A mother of two returns to school to fulfill her dream – Capital Radio Malawi
21 July, 2024

A mother of two returns to school to fulfill her dream

Young girls such as these struggle to complete their primary education.

Monica (name withheld) had a dream of becoming a nurse but her education journey took a
twist after she dropped out of school in 2017 at the age of 12. Monica became pregnant which forced her out of school in standard six, in the northern region lakeshore district of Nkhatabay.

Poverty and peer pressure pushed her into a sexual relationship with hope of a better life.
Although she was young for sex, the prospect of financial benefits to meet her desired
clothes and other material needs charmed her.
“I was raised by a single parent, my father died before my birth. My mother could not meet
and sustain my material needs as an adolescent, so I started going out with a certain man
who used to give me money to buy whatever I wanted. That is how I ended up getting
pregnant.” Monica narrates her story.

The pregnancy news shocked her mother.

While the country’s education policy allows pregnant girls to return to school after giving
birth, Monica decided otherwise, despite her mother’s tireless efforts encouraging her to go
back to school.

“After she delivered, I encouraged her to go back to school, but she refused claiming that
she has rights to do what she wishes. She then eloped with the same person, and again got
pregnant. This was like adding salt to my wound,” a visibly angry mother explained.
But her mother did not give up. She followed Monica to her matrimonial home, trying to
convince her to return to school, but once more, she chose marriage over education. While
girls of her age were in class, Monica filled her days with household chores.
However, marriage life brought her sorrow instead of happiness. Monica lived 15 kilometers
away from her home and relatives.

After enduring a torrid period, she left her marriage and returned to her mother’s house.
“I did not relent, but continued to push her to go back to school. This time she was willing,
however, she was shy to be in class with young learners,” explained her mother.

Citizen Voice and Action Groups, Teachers and Mother Groups had to intervene. These are
community leaders working to increase educational attainment for girls in Monica’s area.
Working hand in hand with her mother, members of a Mother Group successfully persuaded
her to go back to school and she is now completing her primary education.

“After I left my marriage, it was difficult to take care of my children as the father decided to
run away from his responsibilities. I had no any source of income and could not get
employed due to my education levels, said Monica, a mother of two.
She added; “I then decided to go back to school to seek a better future for the sake of my
children. This motivates me to do well in class and I am among top ten best performers.”
“I could have been in senior secondary school now, I am confident that I will accomplish my
goal of becoming a nurse and give my children a better life,” she concludes.

Monica’s story represents the plight of many girls in the lakeshore district of Nkhatabay,
prompting authorities to enhance efforts of promoting girl child education.
This is a race towards promoting gender equality in line with goal five of the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs).
Education plays a crucial role to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Challenges in the education sector translate into a lack of access to skills and limited
opportunities in the labour market for women and girls.
While issues of school drop outs affect both boys and girls, in Nkhatabay, girls are more
vulnerable than boys.
Statistics from the district’s social welfare office indicate that between the years 2020 to
2022 about 503 girls were out of school at some point because of either their will to get
married, forced into marriage or got pregnant.

“Moral decay, a lack of parental support, negligence and weak enforcement of community
by-laws are some of the major factors fueling child marriages and teen pregnancies,”
according to a Social Welfare Officer for Nkhata District, MacSencie Chagomerana.
Nevertheless, Chagomerana points out that despite the challenges, the situation is
improving.

The district’s Director of Education, Youth and Sports Muhawi Chivunga said that in recent
years they have seen an improvement both in school retention and dropout rates.

“The situation is kind of mixed bag. Without giving exact statistics, I would say the school
dropout rate is high in lakeshore areas such as Tukombo and Kachere compared to other
areas. However it is not as bad as it was previously because if you look at the numbers they
are really improving,” Chivunga said.
He attributes the current gains to a good working relationship between various stakeholders
in the education sector. They include Civil Society Organizations, Mother Groups, School
Management Committees and other community structures.

Chivunga said; “We encourage all our primary schools to have mother groups in place
working side by side with school management committees, CSOs and other stakeholders in
order bring back those that have fallen pregnant or those brought back from marriages.”

Community structures are playing an instrumental role in bringing back these girls back to
school and ensuring that they remain in school in Nkhata Bay. In 2022, the goal is to
withdraw 98 out of 116 child brides from marriage.
“We visit these girls and explain to them the importance of school, and encourage them to
go back to school,” explained Lucy Nkhoma, Chairperson for Kachere Mother Group.

Nkhoma adds “Once we bring them back to school, we do not stop there. We continue
visiting them in school to check how they are settling in; we do this at least once a month.
We also take advantage of these visits to encourage other girls to remain in school”.

Chivunga commends the contributions community structures are making in bringing back
young girls to schools.
“The Mother Groups are doing a commendable job, in spite of the many challenges they
face working as volunteers but they are really,” he said.

Child rights activist Jennifer Mkandawire suggests the need for deliberate efforts to sustain
the progress made so far.
“I have seen there is progress but we still have a long way to go. As a country, we need to
put measures especially in rural areas where most girls do not even complete their primary
education,” Mkandawire said.
She explains; “community structures are very crucial but they need financial and moral
support. I have observed that most of the times they are active during implementation of
projects.”

This story was produced with support from the Women in News Gender Balance reporting Initiative

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