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By Feston Malekezo:

CHAVULA —School dropout rate has decreased

Falesi Chimutu would have completed her secondary school education two years ago if it were not for her predicament. She went into marriage not because she wanted to.

She was pursuing her education at Chilangoma Community Day Secondary School in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntaja in Blantyre.

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Her parents could no longer afford to pay K7,000 per term at school. School materials like books and uniforms were gold to source.

“They only do small-scale farming to fend for the family which is also a struggle for them. I was approached by a man in our village and we agreed to marry. I was in form two then and I fell for it because he was able to give me what I lacked most items like soap, lotion and clothes,” Falesi says.

She was saved from her unhappy union by Chilangoma Social Fund (CSF), a grouping of 18 members aimed at empowering girls’ education.

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The group was established to offer solutions after it was noted that many girls below the age of 20 were dropping out of school due to poverty, early marriages and negligence by parents, among other things.

CSF Treasurer, Julia Mataya, said in 2016 they sourced K1.6 million from Girls’ Empowerment Network (Genet) for the girls’ empowerment initiative.

“Our main aim was to make sure we bring back girls who dropped out of school because of lack of fees and other requirements,” she said.

Mataya said last year the group, comprising 15 women and two men, ventured into piggery and tree seedling farming.

“We started with five pigs, now we have 16 matured ones and nine piglets. At the beginning of every school term, we sell a few pigs to pay school fees. Last term, we paid school fees for five girls at K8 000 each.

“We are also sourcing funds through tree seedling farming. At present, we have at least 10,000 seedlings in our nursery. We did not sell many tree seedlings this year but we are hopeful that we will do well this time,” she said.

From 2016, Genet has been implementing an initiative called Innovations in Community Day Secondary Schools in four schools in Blantyre Rural namely Madziabango, Mpemba, Chilangoma and Dziwe.

Genet Project Officer, Alefa Chavula, says the project is aimed at improving retention, persistence and performance of vulnerable girls in the four schools.

“The beneficiary is a girl who is at risk of dropping out of schooling from single-headed and child-headed households who is not receiving support both financially and emotionally,” she said.

The initiative is laid on four pillars of mentorship and coaching—where girls are introduced to community role models who offer mentoring and counselling sessions at both individual and group level.

“We also organise motivational talks by parent role models. These are parents who invested in girl education. So they provide counselling to parents on how best they can support their daughters’ education through door-to-door visits,” she said.

One of the parent role models, Liz Mlaviwa Mpumbira, a teacher at Chilangoma Primary School, once dropped out of school, got married, gave birth to a baby but returned to school.

I returned to school barely two weeks after I gave birth. During break time, I would rush home and breastfeed my baby who is now grown up and has been selected to The Polytechnic,” she said.

Chavula brags of a decrease in school dropout rates and an increase in numbers of girls who have been readmitted to school.

“For example, school dropout rate at Dziwe CDSS has decreased from 37 in the 2015/16 academic year to eight in 2016/17 academic year. Chilangoma CDSS has 30 girls readmitted in the 2016/2017 academic year,” she says.

On social fund, Chavula says it is a way of empowering the community to invest in girls by training community committees in business skills and funds management while also encouraging parents to support girls’ education.

She added that so far, 102 girls have been assisted in the four CDSSs while 30 girls have completed their secondary school education.

T/A Kumtaja hails the initiative, saying it has greatly improved girls’ education in his area. He says he instructed his subjects to establish bylaws tailor made to boost girl’s education.

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