By Eric Msikiti:
Iness Kalawire, 19, is a Form Two student at Mpemba Community Day Secondary School, Traditional Authority Somba, in Blantyre District.
Iness fell pregnant at the age of 16 while in Standard Eight in the same area.
“I want to become a nurse so that I should be able to help the sick and to support my family and community,” the teenage mother says.
Now back in school, this future nurse and mother-of-one heavily relies on her parents who are low-income earners for her day-to-day needs and those of her son because the father of the child rarely supports them.
At least, she is back in school unlike other girls of her age who, after falling pregnant, fail to go back due to various socio-economic challenges.
“After giving birth, my relatives and some teachers came to our home where, together with my parents, they encouraged me to go back to school saying my future as a girl depends on how far I can go with education.
“I also took it upon myself to go back to school so that I would be able to take care of my son and my parents in the future,” Iness said recently.
Iness says she has the full support of her teachers and peers.
The situation, however, is different for 15-year-old Sauda Yusufu of Namwera in Mangochi District, who is facing a number of challenges ranging from lack of learning materials to lack of support from her family and her peers alike.
Sauda dropped out of school in Standard Three due to various challenges but went back to Chingwenya Primary School after graduating from a Unicef-sponsored Functional Literacy Programme which helps girls who drop out of school due to various reasons learn basic literacy and vocational skills to help them read and write apart from earning a living through income generating activities.
“Lack of materials like school uniform and basic learning materials is making it difficult for me to continue with my education,” Sauda said.
On the other hand, Iness is among 102 girls—30 of whom have since completed their secondary education in four Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs), Madziabango, Mpemba, Chilangoma and Dziwe in the areas of Traditional Authorities (T/As) Kuntaja and Somba—who are benefitting from a Girls Empowerment Network (Genet) Innovation in CDSS Education project.
The project has been funded by Firelight Foundation.
It started in 2015 and ends in 2019 and seeks to improve enrolment and retention of girls in secondary schools in the areas through mentorship programmes, a social fund to support girls with learning materials and a bursary fund for girls who come from vulnerable families.
So far, communities in the two T/As have formed entrepreneurship groups that run various businesses to support girls’ education in the areas.
From the business ventures, a social fund to support vulnerable girls in their quest to pursue further education has been established.
Chairperson of the 20-member Social fund initiative in T/A Somba, Frank Chisalo, says through various business ventures, the fund is able to pay approximately MK54,000 in tuition fees per term for nine secondary school girls.
“Genet gave us some money at the start of the project which we used to buy bicycles so that we could be operating a bicycle taxi service in this area. We use returns from the business to support our girls in their education.
“We sold some of the bicycles and bought a motorcycle which we are still using to operate a motorcycle taxi service. From the motor circle, we are able to earn about MK3,000 every day, money which we use to support the nine girls,” Chisalo said.
According to Chisalo, they decided to buy and operate bicycle and motor cycle taxis as one way of sustaining the programme.
“We know most programmes come to an end, but then what happens to our girls once this project comes to an end? That is why, as a community, we decided to run several businesses so that we should be able to continue with the bursary programme for even more of our girls once this programme ends,” Chisalo said.
The programme has also seen the establishment of mother groups who encourage families to send their girls to school apart from providing mentorship to school going girls.
It also includes both male and female champions who encourage and support girls’ education in the areas.
Genet Project Officer, Alefa Chavula, said that since the introduction of the programme in 2014, the number of girls transitioning to secondary school after finishing primary school has increased.
According to Chavula, school dropout rates among girl learners have decreased dramatically.
“At Dziwe CDSS, for example, the number of girls dropping out of school decreased from 37 in the 2015-16 academic year to four in the 2017-18 academic year, we also noted an increase in the number of girls who complete their secondary school education; for example, Dziwe CDSS had two girls in Form Four in the 2016-18 academic year but has registered 16 girls this academic year [2018-19],” Chavula said.
The project has also, within the implementation period, awarded girls who performed better than their colleagues with learning materials and solar powered lighting equipment to help them in studies at night as most of them live in rural areas where electricity penetration is still low.