Handing Malawi children the key to their future

Countless mornings, while walking through Holy Family Mission Hospital premises in Phalombe, 12-year-old Lonjezo Kalonga sings a song in Chichewa. It is a song that praises education as a key to the future.

Lonjezo in yellow and brown stripped with her friends at school

In her song, Lonjezo highlights how education has transformed the lives of many prominent figures including Malawi’s president Prof. Peter Arthur Mutharika.

Lonjezo, a standard six learner at Holy Family Catholic Primary School, dreams of becoming a secondary school teacher when she finishes her education.

“I want to inspire girls from my village to look up to school for a good future,” says the young girl from Soza Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mabuka in Mulanje.

Her current state of being an orphan after losing both parents in a road accident in 2009 might be challenging, but it has not killed the spirit to yearn for the best in life.

She finds strength in her lonely grandmother, a pillar of hope that took custody of her and her seven-year-old brother Hamilton despite being too old to provide for them.

When she lost her parents, the only thing Lonjezo feared for was her education and that of her brother. Their new home at their grandmother offered little or no inspiration for education attainment.

“When my brother and I arrived to start school in September 2015, grandma had no food in the house. She did not harvest enough that year due to floods and a drought that hit Phalombe,” she says.

It was obvious for the two children that they would have little or no concentration in class on empty stomachs and their effort at school would definitely be fruitless. So they stayed home before the village chief visited them one day.

“He came to our house to inquire why we were not attending school. When he learnt about our situation, he told us that there was nothing to worry about because there was food at school. We were off to school the following day,” says Lonjezo.

That is how a school feeding programme pushed the two children to school.

Through the programme, which her school is blessed with, Lonjezo goes to school every day even during lean seasons. She is always assured of attending classes without worrying about hunger.

Moreover, she is a beneficiary to support from a mother group committee (MGC) for Holy Family School.

The group provides school uniform and learning materials to needy girls for them to stay in school.

Lonjezo’s story is a classic example of many children’s life stories in Phalombe and other districts where many schools have put in place various initiatives aimed at increasing school enrolment.

District Education Manager for Phalombe Hendricks Likeke says there are over ten deliberate interventions that his office is implementing in the district towards keeping children in school.

One of the initiatives is the school feeding programme, which provides porridge to learners so that they do not miss classes because of hunger.

“This initiative has improved school enrolment. But we also have other initiatives such as enrolment of children at tender ages (below 6) and paying home visits to habitual school absentees,” Likeke says.

Another initiative is the removal of corporal punishment from primary schools which is contributing positively to maintenance of school enrolment in the district.

In primary schools in the district, there are mother group committees that were established to curb girls’ increased school drop-outs which were noted in 2010.

“The committees critically look into issues affecting girls in school. Issues like gender based abuses and lack of resources among girl students is analyzed and solutions are provided to address them,” Likeke adds.

In a situation where financial resources are needed to address the problems, the committees draw money from School Improvement Grants (SIG) that government provides to schools for their action plans.

And when a girl child has been impregnated, the mother group committees provide counseling to the girl’s family to give her another chance instead of marrying her off.

The committees continue supporting the expectant girl during her pregnancy by making follow ups on her until such a time when she is ready to go back to school after delivery.

Another initiative that is helping to keep children in school in Phalombe and Mulanje Districts is the Social Cash Transfer Programme.

The programme distributes money to ultra poor households. In this programme, every household with school-going children receives additional money called school bonuses to provide children with school materials.

Every primary school going child receives K1 000 while every secondary school learner get K1 500 per month, according to social support officer for Mulanje, Mavuto Yapoma,

“Research has revealed that these bonuses are motivating children to be in school. So together with the feeding programme, learners are technically covered in most of their needs in school,” Yapoma said.

Meanwhile, Lonjezo and her brother Hamilton are assured of staying in school as their household continues to benefit from the social cash transfer from which the two acquire learning materials.

It is encouraging to see that various initiatives are being put in place by both the Malawi government and development partners in ensuring that children in school continue preparing for their tomorrow before it comes.

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