Teacher redefines girl empowerment

Mercy Adam was in Standard Eight when Adventist Development and Relief Agency (Adra) Malawi project When Mother is a Child (WMC) folded up.

In her view, the phasing out the project in Mulanje four years ago meant dashed hopes in her education pursuit.

Some of the beneficiaries of Nyika’s initiative

To Mercy, there was no future as the support she hoped to receive in order to complete her secondary school education was left with her community.

Adra had failed to secure more funding for the project despite the intervention registering a myriad of successes in the community such as reducing the dropout rate among girls in primary and secondary schools.

“In 2016, the organisation packed and left because it had failed to source more money to continue working in our community. At this point, I had given up on my education,” Mercy explains.

Brought up by grandmother after the death of her parents, Mercy’s resignation to her own fate on education was not the first.

At the age of 16, she was impregnated by a fellow primary school learner while in Standard Seven.

“The boy denied responsibility and I was left to care for the pregnancy at my grandmothers’ place until I delivered.

“I dropped out of school for two years and I could envision problems in my future because there was no solution in sight,” says Mercy.

However, hope was restored when Adra introduced WMC project some time in 2014 which offered her a second chance in education.

The project identified teenage mothers and encouraged them to return to school.

Among others, the teen mothers were equipped with motherly skills that saw many of them look after their babies with utmost care.

“We were taught how to take care of ourselves and our babies, too, considering our poverty.

“We were also given learning materials and fees,” Mercy narrates.

Many girls found themselves in Mercy’s predicament. 

In Traditional Authority (T/A) Juma’s area in Mulanje, where she comes from, 63 primary school girls dropped out of school during the 2017/18 academic year alone.

Surprisingly, the area continues to register higher teenage pregnancy and early marriage rates compared to other areas in the district.

These girls, however, can now afford a smile because one of their primary school teachers has stood up with a girl empowerment initiative.

Having noticed the challenges faced by girls and teenage mothers who had enrolled back in school, 25-year-old Standard Six teacher Elita Nyika rose up to the occasion.

“I started visiting school dropout girls to hear and try to understand what made them drop out of school. 

“What was clear is that most of them dropped out for petty reasons, such as lack of learning materials and sometimes school uniforms.

“Using my salary, I started supporting 10 primary school girls who agreed to return to school,” says Nyika.

She adds that later the figure swelled to 20 and it included secondary school students who came after hearing about Nyika’s initiative.

The obvious pressure on her small resources had some relief in 2017 when a fellow young lady, Jane Mdokwe, joined her with additional support for secondary school students.

The initiative is now supporting students at Namadidi, Thuchila and Namulenga community day secondary schools.

Together, the two women with a passion for girls’ education initiated weekly sessions aimed at keeping the girls preoccupied with education, sports and entrepreneurship.

“We conduct sessions where every girl shares a story about what happened at her school.

“From such stories we draw lessons and action points aimed at strengthening the assertiveness of the beneficiaries,” says Nyika.

Within the initiative, the girls are also taught tailoring for a career in fashion and designing apart from selling their products.

Mdokwe says the aim of the initiative is to ensure that young girls who failed in their education should not be regarded as outcasts in society, but be given second chance.

“We do not boast that we will make the girls’ dreams come true, but we would like to show society that together we can.

“If every one of us can adopt at least one girl to support, we might be able to build Malawi that we can all be proud of,” Mdokwe says.

Mulanje district child protection officer Noel Chambo commended the young women for the small-scale intervention that has seen over 20 girls going back to school.

“Government alone cannot address all the challenges children, especially girls, face in the country.

“It is the responsibility of every well-meaning Malawian to take part in promoting the rights of children in the country in a bid to break the poverty cycle,” Chambo says. n

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