27 July 2014

Malawi: Fruits of Unity in Supporting Girl Child Education

Kasungu — After struggling with several problems Faress Banda, 16, who was at Chitunda Primary School in the area of Sub Traditional Authority (STA) Mnyanja in Kasungu district decided to quit school and see how she would go on with life.

Faress faced several problems like lack of money to provide for her school necessities. Unlike other kids she could not afford exercise books, school uniform, soap and worse still as a girl she had problems to take care of herself when her menstrual cycle comes while at school.

To her, these were reasons enough just to drop out and get a new lease of life at home.

She later decided that she should just get married and abandon education although she was in late stages of her primary school education.

Faress had her own reasons, but there are several other girls at STA Mnyanja's area who dropped out because of their own reasons too.

Natalia Mwale, Mother Group Chairlady in Malaza Village in the same area of STA Mnyanja, said most of the girls dropped out because they were either forced into marriage or they themselves wanted the marriage so that they can be relieved from other problems they were facing.

"The girls drop out of school because of the problems that they face at school. Most of the girls come from poor families and they don't have necessary materials that can keep them going so that they attend classes.

So, most of the parents marry off their daughters at an early age to run away from the problems they are facing," said Mwale.

But has this problem been solved? Well, there is something that is being done at the moment.

It has taken the intervention of the Mother groups, traditional leaders and the community in the area of STA Mnyanja to make sure that girls complete primary school education by making sure that they are provided with necessities.

"We, as Mother Groups, decided to come up with some ways that will help the girls not to drop out of school at primary school level. So with the support from other villagers we have tried our best to change the situation and see girls finish their primary school education," said Mwale.

Mwale said Mother Groups have gone to parents who refuse their daughter to attend classes and counsel them on the importance of girl child education.

"We hold counseling sessions with such parents just to change their mindset and similar sessions are held with the girls themselves. We have built bathrooms in primary schools with the help of the community so that the girls can use to wash whenever they feel they have to change during their menstrual periods," she said.

The Mother Groups also provide for school books and uniforms and other school necessities. Traditional leaders have to get credit too since they provided a conducive environment for this to happen.

STA Mnyanja believes that the element of working together is what helps to progress and achieve great results.

"Talking of Mother Groups they have helped a lot and this has seen girls who dropped out go back to school and even those who got pregnant are back to school. The chiefs, the school committees and the community have helped to improve girl child education here," said STA Mnyanja.

But what main roles have the chiefs played? "As chiefs we sat down and established bylaws that must be followed by the people here. Those who don't follow them are punished heavily."

"Those parents who force their children into marriage and not letting them go to school are supposed to pay either a chicken or a goat," said STA Mnyanja.

The traditional leader said they do all this on their own not waiting for some organisations to be in the forefront leading them.

"It is the community which is in the forefront to make sure that the girl education standards are improved and this is the spirit we are encouraging," he said.

The interventions people of STA Mnyanja are making have yielded excellent results worthy boasting for.

"For us Mother Group coming from Malaza village, at Chitunda Primary School we are helping about 22 girls with uniforms, soap, pens and exercise books. We are also giving guidance and counseling to girls from 9 villages that surround Chitunda Primary School," said Mwale.

The good thing is that the women raise the money on their own.

Head teacher at Chitunda Primary school Bosco Bande hailed the collaboration which is there between the community, school committee, chiefs and the mother group. Bande said there are a lot of things to point out because of the collaboration which is there.

"If you came here in 2011 you would have seen the worse situation as enrollment of the girls was not impressive, but now it has improved and also the pass rate of the girls is very good, thanks to the unity which is there," said Bande.

Bande said at Chitunda Primary School, they now have about 580 learners, a number which was somewhere around 300 learners in 2011 and this is because of the girls that have been encouraged to go to school.

Through a project called Enhancing Girls Participation and Completion of Primary Education which is being implemented in partnership with Creative Centre for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM) the people have been empowered to support education of a girl child.

Dick Phiri who is Education Programs Coordinator at Plan Malawi Kasungu program Area said the project mobilized community leaders and also empowered school based structures to work together in helping the girl child.

"Through the project, we wanted to mobilize and empower the traditional leaders and also all school based structures like school committees to work as a team and support girl child education so that the environment can be good for the girls," said Phiri.

Phiri said the Mother Groups have also been trained so that they monitor the behaviour of the girls during and after school and also encouraging those who dropped out of school to get re-admitted.

He said there are a lot of positive outcomes because of what is being done at the moment.

"It is a good thing to see that the chiefs on their own have come up with bylaws and penalties for parents who push girls into marriage,

"All the schools now have bathrooms that have been constructed by the community surrounding them and with all these we have seen increased enrollment and high pass rate for the girls," added Phiri.

Phiri said the project focused on 64 primary schools in Kasungu district.

Education authorities are also all smiles with the fruits from the whole project.

Mrs. Modester Ipute who is a Primary School Education Advisor in the district said previously cases of early marriages were rampant and enrollment for girls was not good but right now there is a significant change.

"With what the chiefs and mother Groups together with the Community have been empowered to do, there has been significant change in girl child education, and this is evidenced by the number of girls who have done their education up to primary level and high enrollment of girls in primary schools," said Ipute.

Had it not been that the people of STA Mnyanja and other areas were not united, the project would not reached people like Faress Banda. She and others could not have had a chance to go back to school instead struggling with life with their husbands.

But the good thing is that Faress was rescued and she just sat for her Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC).

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