When the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Malawi’s When Mother is a Child (WMC) project phased out in Mulanje district in 2016, Mercy Adam who was in Standard 8 lost hope on her education.
Her daily attendance to school eventually became a matter of principle because she was quite assured that there was no more future for her as the support she hoped to get in order to complete her Secondary Education had left her community.
ADRA had failed to secure more funding for the project despite it having registered a number of successes in the community such as returning drop-out girls to primary and secondary schools.
Apart from returning girls to school, the WMC project from which Mercy benefitted for a year also identified girls that had become mothers at teen ages and encouraged them to go back to school while also equipping them with motherly skills that saw many of them care for their babies better than they would with lack of such skill.
“They were teaching us how we could take care of ourselves and our babies in the poverty state that we live. But apart from that, they were also assisting us with school materials and fees for those in secondary school, because most of us fell into the traps of early marriages and teen pregnancies due to our inability to source such materials for our education,” explains Mercy who by the time she got pregnant in Standard 7, was 16 years of age.
According to her story, the girl who was raised by her poor grandmother from her parents’ death, ended up pregnant for a fellow primary school learner who at that point was capable of providing her with little things such as pocket money in school, which to her was a valuable thing as she usually left hungry for school.
“When I fell pregnant, the boy denied responsibility and I was left with my grandmother until I delivered the child. I stopped schooling for two years and whenever I tried to look at my future, all I could imagine were problems whose solution was not imaginable,” she says, adding that however the coming of ADRA’s WMC project in 2014 cast a ray of hope in her life as it gave her a second chance on education.
“But then in 2016 the organization left because they said they had failed to source more funds to continue working in our community, and this time around I really gave up on attaining education and creating a future anymore,” she further adds.
The story of Mercy Aaron is similar to the one of 19 year old Bridget Majawa who is currently in form 2 at Namadidi Community Day Secondary School in Chiradzulo district.
She dropped out of school when she got pregnant at the age of 16 and stayed at home for three years before she was later on met by someone she fondly calls ‘a good Samaritan’.
“It was on August 14, 2016 when this Teacher came to my place with one of my friends, asking to meet me and my grandmother so that we could discuss about my education,” she says.
Apparently, while Mercy and many other girls from Traditional Authority Juma in Mulanje district continued to hope and pray that there comes another Non-governmental Organization to take over the interventions left by When Mother is a Child, a pleasant surprise happened to them when out of the blues a humble primary school teacher rose from within their community to chant girl empowerment.
At about mid-2016, having seen and heard enough about girls’ failure in education, the 25 year old Standard 6 teacher Elita Nyika started diagnosing causes of education problems among teenage girls in the area of Traditional Authority Juma and began attempting to sort solutions to them.
“I started visiting drop out girls in their homes to hear them out and try to understand their worries and fears that have driven them out of school, and while talking with them and their guardians I discovered that most of them dropped out due to petty reasons such as lack of learning materials and sometimes school uniforms,” explains Nyika.
She further explains that with the value she attaches to education she found the reasons to be lame, hence her decision to start supporting the girls in their small needs in order for them to come back to school.
“Using my monthly salary earnings I started supporting 10 primary school girls who agreed to go back to school, but within a short while the figure swelled to 20 and it included secondary school learners who came forward after hearing what I was doing with the 10 initial girls,” says Nyika while proudly adding that the pressure on her small fund grew heavily across 2017.
In the year 2017, the fruits of her labour compelled a fellow young woman Jane Mdokwe who joined her with additional support for secondary school learners.
Together, the duo initiated weekly sessions aimed at occupying the girls with education, sports and entrepreneurship activities to ensure that they do not go back to their old behaviors.
“We conduct school discussion sessions where every girl shares a story about what happened in her school, and through the stories we draw learning and action points aimed at strengthening the assertiveness. We also play netball and other sport games to keep them healthy and strong,” she adds.
Within the initiative, the girls are also learning tailoring for them to be able to be able to graduate into designing careers, and also to be able to sell some of the products they make and use the money realized in their education.
As Mdokwe explains, the main goal of the initiative is to ensure that young girls who failed in their education should not be outcast in society, but o be given a second chance to attain self-reliance.
“We do not boast that we will take all these girls to their futures, but what we are doing today is to show society that together we can. And if everyone of us can take at least one girl child to support her in her education we might be able to build Malawi that we can be proud of,” Mdokwe further says, adding a call to people of good will to support them so that their self-supported initiative does not die eventually.
Currently the initiative supports girls in classes ranging from Standard 5 to Form four, and it is paying school fees for secondary school girls at Namaidid, Thuchila and Namulenga Community Day Secondary Schools.
While commending the two young women for the small scale initiative that has seen over 20 girls go back to school after dropping out, District Child Protection Officer Noel Chambo bemoans the continued dropping out of school by young girls in the district, saying it is likely to create a poverty circle.
Chambo emphasizes on the importance of educating more girls, saying it is one of the best ways of fighting acute poverty that rocks most households in the area of Traditional Authority Juma.
With a population of over 63 primary school girls dropping out of school during the 2017/18 school year, the area of Traditional Authority Juma continues to accumulate higher teenage pregnancy and early marriage rates among school going girls in Mulanje district.