When learners become teachers of ending violence against all humanity, the battle is perhaps easier won than at the invocation of ‘regular’ initiatives, ALICK PONJE writes.
There are people who unjustly suffer without knowing it such that it has become a norm easily and gently accepted without being questioned.
This annoys Sarah Kalonga, a Form Three student at SOS HG Secondary School in Lilongwe who views suffering—whatever form it takes—as one of life’s most irritating antithesis.
At her school and surrounding communities, she has manifestly seen men, women, boys and girls with bruised bodies, hearts and egos struggling to stand upright.
“This tells us violence is real. It may not always be physical but it is real, in schools and communities. Violence is real everywhere,” Sarah affirms dejectedly.
She clearly appreciates that pain harboured often erupts at a certain point and can cause more damage to the victim and others in the course of time.
And having seen that happening elsewhere, she does not want to watch others accumulate physical and emotional pain anymore.
“It is important for me to take part in sensitising people so that they don’t harbour pain in their hearts,” she tells me assertively.
At her school, the work is often done with a little more ease because she and her colleagues engaged in such actions know who to approach and how to lay down their agenda.
A traumatised learner, even without willing to be helped, will show the signs that they need some convenient redemption.
Sarah and her friends capitalise on that, sometimes.
“Our targets are learners at our secondary school, SOS Primary School, SOS Open School and people in our communities. For the learners, we find it easy to engage them,” she states.
The student admits that in some instances, she does not feel ultimately satisfied when her pursuits are sometimes frustrated by victims of violence in surrounding communities who are not willing to open up.
Still, there are several others who have sufficiently unearthed their pain, allowing the students to talk to them about how they can alleviate and avoid it going forward.
Temweka Chilanga, a resident of Lilongwe’s Area 22, proudly proclaims that without the intervention of the students, her depression would have taken her to an early grave.
The mother of two got separated from her husband of six years two years ago but he kept tormenting her by insisting that she remained his, she claims.
“But through their activities which were held in public, these students made me understand that my rights were being violated and I engaged relevant authorities who made sure I have peace once again,” Chilanga said recently.
Her account was corroborated by several others who disclosed that violence in their communities has significantly slumped through the intervention of “the youngsters”.
With Malawi’s population remaining largely youthful where 70 percent comprises those under the age of 30, it makes both demographic and creative sense to engage these youths in dealing with the problems pervading the country.
And vibrant as they are, with all the confidence to put into practice what they are taught, students at SOS, Kawale and Biwi secondary schools are at a point of no return.
Ending gender-based violence (GBV), sexual harassment and all forms of violence in schools and communities is a mission firmly etched in their ideals.
“There should be zero-tolerance on any form of violence. Violence, be it sexual, emotional or physical, has no place in modern society,” a student from Kawale Secondary School, Bright Sande, decrees.
He is optimistic that even after they get out of their current respective schools, they will continue to preach peace— repeatedly condemning violence and prodding the abused not to nurture their pain.
“We have been mentored to come up with creative solutions in ending all forms of violence. The artistic skills will remain with us even outside our schools. We value that,” Sande brags.
And the students are not upset that the youth engagement project dubbed Festival of Ideas, which was being implemented by Art and Global Health Centre Africa in partnership with British Council, has come to an end.
The venture targeted students from selected secondary schools in Lilongwe who were mentored on how to devise creative solutions to address sexual harassment and GBV in their schools and communities.
“When students are equipped to deal with a problem, we have seen that they do that with all their hearts,” Art and Global Health Centre Communications and Development Officer, Simeon Thodi, said recently at a project concluding event where the students displayed the impact of their interventions.
He hopes that with the skills to engage all manner of people on violence, the students will not stop at the end of the project.
“It has become part of their lives,” Thodi says, adding: “We are confident that they will continue being vessels of eradicating all forms of violence for a peaceful society.”
With Unicef restating this year that sexual violence, particularly against children, remains a gross challenge everywhere in the world, British Council Programmes Manager, Faith Nyangulu, hopes that the creative actions of Sarah and her colleagues will be replicated elsewhere.
But, perhaps, that could only turn real if more stakeholders come on board and support initiatives aimed at ending all forms of violence through empowering young people.
“It is clear that the interventions by the students have worked in the targeted areas. That tells us they can work everywhere else,” Nyangulu states with optimism.
Sarah buys that conclusion.
“For us, it is all fine, we have the skills with which we will continue to reach out to more people. We would have loved to go further than our schools and communities, but we also understand that perhaps others too need to be mentored on how to deal with GBV and sexual violence,” she says.
Hard-to-reach areas where access to facilities and officials who can easily assist where violence has been perpetuated is practically impossible should be the next target, Sarah hopes.
That could even continue to significantly change statistics on violence in Malawi.