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Freed from jaws of child marriage

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CHIBWANA—We must provide resources

By Chris Loka:

At 13 years, Bertha Yohane had already gone through childbirth and motherhood experiences. That time, she was a standard six learner at Nanzombo Primary School in Ntchisi District.

The girl, from Chingareza Village, Traditional Authority Kasakula, in the Central Region district, was pushed by her parents to return to school after giving birth. She obliged.

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She briefly rued the lost years but realised it was pointless crying over spilt milk. So, she upped her concentration in class and emerged the only candidate from her school to be selected to Kasakula Secondary School in the district.

Such attractive progress was, however, short-lived. Bertha, fourth-born in a family of five, fell pregnant again while in form one. She opted to get married to the man responsible for the pregnancy.

Her poor subsistence farming parents could not meet her needs as a girl. Dropping out of school and joining her partner seemed the most convenient option for the now 18-year-old.

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But, as time passed, the reality of troubles in married life began to set in. Bertha’s husband apparently turned into a monster who overturned his responsibility of caring for his family.

He could spend days out on drinking sprees.

Two years ago, Bertha came acrossofficials from the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) who saw potential in her and motivated her to go back to school. She was immediately enrolled a bursary under the ‘Stop Child Marriages’ project.

“I thought I would find freedom from poverty in marriage. I was wrong,” Bertha says.

She adds that the support from EAM made her change her perception of life and inspired her to chase her dream of becoming a journalist.

“I am determined to achieve that goal. Finally, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I am excited about the possibility of becoming an accomplished journalist,” Bertha explains confidently.

Her return to school, of course, was not wholly smooth. Some of her fellow learners were mocking her and could call her names.

That, however, did not dampen her resolve to push on. Today, just a year away from finishing her secondary education, she is confident that she will make it to one of the country’s coveted institutions of higher learning.

“The insults could not defeat my resolve. I had already gone through a lot. I had endured some of the toughest moments girls ever go through,” she says.

Bertha’s father, Yohane Mafika, is equally optimistic that her daughter will realise her dream of becoming a journalist.

He hai ls EAM for the opportunity that the organisation is offering to Bertha and silently prays that other girls whose dreams have been shattered, but are willing to revive them, earn similar support.

“Bertha is very bright. The only problem has been my failure to give her the necessary support so she gets quality education. I will forever be grateful for the support she is getting from EAM,” Mafika says.

In Ntchisi, stakeholders keep pushing for multifaceted support to girls at risk of dropping out of school .

The district council’s youth officer, Grey Kalampa, states that EAM’s project is reducing the numbers of girls falling pregnant or getting married early.

“Together, we can end the problem. We all need to become more and more interested in the welfare of children, especially girls. Religious and traditional leaders, and every one of us, should play a part,” Kalampa says.

‘Stop Child Marriages’ Project Coordinator Amos Chibwana shares such sentiments, saying EAM staunchly believes that a nation that leaves its girls behind breeds a troubled future.

“We must invest in both young boys and girls. We must ensure they access education where they are. We must provide resources where necessary,” Chibwana explains.

He adds that, through the project, funded by Dan Church Aid and implemented by a consortium of EAM, Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority and Press Trust, some children withdrawn from marriages or those at risk of marrying are trained in vocational skills.

“Our desire is that we reach as many boys and girls as possible and help them realise the power of education. We want them to have a bright future,” Chibwana says.

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