Priscilla Ng’oma is a standard eight pupil at Kavikula primary school. The girl who was married to one Mr Nyirenda for a period of eight months was re-admitted as a standard seven pupil at the school in 2012-2013 academic year. Thanks to Creative Centre for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM) in partnership with PLAN Malawi.
Born in 1997, Priscilla’s story is different. Unlike many girls who get married because of poverty, Priscilla’s father is very rich, he has maize meals and a farm in Jafali village in an area called Kachinda. When she was in standard seven, she fell in love with a man from a neighboring village of Ngalande in Chimaliro Area. After sometime, some elders of her village forced her to get married as they claimed she was old enough.
This forced marriage was not a problem to her parents who also agreed. Few days in marriage with Mr Nyirenda things changed. The husband started beating her often. When she complained to her relatives about her situation, they asked her to remain as such was what they claimed to be marriage. However, the environment was not suitable for her to keep on staying and finally she decided to leave the abusive marriage but not to her parents’ home but to her grandmother’s.
Priscilla was then re-admitted in 2012-2013 sessions as a standard seven pupil. The girl passed end of year examination and she is now in standard eight. Currently, the girl is doing well in class. “I always encourage my fellow girls to work hard at school and not to get married. The headmistress always encourages me and I believe that my dream of becoming a doctor will be realized,” explained Priscilla. The girl did not hide but explained that she wants to be independent in life as she has seen the dangers of just depending on someone else.
The headmistress of Kavikula School, Emma Chirwa acknowledges CRECCOM especially for re- enforcing re-admission regardless of the age of the girl. She explained that this has helped even teachers to change their attitudes towards girls who have been re-admitted. “For Priscilla to come back to school, it took Mother group’s effort who tirelessly followed her to her home and encouraged her to come back to school as that was the only way to her independence and self reliance. I warned all the students against any kind of language that seem to mock the girl, as such the Priscilla receives the same treatment as any other girl,” explained the headmistress.
But which magic did CRECCOM use? CRECCOM in partnership with PLAN Malawi came into the area with “Enhancement of Girls participation and Completion of Primary Education project”. Through the project, CRECCOM trained teachers, mother-groups and community members on how they can encourage girls who dropped out of school to go back to school.
According to CRECCOM program officer Maclean Simika the project’s goal is to support national efforts to ensure that all children, both boys and girls, complete a quality primary education by 2015.
Simika explains: “Malawi still stands far from the Education Millennium Development Goal of universal primary completion because of the high number of the dropouts within the primary cycle. The primary school level has very low completion rates with only 35 percent of those who enter school completing the cycle due to very frequent dropouts within the primary cycle. Therefore, our project is helping girls to go back to school so that they can still accomplish their goals in life.
“When Priscilla dropped out of school, it meant her dream of becoming a doctor had been shattered. However, now she has a different story to tell because as she is back in school it means her journey to become a doctor has been revived. That is what our project aims to achieve.”
There is a deep rooted culture in Malawian societies that it is better to educate a boy than a girl because the latter will marry and she will be taken care of by her husband. However, according to CRECCOM’s findings this traditional attitude contributes to gender inequality as it advocates for prosperity of men leaving out women who happens to be in majority in the country.
Simika, therefore adds that the project is responding to issues of dropouts, repetition and poor performance particularly for girls.
“Girls are more affected than boys in primary schools due to cultural practices that encourage early marriages, early pregnancies and school environments that hinder attendances of girls and contribute to their dropping out of school,” says Simika.
For a long time mothers from Kasungu North which falls under the catchment area of the project have been forcing girls into early marriages saying they are poor to educate girls.
“Most of the girls get married early with the encouragement of the mothers. Therefore, this project civic educates and enlightens these mothers on the dangers of pushing girls into early marriage and the importance of education to girls,” says Simika.
Indeed, moving around the project’s catchment are one finds mothers showing knowledge of significance of education especially for the girl child. They have formed mother-groups in which they invite girls and encourage them to go to school and work hard to achieve their goals.
One of the members of mother group, Eliza Betimila, says the formation of mother groups has helped them to realize importance of education for girls. “Although we have not gone far with education ourselves, CRECCOM’s project has helped us to realize that denying a girl child education is denying her a bright future. Through mother groups we encourage girls to work hard in school and stay away from sexual immoralities to avoid falling pregnant,” says Betimila.
By realizing that other factors such as lack of toilets and Girls change rooms contributes to low school attendance of girls, CRECCOM encourages the communities to take part in their school’s infrastructure development. Nkhakama primary school is one of the schools that has had inadequate toilets a situation which in turn disturbed pupils’ stability at school especially girls when they start experiencing monthly period. Since 1958, the year which the school was opened, the situation has changed this year when CRECCOM intervened by joining hands with the community to construct additional toilets.
“As a result of inadequate toilets and lack of change rooms, most girls had nowhere to hide and took care of themselves. This made them go back home without coming back hence dropping out of school. Schools should have enough toilets and change rooms because girls are shy to use bushes to answer the call of nature and need the change rooms during their monthly periods,” says Simika.
Both parents and teachers in Kasungu communities are hopeful that their reinforcement of their forces will see more girls finishing school and going to secondary schools.
“My 16-year-old daughter fell pregnant and she dropped out of school. I thought nothing was wrong with her dropping out of school. But when I was enlightened by the members of mother group I realised that what my daughter did was the same as suicide. Therefore, after she gave birth, I pushed her to go back to school and now she is in standard 8 at Sopani primary school,” explains Gloria Mfune.