Long distance to school continues to be an obstacle for girls in Malawi, writes UNFPA communications officer HENRY CHIMBALI
At 17 years old, Fanny Maseko was forced into marriage to surmount extreme poverty. Her marriage was officiated in 2012, influenced by her parents who were struggling to meet her needs.
“I got married while in Standard Seven due to pressure from my parents,” she explains.
Fanny’s husband fixed bicycles for a living and they had a son together. She did not know his age, but he might have been twice her age as she assumes he was around 31 years old.
Contrary to her expectations of a lovely married life, she endured financial hardships and constant physical abuse from her husband.
“When I got married, I didn’t know the value of education. I thought marriage would address my problems, but I was disappointed. My dream for a happy marriage wasn’t fulfilled,” she states.
Fanny’s marriage was tough and her husband did not do much to improve their living standards.
As a result, she had to take up some piece-work just to feed the family, but he would steal some of the money for drinking sprees.
“Every time I spoke out against this behaviour, a beating would follow,” narrates Fanny.
Consequently, she started hiding the money or take it to her mother for safe keeping.
Back to school
Like many other girls in Senior Chief Kachindamoto who were confined to child marriage, a member of mother group in Fanny’s area rescued her from her depressing situation.
When the woman visited her, Fanny had to decide whether to return to school.
“I was persuaded by a woman from a mother group in our area to go back to school. By then, I had realised that education was my only escape route from poverty,” she explain.
Realising that marriage brought he nothing worthwhile to her life at such a young age, Fanny went back to school and her marriage of two years ended.
“My life is better now that I am back in my mother’s house. I am enjoying this new lease of life,” says the girl who learns at Ntaka-taka Community Day Secondary School.
But her return to school came with its downsides.
Fanny was occasionally teased about being a mother, but she did not let it get to her.
She enjoys being in class and her favourite subjects are Biology, Mathematics, Physics and Chichewa.
The girl habours strong ambitions to become a doctor when she completes school.
Since going back to school, Fanny endures incredibly long walks to school every morning. It takes her hours to walk to get there—and she walks as much when she knocks off.
This ultimately affects her ability to take part in some morning lessons.
“Sometimes I miss out on lessons and have to catch up because I arrive late at school,” she explains.
While she is determined to complete secondary education regardless of what life throws her way, she requires a few necessities to overcome everyday challenges that she endures.
“I wish we had a boarding facility to overcome the long walks. Besides, most girls and I do not have school uniforms, school bags, calculator and household needs,” explains Fanny.
Like most of her peers whose marriages were annulled, Fanny disapproves of child marriage.
She is grateful to Chief Kachindamoto for her work in saving girls from marriage and empowering numerous young girls like herself.
“There were a lot of child marriages happening in our area and it had become part of the norm, which is something I detest wholesomely,” she recalls discontentedly.
With Chief Kachindamoto’s proclamation to end all child marriages, Fanny now looks forward to the future with hope because she is back in school and her goal is to stay in school.
To Fanny, it is essential for girls to stay in school and complete their education.
She says: “I believe that girls’ education is important as an educated girl benefits the nation.”
She encourages other girls not to stop rushing into marriage as an escape from poverty.
“Being uneducated means your husband would have an advantage in the marriage. But an educated wife would not go through the ill treatment sort that I went through,” she says.