Ethel Sonyezani Chavula, 16, dropped out of Balitse Primary School in Mchinji District after falling pregnant for her fellow pupil, a 17-year-old boy. She went on to get married to him but the marriage did not work out due to many challenges.
“We could stay for days without eating anything because we were both not working to enable us buy our basic needs. To top it all, my husband used to beat me whenever we had an argument,” she narrated.
Ethel decided to go back to her parents’ house where she later delivered a baby girl. However, after delivery, Balitse Primary School Mother Group encouraged her to go back in class and she accepted.
The mother group’s chairperson Mwalisi Chawira says they decided to pursue Ethel to go back to school because of how hard she worked before dropping out.
Later, Ethel passed her Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PLSCE) and was selected to Gandali Community Day Secondary School in the district.
However, due to some challenges the family faced in 2015, Ethel did not go to the secondary school and is repeating Standard 8 but hopeful that she is going to pass and get selected again next year.
Ethel’s case is one of the interventions Action-Aid Mchinji Local Rights Programme (LRP) has put in place to encourage girls education.
Apart from constructing school blocks and teachers house, the Action Aid programme has trained mother groups and intensified girls’ interactive clubs in Mtapo, Khwere, Diti, Chilowa, Katonda and Mzenga primary schools to train girls and assist them on the challenges they face in school.
Tiwonge Nkhoma, a matron of Mtapo Girls’ Interactive Club says their role is to encourage girls to work hard in school and avoid early marriage.
“As a matron of the interactive group in collaboration with mother groups, we act as counselors to the girls.
“We have managed to encourage girls who dropped out of school to go back and, so far, the response of the girls to our interventions has been very encouraging,” she explained.
Nkhoma said that since the group started counseling the girls at Mtapo School, more girls than boys are being selected to secondary schools.
“In 2016, 15 girls against two boys were selected to secondary schools,” she hinted.
“We also act as their role models. Most of us did not complete our education but we encourage them to complete school and fight poverty in their families,” Nkhoma adds.
Mchinji, like other districts in the country, also faces numerous challenges in the education sector such as inadequate classrooms, hostels and teachers’ houses.
Lack of infrastructure is crippling education standards in the border district, as most learners learn under trees or use grass thatched shades as classrooms making it difficult for students to learn during rainy season.
Meanwhile, Action Aid has come to the aid of some schools by constructing classroom blocks, teachers’ houses and hostels for girls in Kapiri in the area of Traditional Authority Dambe.
Head teacher of Balitse Primary School, Angeline Nyirongo said her school had one block with two classrooms built by the community way back.
“Balitse was a junior primary school before Action Aid came in to assist in 2014. It had one classroom block and one teacher’s house; most of the pupils were learning outside resulting in many inconveniences.
“The community around the school and staff felt neglected that they were forced to work in such conditions,” she explains.
Nyirongo pointed out that when Action Aid came to their rescue and constructed two blocks with four classrooms and one teacher’s house, Balitse upgraded to a full Primary School.
“As a female teacher, living in this new and decent house acts as a motivating factor to girls to work hard in school and be like me in the future,” Headteacher at Kamkhate Primary School, Maria Sanudi, a beneficiary of Action Aid constructed houses said.
Lack of accommodation for girls was also a nightmare for girls at Gandali Community Secondary School (CDSS) in the same area, with most girls dropping out due to pregnancies.
Head teacher of the school Elias Malata said before the construction of the new hostels most girls were renting in houses near the school which made them lose concentration.
“We had a situation where girls were staying in houses in communities next to boys’ houses; this resulted into relationships, and most girls were dropping out of school due to pregnancies,” he pointed out.
Malata, however, said since Action Aid constructed a girls’ hostel with a capacity of 200, girls have been retained in schools.
“Before we had this hostel, there was poor pass rate of girls in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, but now, as a school, we are able to supervise the girls and they are not allowed to go out of campus without permission,” he said.
According to Malata, the hostels are also installed with solar equipment which provides electricity to enable girls study at night. The solar energy also pumps water to the hostels, a thing that has improved sanitation at the school.
Action Aid has also constructed school blocks at Chambidzi CDSS and female teacher’s houses at Kamkhate, Tsekwe, Chilowa and Gandali schools.
“We came up with this intervention because we realized most of the women in Kapiri in the area of Traditional Authority Dambe are illiterate compared to men, and we didn’t want to miss on encouraging the girls whilst they are still young,” she viewed.
Mulanga said that is why the organization introduced the girls’ interactive clubs whereby girls meet regularly with support from mother groups to discuss issues which hinder them from progressing in their education.
“These girls are encouraged to come to school every day. Those that do not come to school are traced by mother groups and with support from their parents, the girls come back to school,” she expalined.
And due to this intervention, Mulanga said, the trend in Kapiri has changed; more girls are selected to secondary school and perform much better than boys and the enrolment of girls has surpassed that of boys in primary school.
She also said the construction of school blocks has stopped most girls from walking long distances to schools as some of the schools like Balitse have upgraded to full primary school.
“In most home settings, parents tend to support boys and encourage them to attend school at the expense of girls. But due to our intervention, more parents are now supporting and encouraging girls to go to school as well,” Malunga concluded.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :