Pilirani Khoza, 26, was jointly raised by a single mother after her father walked out on them.
She adopted Khoza as a surname, but it was her mother’s maiden name.
Following the deaths of her mother, uncle and grandparents-that also played a part in her upbringing- Pilirani had no one to support her.
The young woman lacked basic amenities as a student at Bunda College (currently Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources-Luanar) and a home to go to during holidays.
“I faced all sorts of challenges which left bad memories I do not wish to remember or see any girl go through. My passion is to be a girl ambassador to impact helpless students with upkeep and school fees,” she says.
It was from her experience that Pilirani initiated the Bunda Female Students Association (Bufeso) in 2012, the very same year she needed a lot of support to survive in college.
She recalls the former director of students’ affairs (Dosa) at the college doubting her when she presented the idea because she was needy herself.
“Even students doubted me. They wondered who would fund the organisation and looking at my situation that time, it was absolutely impossible to gain support. Today, the former Dosa is one of the friends of Bufeso and we often laugh about it when we remind each other,” she says.
Bufeso provides upkeep allowances, school fees and basic needs to disadvantaged students. The organisation also links them to well-wishers and some have been adopted, by families.
“Let me assure all needy youth that any harsh circumstance they may be passing through is short term. They need not lose focus. They should be strong and positive in any situation as it is just preparing them for a brighter future ahead,” she advises.
Bufeso has an executive committee and is currently chaired by Joy Munthali, a third year Luanar student. The whole body is led by a matron, Dr. Tasokwa Kakota.
According to Pilirani, needy students are selected in two ways.
“Firstly, we have consultations with Dosa, an office responsible for handling the welfare and complaints of students. Secondly, Bufeso being well known at the college campus, some students approach the organisation’s executives directly and they take note of the names.
“The executive members then come up with a consolidated list of needy students which is presented to the executive committee and friends of Bufeso. Interviews follow to select the neediest,” she explains.
Selection is based on analysis of their stories, needs and consultations with their families. Selected students are then funded according to their needs.
As a way of raising funds for the organisation, Pilirani says they hold fundraising dinners, discos and other events where public figures are invited.
“There is no proposal writing for donations because of the trust people have in Bufeso. We also get individual donations in form of money, clothes or basic needs.
“The coming in of friends of Bufeso made us extend our support to male students. Friends of Bufeso is led by Andrina Mchiela, former principal secretary. We currently have about 30 friends of Bufeso comprising retired civil servants, business people and academicians,” says Pilirani.
Through social media posts, Bufeso has also received support from a group of commonwealth scholars, Dossani Trust and Pastor Kim of Korean Youth.
Pilirani, the last born in a family of three comes from Mgombera Village in Engucwini, Mzimba. She graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry from Bunda College and has worked with Luanar as a research intern. She now works with Alliance One Tobacco Malawi as a forestry technician.
She holds a couple of awards including Gender in Agri-business for Southern Africa 2017, European Development Days 2016 Fellow, 2017 Young Africa Works and Vice Chancellor’s achievers award. Pilirani has also travelLed the world as an ambassador for needy youths.
Her father divorced her mother when she was six months old. As a business woman, her mother endeavoured to provide their every need.
“Her death was the beginning of a new chapter of my life; we dropped to zero level without a clue about how to start the new life. The little resources she left were misused by some family members and we became homeless. It was a tough moment for me as a young woman. I was supposed to find a new home and adapt to the sudden changes.
“I spent my time in the college hostels thinking of my next home. Luckily, that was the same year the Government of Malawi started giving us upkeep allowances in cash as opposed to the previous plan of paying directly to the school cafeteria. Considering the struggles my brother was facing, I could skip a meal just to save money to share with him,” she explains.
Pilirani rented a small land within Bunda area and grew vegetables through irrigation farming.
“The farming business did well. I bought my own land which I have expanded over time and I am now on my journey to commercial farming. I always consider myself a strong woman because the challenges I faced that time were severe and would well have driven me into wicked behaviour in search for survival,” she adds.
Pilirani observes that gender-based violence (GBV) in Malawi is often a result of women depending on men.
Challenges are many, she says. For one thing, being a non-profit organisation, no one in the organisation is paid.
“No allowance or salary is paid to any Bufeso members. We use personal resources to run it. Everything we source is spent on needy students’ support. For that, it is only those who are more passionate about changing the lives of others who join the organisation. Sometimes we incur losses in our efforts to raise funds; for instance, we may organise a fundraising dinner, but end up incurring losses,” she says.