Annette Kalumbi, 5th born in a family of 6, is a 15 year old girl from Simphasi Vg T/A Simphasi in Mchinji and can afford a smile because she now resides on school campus where she is doing her secondary school education.
But with Annette, things have not always been this way. She has lived a life were she understands how tough it is to knock off from school, walk long distances to and from school, arrive home and not find readily available food to feed her growling stomach.
With all these hardships and understanding the importance of education, Annette, together with her two friends found themselves renting an apartment at K500.00 per month for self boarding purposes.
“I knew I wanted to be in school and I know I am young but I had no choice since my parents’ house is very far from the school where I go. I was not going to sit around and watch my future pass me by because of the distance so I resorted to self boarding,” she said.
However, with such kind of zeal, Annette realised that the house they were staying in was not safe ad didn’t carter for their basic needs such as food and security.
“I was always hungry after coming back from school and that was the time that I had to start looking for food and feed myself. I could even sleep on an empty stomach and found myself too weak to walk to school.”
“This house is not well secured and we lived in constant fear of being robbed and abused and this was one of the things I would keep thinking of and would lead to loss of concentration in class,” she narrated.
Many girls out there face the same problems as Annette that is why government and Non Governmental Organisations have resorted to holding hands to keep the girl child in school and once such NGO is the Foundation for Irrigation and Susainable Development – FISD who introduced a project called Sustainable Participatory Initiative for Secondary Education – SPISES to offer bursaries to students who are from underprivileged families to access education secondary schools through bursaries.
The story of Annette, who is in Form 2 at Chimteta CDSS in Mchinji, has now changed since this bursary has enabled her stay in a girl’s hostel which is near her school thereby presenting her a chance to be in class at the right time and concentrate on her studies.
“The bursary has changed my life in so many ways. I do not have to worry about going to class late; food is always prepared and available for us. We are in a secured environment and we can access classes and the library anytime we want. And this is the chance I had always been looking forward to because I now know that my future is secured,” explained Annette.
Annette is not the only girl amongst the many girls in Malawi who face such kind danger when it comes to poverty. There are many factors that contribute to this including; teen pregnancies, sexual and gender based violence, child headed families and early marriages just to mention but a few.
Agnes: Left her marriage and returned to school and is now in form one
Early marriages are a concern in Malawi and are usually triggered by poverty or lack of will power towards education and Agnes Kasapira who was born in 1995 and now a mother of two is no exception.
Agnes got married at a tender age of 14 because of the poverty that lurked around her household. Being the first born child, she felt it was her responsibility to look after her two siblings, her ailing father; and mother who was doing piece jobs but the money found was not enough to feed the family.
Just like most early marriages, Agnes’s marriage did not last and she was forced to return back to her parents’ house with an additional two mouths of her children to feed.
She endured extreme poverty and an abusive marriage until she decided it was time to go back home and find another alternative to ending the poverty that was within the family.
Back home in Chipuliro Village T/A Zulu, with a mother that would spend time nursing the sick father and siblings looking up to her, Agnes realised that she can change her story by going back to school after years of stepping out of a classrom.
“Every time I looked at my parents, my children and my two siblings, I would pity myself and have always though of a lasting solution to the poverty that engulfs this house. I wanted to change my story and I knew education was the only answer,” narrated Agnes.
Agnes was identified by Mother Group members who are based in the village and are sometimes responsible for ending child marriages and encouraging young girls to go back to school.
Through the Sustainable Participatory Initiative for Secondary Education – SPISES implemented by FISD, Agnes has managed get on a bursary fund and has since gone back to school where she is now in Form 1.
“I have begun once again to write my success story and I will work hard not to mess up my chances of getting better education and changing the plight of my family. I have children and I want to take this opportunity to secure their future,” said Agnes.
Kenani: We believe these bursaries are changing lives of these students
Chimwemwe Kenani is the program coordinator for the SPISES project and said the introduction of the bursary has helped increase school attendance by many girls.
“As a girl, one has many needs and we are not only looking at the school fees aspect but also providing basic needs that a student needs,” she said.
SPISES incorporated the use of Mother Groups to reach out to the girls, noting that many girls do not attend classes once they are in their menstrual cycle therefore they use these women to make reusable sanitary pads so that girls cannot miss lessons during this time.
“During the time that we were making a study on the ground, we found that girls usually do not attend classes during their menstrual period and we wanted to find an alternative and that’s when we thought mother group members will be ideal for this project,” said Kenani.
Some programs that were introduced included role modeling and self esteem, sexual and reproductive health and capacity building by involving parents and traditional leaders to help end child marriages
“The program has really helped students and communities that we are working with and we have received overwhelming response. From the start, we have been supported and following up on these children through mother groups, we have been able to have 100 percent attendance rate by the students,” explained Kenani.
During the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) this year, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani said Malawi will continue to advocate for change and reduce cases of child marriages by engaging traditional leaders and in turn send these girls and biys back to school.
FISD is running the SPISES project with funding from European Union to support girls’ education in 12 community day secondary schools around the country and has 247 students on bursary which has helped reduced school dropout rate.