LILONGWE, Malawi – Melania Trump got a different view of educating children as she visited an African primary school Thursday that has benefited from U.S. assistance but struggles with an enrollment of more than 8,500 students. Some children learn lessons outdoors, seated shoulder-to-shoulder on loose, red dirt.
Mrs. Trump toured several outdoor classrooms at Chipala Primary School in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, the second stop on her four-nation tour of the continent. The school is among those in the landlocked country that receive education assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, including textbooks.
Mrs. Trump was on hand as the U.S. ambassador handed over another 1.4 million books through a U.S.-funded national reading program. Malawi’s schools have received some 9.6 million books under the program in the past several years.
“I wanted to be here to see the successful programs that (the) United States is providing the children and thank you for everything you’ve done,” the U.S. first lady said at the book donation ceremony, held inside the school’s library.
“Meeting those children and understanding their different way of life is why I wanted to travel here,” Mrs. Trump said later. “I was heartened to spend time with the students and was honored to donate school supplies and soccer balls.” The soccer balls as well as tote bags donated for the teachers bore the logo of “Be Best,” the child well-being initiative she launched earlier this year and is promoting on the trip.
Back in Washington, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Our country’s great First Lady, Melania, is doing really well in Africa. The people love her, and she loves them! It is a beautiful thing to see.”
While the first lady highlighted USAID’s work in Africa, the Trump administration has been trying to cut the agency’s funding. In its first two budget proposals, the administration sought to slash funding for the State Department and USAID by roughly 30 percent. Widespread bipartisan opposition to the steep reductions in Congress, where the budget proposals were essentially ignored, foiled the administration’s plans.
Mrs. Trump toured the equivalent of second and third grade classrooms and watched as teachers conducted their lessons — helping the youngsters learn English or the Chichewa language. The school has more than 8,500 students served by 77 teachers.
Bright Masaka, Malawi’s minister of education, science and technology, said Chipala is one of his country’s best schools. He credited the partnership between the U.S. and Malawi with “significantly” improving students’ English and Chichewa reading skills.
The U.S. first lady received a joyous welcome in Malawi upon her arrival at Kamuzu International Airport, with singing and dancing by a troupe of women and scores of schoolchildren waving African and Malawian flags. The sounds of women ululating were heard at each of her public appearance. In southern Africa, ululation – a sound made with the mouth – is often a celebratory welcome by women.
But there were signs of protest, too, as President Trump is not unanimously seen as a friend of Africa.
Along the route from the school to the ambassador’s residence, a few white people held up signs. One woman’s sign said #MELANIATOO, with the “ME” in bold black. A couple held a sign that said “Welcome to Malawi. #NOTASHITHOLE!” — a reference to reports earlier this year that the president used the vulgar term to describe African nations.
Another sign said “69 Days Past the Deadline to Reunite Families.” That was a reference to the president’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that led to the separation of thousands of children from their families as they tried to illegally cross from Mexico into the U.S. Many children remain separated from their families.
Mrs. Trump opened her first extended international tour as first lady on Tuesday in the West African nation of Ghana. She also has planned stops in Kenya and Egypt.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.