Life has not been easy for Jane Lupale. Before she got a scholarship, she used to sometimes miss school because her family could not afford the fees.
Once she missed school for three weeks straight because her brother failed to pay her fees.
“I was very worried,” says Jane, a shy, softly spoken 17-year-old. “It was very close to exam time and I was missing out on the crucial material.”
But things changed three years ago when Jane heard she had been selected for a United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) scholarship at Nsanama Community Day Secondary School in Machinga, supported by the US-based Kind Fund.
Jane is one of the 3 860 girls receiving scholarship support for vulnerable girls across Malawi.
It covers her school fees, examination fees, and supplies like her school uniform, shoes, bag, notebooks, pens and pencils.
“I was happy to receive the scholarship because being in school will help me achieve my goal,” she says.
Unicef is also working with government and private partners to set up a girl’s secondary school charitable trust fund in support of vulnerable girls like Jane to access secondary school education.
Jane’s daily routine is typical of most girls growing up in rural parts of the country where almost two million families face food shortage due to low crop yield.
She wakes up very early to help with house chores before leaving for school. On most days, she goes to class without breakfast.
At school, she shares a classroom with over 50 other youngsters. Together they are taught a variety of subjects.
Around 11am she eats porridge at school. This is offered twice a week to the students, free of charge. Once she finishes school at 2pm, she attends a study group where students revise and discuss lessons that they need help with. She then walks about two kilometres back home.
She lives with her brother because his house is close to the school.
By the time she arrives home around 4.30pm, she is usually very tired. While the 17-year-old struggles to get through, she does it without complaining.
But she is determined and works hard to do well in school.
Jane’s father, Enock, is 72 years old while her mother, Alice, is 57. The couple has seven children.
Over the past few years, Enock’s health has deteriorated and his ability to farm has been greatly reduced.
To help them get through, four years ago Unicef enrolled the family in a social cash transfer program.
Initially, the family received K21 000 a month under the program. Currently, the couple receives K11 000 a month because the number of children under their care has reduced.
Enock and Alice have used the money to buy chickens and goats, which have multiplied and can be seen feeding outside their home. They sell some of the livestock to raise money for household essentials, and they slaughter some for food.
Although Jane now lives with her brother, Enock also uses part of the social cash transfer for Jane’s necessities like food and clothes.
Enock, who is visibly proud of Jane, says she is intelligent and hardworking but without the scholarship and cash assistance, she would not be able to attend secondary school.