Malawi’s quest to empower the girlchild through easy access to education is hitting a snag in some rural areas due to limited school facilities. In extreme cases, girls travel for three hours just to get to a nearest school in the process exposing them to challenges that force them to drop-out of school. SAMUEL KALIMIRA travelled to an area in Nkhata Bay where many girls have given up on their pursuit for education due to insurmountable challenges.
Doris Mkandawire, 19, from Gomba Village, Bua, Traditional Authority (T/A) M’bwana, Nkhata Bay District, decided to drop out of school for good.
She made that tough decision after realising that her pursuit for education was a nightmare.
In fact, her eyes were already welling up with tears when she started narrating how her attempt to attain an education flopped.
“As of now, I just stay home. There is no school nearby. I was selected to Usisya Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) where I only did form one. There, I got pregnant and I could not avoid this pregnancy,” Mkandawire said.
Bua is located between Usisya and Choma hills which have a thick forest.
The area is connected by a bad road network.
The entire area has 11 primary schools and the only nearby secondary schools are Usisya CDSS, which is over 25 kilometres (km) and Chome CDSS, 30km both are in Mzimba North East Constituency.
Doris was cycling 50km to and from Usisya to access secondary education.
On her way, Doris could meet men who were forcing her into love affairs.
Later, after she faced more challenges, especially when sometimes the bicycle broke down, her parents asked her to join fellow girl students, who were renting a house as a hostel.
“It was not easy cycling every day. I was taking three hours just to get to the school one way. My parents had to look for another alternative so that I could continue with my education. That was to join self-boarders at Usisya Trading Centre,” Mkandawire said.
She said life became tough because her parents, who are farmers but they are much into charcoal burning business, could not manage to provide all necessary resources for her education such food and learning materials.
“Fishermen were supporting us with relish and money for our survival at the school. Later, they would demand sex. I didn’t know that this was the beginning of doom for my education. But when I got pregnant, it is when I admitted that my future to be a nurse was spoiled,” she said.
Doris Kamanga, 20, from the same area, was selected together with Mkandawire only that Kamanga went to Choma CDSS.
Kamanga said she also joined self-boarding girls because she could not manage to be cycling 60km to and from school.
“I got pregnant because I decided to have a boyfriend to support me with necessities. The parents could take time to respond to my requests for food and other learning materials.
“Looking at the current situation, my parents cannot send me back to school unless there could be a nearby school within our area,” Kamanga said.
Mkandawire and Kamanga are examples of many girls who are denied access to education because the areas lack secondary school facilities.
Many children, especially girls who have not been selected to national secondary schools, no longer continue with their education because the only schools of Usiya and Choma are far from the areas.
Many girls get married after finishing standard eight while boys indulge in charcoal burning business thereby depleting the forest.
Ward councillor for the area, Malani Kafunda, said, according to the education committee report at the council, 11 students drop out of school per each academic year.
Nkhata Bay District Education Manager, Nameson Ngwira, agreed with the councillor on the challenges but said constructing hostels at Usisya and Choma schools was the only solution.
“The challenge is big because, imagine students cycling such long distances, they meet a lot of challenges which contribute to the failure to proceed with education. If well-wishers can construct hostels at Usisya and Choma, many students, especially girls, can be assisted,” Ngwira said.
Amid such challenges, a secondary school construction project has stalled for 11 years in the area.
The members of the community have been pushing for the completion of the project for the past years but to no avail.
Office block, head teachers’ house and class block has not been completed.
The available structures have since started developing cracks; potholes on the floor and plunk that hold roof are rotting.
Chairperson of school management committee, Stanley Kaluwa, said since the project commenced in 2009, the then Member of Parliament, Ephraim Chiume, never worked with members of the community to implement the work but used only political party leaders to deliver materials without explanation.
The Daily Times could not establish this claim independently.
“They were just coming here with materials. We don’t know how much this project cost and are still waiting for its completion. Lack of transparency and accountability is causing the delay, thereby denying innocent children right to access education in our area. We do not even know if the current MP will consider it as a priority,” Kaluwa said.
Senior chief M’bwana, Area Development Committee (ADC) Chairperson, Mary Kuwali, agreed with Kaluwa saying their committee is not aware of how much funds were allocated and used for the stalled project.
“The project of constructing a Bula CDSS followed proper procedures of how developmental projects of Constituency Development Fund [CDF] are requested. We did this after we realised challenges our children are facing to access education. However, the former MP was not implementing the project with us but party members,” Kuwali said.
She said the members of the community are demanding the council to explain some ‘missing’ building materials such as 100 bags of cement, iron sheets, paint, plunks, lime, among others, meant for the completion of the projects.
When contacted, Chiume refused to comment on the matter and referred this reporter to verify the communities’ claims with the council.
Incumbent MP Chrissy Nyakanyaso said she was aware of the problem but said plans were under way to complete the project.
Nkhata Bay District Council Acting Director of Public Works, Matheus Nundwe, agreed with the communities that there are some stalled projects in the constituency but said it is because the council lacks funds to pay the contractor as the district stayed for over six months without receiving CDF.
“Apparently, the council already listed projects that are not completed. We are waiting for the full council to approve more funds for some payments for completion,” Nundwe said.
But Group Village Head Lukhanda said it was sad that despite the community supporting the school project, very little is happening on the ground for the school to be completed and opened.
The chief said the government, through the council, knows the importance of establishing a secondary school in the area, following many requests the community made through the council and the MP.
“If I had known that the project would take such long and even risk failing to be completed, I could not have accepted to work with my fellow 19 chiefs to mold bricks and join builders in helping construct the structures. Now it has developed dangerous cracks that can put the lives of students at risk if the structures can be in use. This means our children will still be denied access to education,” Chief Lukhanda said.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Justin Saidi, said he was aware that in some areas students walk long distances to access primary and secondary education but said the government will construct 250 secondary schools and 100 CDSS to arrest the problem.
“It is sad that students in the said area, among others, face similar challenges to access education. However, we hope that if the area is not going to benefit from the 250 secondary schools and 100 CDSS to be constructed, other stakeholders may come in for support,” Saidi said.
All what is happening in this area of Nkhata Bay is in violation of Section 25, Chapter IV of Malawi Constitution which stipulates that ‘All persons are entitled to education.’
However, this is not happening to many children from Bula.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2013 agrees that education is a human right and a force for sustainable development and peace.
Every goal in the 2030 Agenda requires education to empower people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies.
But is Malawi working towards the goal?
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) Mzuzu Diocesan Secretary, Arnold Msimuko, said children are struggling to access education, which is their birthright.
The million question dollar which has not been answered is that if the children are not continuing with education, what are they doing in society? What kind of citizens is the country molding for future?