By Isaac Salima:
Seventeen-year-old Dalitso Jafalie was once one of the promising students at Nankhande Primary School in Dedza.
However, the unexpected happened last year when she fell pregnant. One of her peers was responsible.
She was in Standard Six that time and the news devastated her mother and teachers at the school who counted on her as one of the bright learners.
“I could not believe it because at that age, I did not expect that she could get attracted to men,” Maria John, Dalitso’s mother, said.
Dalitso said lack of some basic items forced her into the sexual relationship.
She was encouraged to continue reporting for classes while pregnant until time was ripe for her to give birth.
“We allowed her to continue coming to school so that she could still have interest in education,” the school’s head teacher, John Tchale, said.
Dalitso is now a mother of a baby girl.
“I could not accept the reality that my daughter could be a mother at that age but I just had to let it go,” her mother said.
Now Dalitso is back to school as the responsibility of taking care of the baby has shifted into her mother’s hands, when the teenage girl is at school.
“We encouraged her not to lose hope because she was young and that it was possible for her to go back to school and we are happy that she accepted to resume her studies,” John said.
Tchale said it was pleasing that Dalitso was back to school.
“She will be an example among girls that dropped out of school because of various problems that getting pregnant is not the end of it all as they have another chance,” Tchale said.
He further said that they have put up a number of measures aimed at ensuring that Dalitso does not face discrimination from her fellow learners.
“We know that when learners like Dalitso go back to school, they face some challenges such as being mocked by fellow students and at the end, that puts them off and they eventually decide not to continue with their education. We do not want that to be the case with Dalitso and we have warned her peers against such acts,” Tchale said.
However, all is not rosy for the teen mother as lack of resources to support her double roles of a learner and a mother stand in her way.
She relies on her mother to do some piecework to meet her education needs, support the child and provide for the family.
“I need bottled milk every week for the child when I am at school. Because I cannot manage to get the milk, I am forced to rush home during break time to breastfeed the baby,” Dalitso said.
She has to make use of the 15-minute break to cover a three-kilometre distance to her home to breastfeed the baby and that also disturbs her classes as she does not make it on time and normally finds classes in progress.
Dalitso is just an example of many students who drop out of school due to a number of reasons and fail to reenrol.
So Story Workshop Education Trust (Swet) and Development Communications Trust (DCT) have come together in a consortium to implement a branded multimedia campaign under the United Nations Joint Programme on Girls’ Education III project.
DCT Executive Director Prince Mtelera said the initiative seeks to address four key challenges of child marriages, inadequate awareness of the availability of integrated health, safety and nutrition services and unsafe learning environment.
“For quality education to be achieved, there is need for safe environments for learners. Learners face various challenges such as being bullied by fellow learners. We are also trying to put in place systems which the learners can use to report their challenges to officials,” Mtelera said.
He said they will use existing school-level platforms including school clubs to address the challenges.
“Girls and boys will be informed about various services for adolescents offered both at school and community level, including referral services. Parents and the community will be mobilised through the Parent Teacher Association platforms at school level and also through mother groups to support education,” he said.
He added that they will empower the learners’ council, which consists of learners, to demand accountability from teachers.
“Every primary school in the country has a learners’ council and being a governance body, we empower them to be reporting issues of accountability such as absenteeism of teachers or poor quality of education,” Mtelera said.
Despite that the project does not provide material resources, some DCT officials, after hearing Dalitso’s story, mobilised funds and bought a bicycle and solar-powered lighting materials as a way of supporting her education.
“The bicycle will ease my mobility challenges to and from school. I will be rushing home in time to breastfeed the baby during break time and go back to school on time. The solar-powered lamps will help me to be studying at night without any problem.” Dalitso said recently when she received the items.