From zero to a graduate

 

A girl who spent 10 years without any reason and push to learn has become the first graduate in her village, our Staff Reporter ALBERT SHARRA writes.

Fransca Faiti is the first university graduate from Panganani Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu in Chikwawa.

Despite growing up in a society where girls marry before their 18th birthday, the 28-year-old has achieved what her peers can only envy. Next  year, she will graduate with a degree in nursing and midwifery from the University of Malawi (Unima). It is a dream come true.

Fransca (below) has become a role model for girls at risk of missing out on education

“It’s an incredible story, but I’m happy that my future was saved,” she says.

Fransca has grown up in a rural setting without role models, deprived of hope to excel in school.

She belongs to a tribe which condones polygamy and gives education little or no value. Her father, a cotton farmer, has two wives. Her mother, a senior wife who dropped out in primary school, has five children and Fransca is the second-born.

Her family, like millions of Malawians, has never lived on a $2 (about K1468) a day.

In rural communities, elder children, particularly girls, are rushed to become caregivers. Fransca was not spared from taking care of her siblings, especially when her mother was busy farming.

At 28, she would have been illiterate, like her peers who are mothers to between four and six children. Thanks to Adolescence Girls Literacy Plus (Aglit+), adolescent girls, who dropped out of school or had no opportunity to sing the alphabet, have a second chance.

The organisation runs nine-month functional literacy centres, sponsored by United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), which recruits and prepares girls, aged 10-19, for formal education.

Aglit+ operates in Salima, Mangochi and Dedza, but Chikwawa was the first port of call.

It arrived in Fransca’s village in 2001 when she was 10 and without any formal education.

“There were many girls who could not read and write. Yet the community was resistant to release its girls to school,” recalls Aglit+ programme manager Wilson Liwonde.

Fransca recalls being lured by clothes and other basics offered by the organisation.

“This attracted me to enrol for the functional literacy classes. The motivational talks at the literacy centre rekindled my interest to work harder in school,” she says.

After the nine-month literacy classes, she enrolled in Standard Two at Nsingano Primary school.

“The literacy classes helped me to easily cope and I was in the top-five students in all examinations,” she recalls.

In 2008, she was selected to St Mary’s Girls Secondary School in Zomba.

While many non-governmental organisations working in the education sector often leave the beneficiaries without direction, Aglit+ connects the learners and to partners to ensure every one learns achieves her dreams.

“Her father could not release her school fees because the second wife controlled everything. Fransca was told to marry, but her mother kept her in school with proceeds from piecework. Despite the struggle, Fransca worked hard in school,” says Liwonde

Unima selected her to Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) after scoring 14 points in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.

Aglit+ consistently monitored her progress and connected her to National Youth Council (NYC) which offered her a scholarship.

Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development deputy director Judith Msusa describes the functional literacy classes as a relief to girls lagging behind because of poverty, harmful cultural practices and indifference.

“The challenge is that the factors that kept these girls out of school are still there. This means we may lose them,” she says.

The country continues to register the highest school dropout rates.

According to Unesco, 57 percent of pupils do not complete primary education cycle and 19 percent of learners in secondary schools drop out before Form Four.

Girls are the worst affected. In October 2016, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology reported that 33 percent of girls drop out every year.

“The ministry will make sure these girls benefit from other support that is already there to remain in school. No one will drop out without valid reasons,” says Msusa.

Fransca, who personifies the impact of Aglit+ functional literacy class, looks forward to a brighter future. Clad in her spotless white uniform, the youthful nurse has become a role model for schoolgirls who had no one to encourage them to remain in school.n

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