By Sam Majamanda:
Mercy Adam was in Standard Eight the time When Mother is a Child (WMC) project folded.
In her view, phasing out the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (Adra) Malawi-bankrolled project in Mulanje four years ago meant dashed hopes in her education pursuit.
To Mercy, there was no more future as the support she hoped to receive in order to complete her secondary school education was left with her community.
Adra had failed to secure more funding for the project despite the intervention registering a myriad of successes in the community such as arresting dropout for girls in primary and secondary schools.
“In 2016, the organisation packed and left because it had failed to source more money to continue working in our community. At this point, I had given up on my future plans,” Mercy explains.Advertisement
Brought up by her grandmother after the death of parents, Mercy’s resignation to her own fate on education was not the first.
At the age of 16, she was impregnated by a fellow primary school learner while in Standard Seven.
“The boy denied responsibility and I was left caring for the pregnancy at my grandmother’s place until I delivered.
“At that time, I stopped going to school for two years and I could envision problems in my future because there was no solution in sight,” Mercy says.
However, hope was restored when Adra introduced WMC project some time in 2014 which offered her a second chance in education.
Apart from taking back dropout girls to school, the WMC project, which benefited Mercy for a year, also identified teenage mothers and encouraged them to return to school.
Among others, the teen mothers were equipped with motherly skills that saw many of them look after their babies with utmost care.
“We were taught how to take care of ourselves and our babies, too, considering our poverty.
“We were also given school needs plus fees for those that are in secondary school because most of us fell into early marriages and teen pregnancies due to inability to source such materials,” Mercy says.
As stuttering as the story of Mercy might sound, many girls in the country are faced with daunting challenges that may drive them out of school prematurely.
In Traditional Authority (TA) Juma in Mulanje, where Mercy comes from, over 63 primary school girls dropped out of school during the 2017/18 academic year alone.
Surprisingly, the area continues to register higher teenage pregnancy and early marriage rates compared to other areas in the district.
Mercy and many other girls, however, can now afford a smile because one of their primary school teachers stood up with a girl empowerment initiative.
Having noticed the challenges girls and teenage mothers who had enrolled back in school were facing in TA Juma, 25-year-old Standard Six teacher Elita Nyika majestically rose up to the occasion.
“I started visiting school dropout girls to hear and try to understand what uprooted them from school.
“What was clear is that most of them dropped out for petty reasons such as lack of learning materials and sometimes school uniforms.
“Using my monthly earnings, I started supporting 10 primary school girls who agreed to return to school,” Nyika says.
She adds that later the figure swelled to 20 and it included secondary school students who came forth after hearing about the initial 10 girls.
The obvious pressure on her small resources had some relief in 2017 when a fellow young lady, Jane Mdokwe, joined her with additional support for secondary school students.
Together, the two ladies with a passion for girls’ education initiated weekly sessions aimed at keeping the girls preoccupied with education, sports and entrepreneurship.
“We conduct dialogue sessions where every girl shares a story about what happened in her school.
“From such stories, we draw lessons and action points aimed at strengthening the assertiveness of the beneficiaries,” Nyika says.
Within the initiative, the girls are also taught tailoring for a career in fashion and designing apart from selling the end products.
The proceeds from such exploits are channeled towards advancing girls’ education endeavours and charity work.
Mdokwe says the main aim of the initiative is to ensure that young girls who failed in their education should not be regarded as outcasts in society but be given second chance to attain self-reliance.
“We do not boast that we will take all the girls to their dream futures but we would like to show society that together we can.
“If every one of us can adopt at least one girl to support, we might be able to build Malawi that we can all be proud of,” Mdokwe says.
Meanwhile, the initiative supports girls in classes ranging from Standard Five to Form Four and it is paying school fees for secondary school girls at Namadidi, Thuchila and Namulenga community day secondary schools.
Mulanje District Child Protection Officer Noel Chambo commends the young women for the small-scale intervention that has seen over 20 girls going back to school.
“Government alone cannot address all the challenges children, especially girls, face in the country.
“It is the responsibility of every well-meaning Malawian to take part in promoting the rights of children in the country in a bid to break the poverty cycle,” Chambo says. — Mana
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