Countless girls drop out of school in Nkumaniza Education Zone in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu in Chikwawa District.
At 123, Chikwawa District Social Welfare Officer Rosemary Mahata says the number of girls who dropped out of primary and secondary schools surged last year.
No information has been given yet on the number of those that have already dropped out of school this year, but according to Mahata, the figures are likely to be even higher due to high levels of poverty in the area.
“There is need to strengthen and economically empower households for us to reverse this trend because the households most of these girls come from are ultra-poor and cannot afford basic materials such as books and uniform,” Mahata says.
According to Mahata, apart from economic empowerment of the households, the girls themselves need role models to inspire in them hope and ambition.
However, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that could help Chikwawa District Council achieve this are in short supply.
“The other problem is we don’t have many organisations working on girls’ empowerment and education, and whenever they come, they always do have their areas of focus and time frame which limit the reach of such initiatives,” Mahata says.
But there could be hope for the girls in Chikwawa, specifically in T/A Ngabu, as a Goat for Girls Project, implemented by charity Stephanos Foundation, seeks to bring long-lasting solutions.
Among other things, the project provides goats as a form of economic empowerment to families that are struggling to fend for their children, specifically girls, with their education.
The goats are taken care of until they produce offsprings.
The goats are then handed over to the next beneficiary while the kids are taken care of and sold when they grow to provide school fees for the girls.
This way, 16-year-old Caroline Alfonso has finished her secondary education. She was given two goats but she now has 10.
“Stephanos gave my family two goats for my education. We took good care of them and when they reproduced, I took the kids and gave them to my friend who was also in need of support.
“That meant the remaining goats were mine and we took care of them and started selling them as they grew and reproduced. Proceeds were used to pay for my school fees and support other personal and family needs,” says Caroline who dreams of becoming a medical practitioner.
Caroline is waiting for results of this year’s Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations and is optimistic that she will make it.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to finish my secondary school. I would also like to invite well-wishers to support more girls some of whom have not made it to secondary schools due to various challenges,” she says.
It is four years since Stephanos Foundation launched the Goat for Girls project.
At least 280 girls are receiving support at various stages of their education but 13 have so far finished their secondary school education.
“We are happy with the changes we are bringing to communities in T/As Masea, Nkhoko and Ngabu in Chikwawa District because, previously, many girls from this part of the country were dropping out of school in large numbers.
“So, to us, this is an achievement because the girls are now finishing their secondary education,” says Clifford Kuyokwa, Stephanos Foundation Country Director.
In Malawi, educating the girl child is priority.
Women make a huge chunk of the country’s population and are involved in many economic activities, although at a small level, due to high illiteracy levels.
The high illiteracy levels make them vulnerable and prone to exploitation as most of them are not economically independent and heavily rely on their husbands and male counterparts in decision-making.
Failure to go far with education among girls in Malawi has far reaching consequences as it exposes them to early marriages and early pregnancies, a catalyst for complications during delivery.
Educating girls, therefore, could also be critical to achieving gender equality in Malawi.
Kuyokwa says although most Malawians know the importance of girl education to achieving that end, implementation of policies that encourage girls education remains a challenge.
“We need to appreciate the fact that educating girls would also help Malawi achieve her economic dreams. Of late, we have been moving in the right direction as far as knowledge on this fact is concerned, but we need to do more on implementation,” Kuyokwa says.
Kuyokwa adds that most girls in Malawi, especially in rural areas, drop out of school due to lack of role models to inspire them to work hard towards their dreams.
“You will find that most girls in rural areas drop out of school, not necessarily because of poverty or lack of support but because they have no one to inspire them; someone who went through similar struggles but still made it.
“So, apart from economically empowering families to send their children to school, we are also providing the girls with an opportunity to interact with role models, women who are familiar with the struggles girls face,” Kuyokwa says.
This would address challenges such as child marriage cases which are at 42 percent and among the highest in the world.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.