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Out of academic hopelessness: Levison’s story

Few people have had the zeal to, against all odds, overcome childhood challenges and realise their dreams.

The name Levison Chilinga must be among the few for, surely, the Balaka-based man has shown that it is possible to overcome challenges life throws at us and realise our dreams.

Due to his enthusiasm, Levison who once worked as house boy, is now a second-year Bachelor of Pharmacy student at the College of Medicine (CoM), a constituent college of the University of Malawi.

Levison, who was born in 1985 and is the second born in a family of six, did not allow fate to determine his life’s direction.

He started school in the late 1990s and dropped out of school many times due to lack of financial support from parents and relatives. Somehow, Levison always found himself back in school until he completed primary school.

While he was waiting for results of his Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations, Levison feared for his academic future.

“Nevertheless I got selected to secondary school but my fear was proven because I failed to report for classes due to lack of school fees. My parents and relatives failed to raise my school fees and other school requirements. I could not blame them because I knew how we were struggling as a family by that time,” he says.

Two years after coming to terms with his failure to go to secondary school, Levison picked up a job as a house boy in Lilongwe City. And after few months of working, the desire to continue with his studies resurfaced. He negotiated with his employers and started using his free time and earnings for self studies at Kabwazi Community Day Secondary School Library.

“I sat for my Junior Certificate Examinations as an external [self study] candidate and passed with an overall grade of ‘B’. But three months later my boss retired from his work and I had to move to Neno District where I enrolled as an MSCE [Malawi School Certificate of Education] night student and passed well after studying for three years [2011-2013],” he recalls as his face glows with a smile.

Suddenly, Levison started dreaming again. Although he did not have a preferred career in mind, he proceeded to write University of Malawi Entrance Examinations in 2014 and got selected to study Bachelors Degree in Pharmacy under the self sponsored category at CoM.

The news of him being selected to university was bitter to Levison. The fear of dropping out just like in secondary selection resurfaced. However, he did not relent. He decided to face his fear head on and sold all his valuables to raise his tuition fee.

“The money raised was, however, not enough to meet the required K275, 000 which self sponsored students are required to pay per academic year. I started looking for piece work in some farms and houses,” Levison elaborates.

As the time was approaching for the first semester to begin, he managed to pay only half of the tuition which was K137, 500 of the tuition on initial registration from the money he got after selling his valuables and earnings generated through piece works.

At CoM, Levison was relieved to find himself on campus. He joined and made a lot of friends from across the country. None of his friends knew what he had gone through to be where he is.

“But my relief and happiness was short-lived because after a semester I had nothing to sell and I had limited time to do piece works to raise the remaining tuition balance as college education is time demanding,” he explained.

He risked being withdrawn from school on financial grounds because he was unable to register for the second semester after failing to pay the remaining K137, 500 and a daily fine of K1000 which was to be paid before registering.

After staying for two weeks without attending classes and sometimes living on an empty stomach, luck smiled on Levison, thanks to a scholarship opportunity from an international non-governmental organisation, Medic to Medic.

The scholarship came as a huge relief to Levison such that it changed the whole theme of his academic hopelessness to new optimism.

Medic to Medic director, Tamsin Lillie, explains that the organisation was impressed with Levison’s determination to proceed with his studies despite all the challenges he met in the process.

Lillie says the scholarship programme was set up in order to support healthcare students in low income countries such as Malawi and they work in close collaboration with college officials to make sure that only needy but talented medical and nursing students benefit from the funds.

“A British doctor, Kate Mandeville, was born in Malawi and she was struck by the scarcity of doctors during a visit to the hospital where she was born. Hence she went on to visit one of the medical schools in Malawi, where she met many students from poor backgrounds who were struggling to finish their education due to financial hardships. Medic to Medic was, therefore, set up to try and counter this problem,” Lillie says.

“Currently, two doctors treat 100,000 patients in Malawi and this is one of the highest doctor-to-patient ratios in the world. Yet, a lot of needy students are withdrawing from Medical schools due to lack of funds, something which we want to address through our scholarships,” she says.

She further explains that since the introduction of the scholarship in 2007, the organisation has sponsored 35 students that have so far graduated in Pharmacy, Medicine and Physiotherapy. And currently there are 49 students in the same field which they are supporting with tuition fee and other school needs.

“School fees in Malawi are expensive if you consider the levels of poverty in the country. There are few people who can manage to pay the required K275, 000 per annum. This is evidenced by the fact that this year alone we received over 100 applications for scholarships and due to financial constraints we have only taken on board 14 students,” Lillie says.

She reveals that all beneficiaries for the scholarship who graduated are working in Malawi except for one who is in Lesotho.

“Once they start working, we encourage our graduates to donate a little money towards the organisation so that more students can have access to education because we are spending an equivalent of K21.5 million per academic year and the figures are likely to increase with the nursing scholarship which we have introduced at Mzuzu University to cater for health workers in the Northern Region,” she said.

If funds permit, Medic to Medic hopes to help many students overcome their childhood challenges and become what they desire to be.

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