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, where they sit 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.
She reflected on the visit later at a meet-and-greet with embassy staff at the ambassador’s residence.
“What an amazing experience. Meeting those children and understanding their different way of life is why I wanted to travel here,” Mrs. Trump said. “I was heartened to spend time with the students and was honored to donate school supplies and soccer balls.”
“My husband and I appreciate all that you’re doing to serve our country,” she added.
Back in Washington, 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.”
At the school, the young students — girls in dresses with red collars and boys in collared shirts and short pants — greet her with a song: “We are happy today to see you. Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome all of you. We are happy today. We are happy to see you.”
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, making for a student teacher ratio of 111 to 1. With just 22 classrooms, many students are forced to take in their lessons outside, according to the U.S. government.
The first lady highlighted USAID’s work in Africa, but 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.
Cuts that deep would have significantly affected the amount of money available for foreign assistance projects, including some of USAID’s signature programs such as the anti-AIDS initiative PEPFAR that has been instrumental in reducing mortality rates from the disease and treating HIV-positive patients across Africa.
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.
Mrs. Trump planned to visit the State House to meet over tea with Malawi’s first lady, Gertrude Mutharika. The first ladies were expected to walk through the gardens and watch a traditional dance performance.
Mrs. Trump opened her first extended solo international trip on Tuesday in Ghana. The remaining stops on her tour are Kenya and Egypt.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.