By Peter Chipanga:
He scooped 16 points during the 2018 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations; a reason good enough to be excited. That was not the case, however. He was not selected to university that year.
It was only the following year when he was among those selected to the then University of Malawi (Unima) to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics at Chancellor College (Chanco) but then distress also crept in.
He had no clue about how he would safely manage his educational pursuits at the college God loved the most, as they call it, considering that university education is so expensive and access to free education was a mountain not easy to climb; what with news of high demand for government loans!
An invitation from a brother working in Mangochi raised his spirits but it was not to be as the brother was laid off from work; making the would-be guardian and the dependent both desperate.
Since he could not envisage heavens to just drop manna for him, he thought of just picking any job, and that is what made 23-year-old Snowden Samu become a Kabaza (bicycle taxi) operator in Mangochi, several Kilometres away from home in Neno District; all in anticipation of joining Chanco after accumulating something over a year from the Kabaza business.
A sixth born in a family of seven, Samu revealed that he had no choice but to go for the Kabaza job as one way of pooling resources towards his university education.
The case of Samu is but just a tree in a forest for there are many youths that either join ‘sorry’ employment just to make ends meet or drop out of school, with others going for early marriage, in the case of girls; all because there is no hope for help to further one’s education.
Samu says he was aware of the government loan scheme but was not sure if he would be lucky, considering the high demand towards the same.
“Even when I learnt that I had been offered a loan towards college fees, I was still worried because I had no clue of how I could get accommodation because of the financial challenges we face as a family,” he said.
Samu narrates that it was for that reason that he failed to hold tears (of joy) when management of Blue Fish Lodge (in Mangochi) announced that the request his brother, who had picked a job there, had made towards his university needs, was considered positively.
“I was about to withdraw because I had failed to raise enough money to cater for my accommodation and upkeep until the lodge’s management said they would help me,” he said.
Allie Mwachande, owner of the lodge, said he thought of assisting the boy after learning of his plight and appreciating the course he was selected to study.
“Upon learning of his family background, his current status and the course which he was earmarked to study, we thought of helping him,” Mwachande said.
Samu comes from a poor family and in all honesty, the Kabaza business was not good enough to support his university education; the more the reason why Mwachande decided to step in.
“Again considering the fact that the field he was geared to study has few individuals in Malawi, as management and people of goodwill, we thought it wise to give a hand to the young boy,” he said.
The support package included clothes, pairs of shoes, stationery and a laptop computer, with an assurance of monthly upkeep and rented house (for accommodation).
Mwachande, who cautioned Samu against indulging in immoral behaviour, said he looked at the assistance as a long term plan hence called upon other well-wishers to join in helping the boy.
“More people can come in to help the boy whom I have encouraged to work extra hard for he will obviously meet people from different backgrounds and of different characters, but what we as Blue Fish management want is to see the young boy enjoy the studies and produce excellent results,” he said.
As for Samu, who hails from Tchenga Village in Traditional Authority Symon’s area in Neno, he is determined to excel in his studies, not just for himself but for his brother, family and the sponsors.
The Matope Primary School and Christian Liebig Community Secondary School alumni lamented that it was tough due to the socioeconomic challenges his family was facing, as his brothers and sisters dropped out of school yet they were equally good to step into university corridors.
“Two family members dropped out of school while in secondary school while four left primary school because it was too much for our parents to meet the school needs.
“Actually that speaks volumes of why I had to go for Kabaza operator job and the rivers of joy are flowing because of the support of the lodge’s management, enabling me to go to university,” he said.
Political scientist and social commentator Wonderful Mkutche affirms that cases of deserving students failing to access education because of their needy backgrounds are common.
”There are thousands of such stories across the country and it tells us that we are failing our youths,” he said.
Mkutche adds that there is need for a vibrant loan scheme that has such students covered when they are selected.
He said: “This will mean education will cease being only for the well-off in our society.”
Realising that government is sometimes overwhelmed, there is need for other stakeholders to come in and help as education is key to every nation’s development.
“The government needed to work with the private sector as well in sponsoring such students for their education. This is why when we see such cases; it must move us to do something. If we forsake such bright students, we are only creating a frustrated generation as well as preparing ourselves for failure as a country. That’s why when it comes to education, stakes are high,” he said.
For now, Samu can afford to put brakes on his kabaza taxi errands, and turn the bicycle towards the Zomba direction where Chancellor College is beckoning.