Site icon The Times Group Malawi

Forging ahead with hope amid Covid-19

MOVING AHEAD—Girls share life-skills knowledge amid Covid-19

By Ezelina Kamaliza:

IDESS—This gave me confidence

There are fears across Malawi that the off-the-cuff closure of schools in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will result in some learners not returning to school.

“Girls, particularly, may fall pregnant and rush into early marriages. They have little to do at home,” says Jane Sabola, chairperson of a Mother Group at Chigonjetso Primary School in Mulanje District.

Even efforts to steer back to school girls that fell pregnant and gave birth or were saved from early and unhappy marriages have been affected by restrictions imposed by the government to tame the virus.

President Peter Mutharika ordered the closure of the learning institutions in March this year and so far, it is not clear when the schools will open their doors again.

According to the ‘Girls not Brides’ alliance, a global partnership to end child marriages, many of the complex factors that drive child marriages in stable environments, are exacerbated in emergency settings as community structures put their work on hold to address the causes of the emergency.

In these scenarios, the challenges include loss of household income, which may lead girls to transactional sex and lack of access to schooling.

Sabola has such fears for girls in Mombo Education Zone in Traditional Authority Mthiramanja in Mulanje.

Through her work with Malawi Girl Guides Association (Magga), Sabola says the Mother Group has been able to get 24 girls back to school since 2017. Such progress is under threat due to the pandemic.

MLUMBE—We cannot monitor or track their progress

Magga Project Officer for Mulanje District, Tamanda Mlumbe, admits that their work to keep girls in school and training them on their rights to do with sexual reproductive health, life skills and dealing with gender-based violence, has been affected.

“We rely on Girl Guide Clubs in schools and with the closure of the schools, we cannot monitor or track their progress in acquiring and using such information,” Mlumbe says.

The other area she laments is the restrictions on gatherings which she says have halted interface meetings with community leaders like chiefs and other stakeholders such as the police as well as judicial officers working in the border district.

“We are now mainly relying on the Mother Groups in communities to continue engaging with girls and parents to support their children not to be exposed to dangers such as transactional sex or even early marriages,” Mlumbe states.

Through the Mother Groups, Magga has been able to facilitate the readmission of over 200 girls back to school throughout Mulanje.

One of the beneficiaries, through the Mother-Group interventions, is 21-year-old Idess Bonzo who fell pregnant when she was in Form Four, at the age of 17, four years ago.

She dropped out school and never thought of returning even after giving birth.

“When news spread that I was pregnant, some Mother Group members came to visit me and encouraged me to go back to school. This gave me confidence that I could go further with my education,” Idess recalls.

In 2018 she sat for her Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations and managed to score an average of 21 points in the test.

She is now a student teacher at Chiradzulu Teachers’ Training College. She has always dreamed of becoming a nurse but financial problems prevented her from going to Malamulo College of Health Sciences where she had been selected to.

“But I hope that after working as a teacher for some time, I will be able to save some money to pay for my nursing studies,” Idess says.

Her story has become a constant reference point in narratives about teen mothers going back to school after giving birth.

And Mlumbe believes that community structures such as Mother Groups and role models such as Idess are crucial in fighting early marriages and other vices that push young people, girls in particular, out of school.

Her organisation’s Comprehensive Action for Adolescent Girls and Young Women project, supported by Global Fund, targets girls in Mulanje because the district has one of the highest rates of HIV at 20.6 of the population.

According to Mlumbe, Magga is implementing the in-school component of the project while contributing to community awareness and strengthening structures through involvement of various influencers such as the Mother Groups and community leaders.

And as the restrictions related to Covid-19 prevention remain in place, and girls facing challenges to access various services including sexual and reproductive health, Sabola hopes there will be no lapse in their work of ensuring that no girl is left behind.

It is a huge task, she admits, but one that can be accomplished as various stakeholders come together to devise innovative approaches to existing interventions.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Exit mobile version