In this Friday Shaker, YOHANE SYMON tells a story of how a boy from a poor background from the lakeshore district of Mangochi, armed with steely grit and determination, swum against seemingly insurmountable tides of poverty to become the only six-point genius in this year’s Malawi School Certificate of Examination (MSCE) examinations that attracted 92,867 learners from Nsanje to Chitipa districts.
The journey to Promise Chibondo’s home, Binali Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba, in Mangochi, is as rough as the journey he has travelled before attaining six points in 2019 MSCE examinations.
At some stage, Promise nearly withdrew from school because he had no tuition fees.
Located to the West of Mangochi, Binali is a good example of typical villages where people wallow in poverty.
The 20-kilometre road from Chantulo Turn-off along Mangochi-Golomoti Road provides a true picture of how hard it is surviving in Binali.
Access to potable water, markets, health facilities and other social services are a challenge to this village of 11,000 people.
The village is serviced by two primary schools, one being Kapilimtiya where Promise underwent his education.
The two primary schools and others from surrounding villages feed their pupils to Thema Community Day Secondary School, located 15 kilometres from Binali.
Born in a family of seven, Promise has gone through struggles just like many children raised in a typical village setup.
His father, a primary school teacher, struggles to raise enough money for his family.
To supplement his income, Promise’s father, Shadreck Chibondo, who is from Binali and his wife from neighbouring Ntcheu District, engage in subsistence farming.
Despite facing challenges, Promise believed that, one day, he would become a medical doctor. His dream is on track.
“My father used to encourage me to read books. He hardly gave me time to play. At first, I thought he was being harsh to me. But, with time, I developed an interest in reading such that it became my hobby,” Promise says.
The reading habit continued to develop in Promise up to his secondary school days, when, if he were not playing football with school mates, he was reading books. “Different books,” he says.
From his early primary school days at Kapilimtiya, Promise showed signs of a genius.
His grades were excellent such that the school decided that he should sit Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examination while he was in Standard 7.
His father and the school’s management committee believed that he could pass the examination.
Of course, there were other two learners who were allowed to sit PSLCE examinations while in Standard 7 at Kapilimtiya.
“We allowed Promise and other two learners to sit Standard Eight examinations although they were in Standard Seven. We wanted to try it and we were surprised that all of them passed. But only Promise
was selected to Zomba Catholic Secondary School,” says Peter Gomile, Promise’s former head teacher at Kapilimtiya.
His selection to the school, that is loosely called Box 2, was exciting and depressing for his father.
Issues of school fees came into the equation.
As a primary school teacher, Promise’s father supports other children.
It meant that he needed to dig deeper into his pocket to provide tuition fees for Promise.
“It was difficult raising money for school fees. However, I could not do otherwise because paying school fees for a person is non-negotiable,” Chibondo says.
Although Promise enrolled at Box 2, his father continued to struggle for tuition fees such that, each and every academic term, Promise was at risk of withdrawing from school.
Constant reminders about school fees even started to eat into his performance.
He could not concentrate on studies as the fear of being expelled from school lingered.
“Promise showed potential when he joined us. When he was in Form Three, I told him that he was a potential candidate of scoring six points during Maneb [Malawi National Examinations Board] examinations. However, issues of school fees were a big challenge and threatened to compromise his performance,” says Francis Jumbe, Box 2 Head teacher.
Jumbe says he called Promise’s father, informing him that he needed to find a way of providing school fees in time because the child was being negatively affected.
“I informed the school committee about Promise’s situation and we agreed that we should no longer ask him to remind his father about schools fees. We were afraid that we could destabilise him. As such, we were talking directly to his father,” Jumbe says.
In addition, Jumbe says him and the committee challenged Promise and other learners, who were showing potential, that they would receive incentives if they earned six points in MSCE examinations.
“We were doing all this to ensure that our learners were motivated to pass examinations. I was not really surprised when I heard that Promise had scored six points,” Jumbe says.
Promise’s success, however, cannot be told without the intervention of traditional leaders under Group Village Head Binali.
As a community, the chiefs opened a bank account where they deposit all fines paid by parents whose daughters fall pregnant.
“We use this account to pay transport for children who are selected to conventional secondary schools. Promise is one of the beneficiaries. We are very grateful that due to children such as Promise Chibondo, many children in our area have started developing interest in school,” Village Head Binali says.
Beyond Promise’s village, his success has inspired many children in Mangochi.
Mangochi is among the districts which lag behind in the education sector as most learners drop out of school due to several challenges.
Among other factors, migration to South Africa and fishing have ‘stolen’ a lot of children from school.
In addition, the district does not have enough school facilities such that more children drop out of school due to factors such as long distances to schools.
With a population of 1.2 million people, the district has 296 primary schools.
However, Mangochi District Education Manager, Joe Magombo, says the district requires a minimum of 350 primary schools.
In some cases, primary school learners cover between 10 and 20 kilometres to get to the nearest school, which becomes hard for children in lower primary school classes.
Secondary schools are also a challenge for learners in Mangochi.
The district has one public conventional secondary school, Lisumbwi in Monkey Bay.
Mangochi Secondary School, located at the Boma, is affiliated to the Anglican Church.
“We are encouraging children to go school but where are the schools? We have generated interest among the people in issues related to school attendance, but we need schools within reach so that going to school should not be a form of punishment to children,” T/A Bwananyambi says.
In the absence of enough schools, Bwananyambi feels Promise’s feat would take time to be replicated.
“We are happy that our own child has emerged top during the examinations but we need schools with better facilities,” Bwananyambi says.
Promise is the only one to score six points out of 46, 771 learners who passed 2019 MSCE examinations in Malawi.
Last week, Maneb released results of the examinations which attracted 92,867 candidates.
The last time a candidate scored six points in such examinations was in 2017.
It is not easy in a country where learners face so many challenges.
The only hope for such learners lie in the government which, through Finance Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha’s 2019/20 national budget statement presented to Parliament on Monday, promises to minimise such challenges.
“In the education sector, the main objective of most projects is to improve quality of the learning environment through provision of the required equipment and amenities. Major infrastructure projects under education include the construction of three teachers training colleges for primary school teachers; rehabilitation of infrastructure for most institutions of higher learning; provision of desks for primary as well as secondary schools and construction of girls’ hostels in a number of secondary schools across the country,” Mwanamvekha said.
Learners from Mangochi and other districts can only wait for a time distances between schools would not be a challenge to learners.
Then, maybe, many learners would be able to score more six points. For now, the story of Promise remains precious.