Every day, Cecilia Zimba, 23, from Kuselikumvenji Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Mduwa in Mchinji, finds the quest to make ends meet tough.
The single mother, who dropped out of primary school—in Standard Eight— struggles solo to make her two-year-old child gets the needed care.
In search for a better life for herself and the child, Zimba got to know of the existence of Tikondane Farmer Field School (FFS) whose 20 members help girls who dropped out of school to be economically empowered.
Through this school, Zimba’s hope for a better life has been restored.
“I would like to learn modern farming. Thereafter, I will apply the knowledge in my private garden. I believe the knowledge we are getting from this school will help us a lot,” she declares.
Months after planting the pineapples, the group members’ optimism is growing.
“We have not yet started harvesting the pineapples. This is just the beginning. This type of farming is going to transform our lives,” Zimba says.
United Nations Women says women’s economic empowerment is central to realising their rights and gender equality.
The agency states that when more women work, economies grow.
And Memory McField, another member of Tikondane FFS, wants to be part of those growing the country’s economy.
McField, however, appeals for more support.
“We need a solar-powered pump for irrigating our crops,” she says.
Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator (AEDC) for Mikundi Extension Planning Area (EPA), Eliah Clemence, says pineapple cultivation has a big potential in the area.
“The climate and soil in Mikundi EPA are favourable for pineapple production. That is why we have encouraged these young people to grow this crop. They will be able to fetch a lot of money because we don’t grow much of this crop here,” Clemence says.
The intervention is one of the initiatives focusing on adolescent girls and teen mothers in Dedza and Mchinji.
In Dedza, the project is in TAs Kaphuka, Chilikumwendo and Kachere while in Mchinji it is in TAs Mkanda, Zulu and Mduwa.
The project, which aims to contribute to improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of teen mothers and adolescent girls, is receiving $6 million from Korean International Cooperation Agency (Koica) through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Mentorship, economic empowerment and integrated youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services are the three strategies used for the achievement of the project’s goals.
FFS is one of the economic empowerment measures being implemented in Mchinji. FAO is spearheading the initiative. The organisation’s Deputy Representative to Malawi, James Okoth, is pleased that the youth have adopted the strategy.
“It is very clear that income generating activities that the youth are engaged in are transforming their mindset towards taking farming as a business, and bringing them together as a team to fight the vice of teenage pregnancy,” he says.
He says FAO will continue supporting the youth to so that they make the most out of the farming they are involved in.
“We are envisaging installing some solar irrigation systems to support where we have high potential investments like the pineapple orchards and where they are planning to put up banana orchards,” he says.
Local implementing partners in the project are Malawi Girl Guides Association (Magga), YouthNet and Counselling (Yoneco) and Family Planning Association of Malawi (Fpam).
Mphatso Jimu, Magga National Coordinator, says since implementation of the project started last year, significant strides have been made.
“We have noted so many changes within a short period. We have noted that there is power in the youth. Young people have so many ideas. If we incorporate their ideas in projects and programmes we implement, there will be a lot of change to the work we are doing,” she says.
UNFPA Deputy Representative, Masaki Watabe, says the multi-sectoral approach being used in the project will help in eliminating challenges adolescent girls grapple with.
He cites such problems as unwanted pregnancies, gender-based violence school dropouts and poverty as some which need to be dealt with once and for all.
“As UNFPA we have realised that we need to implement a very comprehensive approach by putting the adolescent girls at the centre of our interventions.
“Unless we implement a holistic approach through multiple interventions, through multi-sector approach, we will not address the root cause of the problems that the girls are faced with,” Watabe says.
Jisoo Kim, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Korea resident in Zimbabwe, who recently visited the FFS and appreciated other interventions in TA Mduwa, says she is impressed with the progress the project has made so far.
“The participants are very enthusiastic about showing us the progress they have made in terms of service delivery, mentorship as well as counselling,” Kim says.
Mchinji District Council Director of Administration, Raymond Nkhonya, has commended the Government of Korea and all organisations involved in this project.
“If we empower the youth, especially teen mothers, and bring them back to school and help them to be self-reliant, we are doing a great service,” Nkhonya says.
The intervention is focusing on 216,000 adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 in the two Central Region districts.