge) and IT facilities (payment)

How do we sustain this?

We make money through:

    »    Charging of portable battery boxes

    »    Eggs from our wonderful chickens

       »    Printing/photocopying facilities in our IT room

We also raise funds via:

    »    Phone/laptop charging

    »    Nutritious crops from our gardens

    »    Sporadic sales of phones, clothes etc. 

    »    Nursery tuition fees