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Tapping from CDF to bail out needy students

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BACK TO WHERE SHE WANTED TO BE—Ruth has returned to school, thanks to a CDF-supported bursary

When Ruth Ganunga, 13, from Group Village Head Chikhawo, Traditional Authority Tengani in Nsanje got selected to Nyangwale Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in 2021, she was very excited.

She visualised her dream of becoming a nurse coming to fruition.

Ruth, third born in a family of six, had always wanted to be educated to support her siblings and parents; therefore, news of her selection to secondary school could not be sweeter.

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The excitement was however short-lived as she could not complete Form 1 due to lack of school fees.

She dropped out of school in third term because her parents, who earn a living through subsistence farming, could not afford raising K7,500 school fees for that term.

“It was a devastating experience as I saw my dream of becoming a nurse crumbling before my eyes. The idea of getting married never occurred to me,” says Ruth.

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In the same year, Development Communication Trust with funding from Unicef started implementing a Child and Youth Friendly Community Services Initiative (C&YFSI) in Chikwawa and Nsanje District councils, a project that would later become an eye opener to Ruth and her community.

Executive Director for the organization, Prince Mtelera says the project champions the involvement of children in planning, budgeting, implementation as well as social accountability of development initiatives in their respective villages.

“We know in Malawi there is decentralization where citizens are supposed to participate in the processes of the council.

“So, the first process is where children are involved in their communities in the planning of Village Action Plans (VAPs) where children have to be present even when budgets are being done up to the point where the VAPs are referred to councils for budgeting.

“Children also have to participate in terms of implementation as well as getting them involved in social accountability aspect which gives them power to hold duty bearers accountable for the services given to the children and adolescents,” says Mtelera.

Mtelera adds that children are also supposed participate where they are doing monitoring to see whether issues of children have been included in the district plans.

“So basically, the project is empowering young people especially children, adolescent and youth to participate in the process.

“Malawi is one of the countries where children are not regarded as very relevant in decision making processes. We believe that when we engage children in decision making processes, we are going to get the development that are child-centric and child-initiated initiatives,” he adds.

To ensure that the children and youth are able to fully take part, the project initiated the establishment of community structures like Children’s Corner, Youth Networks and Social Accountability forums where the children and youth were empowered to have a say and have their rights valued and respected as well as being able to ask for essential services they require.

Luckily enough for Ruth, through the project, Chikhawo Children’s Corner was established in her area and it played a vital role in helping her access bursary under Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and return to school.

Chairperson for Chikhawo Children’s Corner, Finiyasi Valeya says the project made the children and youth aware of what is in the CDF and how they can demand the resources from the authorities.

“Through the project, we knew that in CDF there is a provision for bursaries to needy students so we set that out in the Village Action Plan (VAP), demanding that children from our village should benefit from the bursary programme too.

“After the VAP was submitted to the district council, ADC through our VDC gave us a nod to search for needy students to be incorporated in the bursary programme,” says Valeya.

He says that all along the bursary had been benefiting only those with connections to politicians, leaving out the needy and deserving students in the area.

“But that changed when we learnt that any community can demand for such bursary. As a result, we now have five students in our village, including Ruth, who are benefiting from the CDF bursary,” says Valeya.

Ruth is now full of appreciation. She says she could not have accessed CDF bursary if it were not for the enlightenment she and her community got through the project.

“I am back in school and I have just sat for Junior Certificate Examination. I am hopeful that I will do well and finish my studies and be what I have always wanted to be,” says Ruth.

Tengani ADC Chair, Benjamin Songera says so far, 211 students from Nsanje Central Constituency are now on bursary provided by the district council.

“Our children never knew how the bursary works and who is eligible to benefit. As such, only 30 to 35 students were benefiting. But now, a lot of them have started benefiting because of the knowledge they got from DCT through the project. VDCs are now able to identify needy students and that is done in a transparent manner,” says Songera.

Songera adds that through the project, they have also been able to know that CDF includes a 10 percent allocation meant for children and youth.

“We never knew that in the CDF there is 10 percent meant for the children and youth. This has changed and now that they know, the children and youth sat down and developed a proposal to access the money.

“As ADC, we have received and endorsed the proposal and it has been sent to the Member of Parliament to have the money released to the youth and children so that they can use it to improve their livelihood,” he says.

Nsanje District Social Welfare Officer Chikumbutso Salifu says currently, there are 861 students on bursary in Community Day Secondary Schools as well as District and National Secondary Schools.

“Out of the 861, 221 are under Camfed bursary. Our plan is to reach out to 1,200 students per academic year.

“To achieve that, we are promoting coordination among the bursary providers in the recruitment of children into bursaries in order to avoid duplication of beneficiaries,” says Salifu.—Mana

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