Sixteen-year-old Felistus Thom smiled from ear to ear when she received her best student award from the First Lady Gertrude Mutharika on February 28 at St. Mary’s Girls Secondary School in Zomba.
Sitting with her fellow nine awardees who scored six points in the 2017 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, the student from Ludzi Girls Secondary School in Mchinji watched the proceedings with excitement. Today she was going to be the toast of not only her school, but also her family back in Chitsime Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chitukula in Lilongwe.
Hers was an achievement worth celebrating, considering the challenges she experienced to reach this far. Her success did not just come on a silver platter. Sacrifices were made. Obstacles were overcome. And now the flag of victory is raised higher for all to see the spoils of her four-year academic adventure in secondary school.
“It was not easy for me to score six points. First, I had to grapple with science subjects, the first combination of mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry. These subjects, being sciences, tend to be difficult,” says the ever-smiling Felistus while holding her trophy jealously with both hands.
“Most of my friends shun sciences. They choose humanities which are easy to pass. But I chose to study sciences because I wanted to do medicine,” she said.
So, it was that ambition in life to study medicine that spurred her to work harder. It was the only way of achieving that dream.
Another challenge Felistus faced was the culture of not regarding girls as worthy to pursue education. In her village, girls traditionally don’t work hard in school, she says.
Some of them drop out early and rush into marriages. Actually, in her village Felistus is surrounded by teenage mothers and people who have no ambition in education.
“A lot of girls in my village are not educated. I had a passion to pursue education,” she says.
Felistus was motivated by Chifundo Matola, a student who scored six points in 2015 at Ludzi Girls Secondary School. That is why she started working even harder in class. “I used to manage my time well. I would study hard too.”
Meanwhile, she has applied to study surgery, physiotherapy or laboratory technology. “I want to become a medical doctor to save people’s lives. My role model is Edith Chikumbu who works at Kamuzu Central Hospital as a surgeon.”
Felistus advises her fellow students to continue working hard.
Her teacher, who is also head of languages at Ludzi Girls Secondary School, Emma Loga, says it was not easy to groom a girl to earn six points in the MSCE examinations although this was not the first time for the school to achieve the feat.
“It took a lot sacrifice from us teachers to produce these results. And most importantly, students such as Felistus, who comes from poor background, are not easy to convince that they can do better. There is low self esteem among such students,” she says.
“But this girl has been outstanding. Other girls fail to realise this feat for lack of self esteem, especially those who come from poor families. They feel inferior in class. They seem to be lost and defeated already. They view education as an occupation of the elite in society. Last year we had two and so was the previous year.”
Felistus’ mother, Maria Thom, is a teacher at St. Joseph Primary School at Bembeke in Dedza. She has three children and Felistus is the third born.
“Her father is not employed. She is the third born. The first born is at Must [Malawi University of Science and Technology]. So, the challenge has been raising fees for her as I earn little money,” she says.
However, Thom encouraged her to work hard to go to college as in Chitsime many children do not like going to school.
“There is no appetite for education in the village and that Felistus represents a few students who have passed MSCE in Chitsime,” she said.
However, the family is yet to find a scholarship for their daughter.
“We have not yet found a scholarship. We can’t pay for her university education. I am asking for scholarships for her. Let us not fail because of school fees,” Felistus’ mother pleaded.
Meanwhile, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Justin Saidi says government has put in place programmes to promote the girl child.