Kasungu, February 19: Villagers from surrounding areas in schools of Sub-Traditional Authority (Sub-TA) Mnyanja in northern part of Kasungu District can never be blamed for their excitement at the prospects of an educated community.
Not only did they embrace change of mindset from the widely prevailing culture that discourages girls from continuing with education to higher grades but they are also champions of the initiative dubbed ‘Building Skills for Life.’
Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA) with funding from Plan Malawi is implementing the project in 68 schools in Kasungu North targeting at least 400 girls.
According to FAWEMA National Executive Committee (NEC) Treasurer Elita Soko the project is aimed at empowering girls with skills that can help them remain in school and those that drop out to enroll back.
“We teach these girls various skills such as how to defend themselves from abusers with the aim that they should remain in school and become productive citizens in future,” explains Soko in an interview with Malawi News Agency (Mana).
Launched in February 2012 the three-year initiative uses mother groups who serve both as activists and role models in advocating for girls’ education in their respective communities.
According to Soko each mother group comprises ten members which among others include primary education adviser (PEA) as patron, village leader, head teacher, parents and teachers association (PTA) chairperson as well as school management committee (SMC) chairperson.
She says her organization is more excited not with the numbers of girls returning to school but also with the overwhelming response the organization is receiving from communities in all its impact areas.
“What is more striking to us is the fact that parents have embraced our initiative and they now know the importance of sending a girl child to school.
“Girls are vulnerable; some are forced to work at home before coming to school and as a result they come while already tired and they cannot concentrate. It is our duty to protect their plight,” says Soko.
She fires a warning shot to some teachers who she says have the tendency to go out with female learners saying her organization will do everything in its powers to ensure the long arm of the law catches on such misguided teachers.
“Let me take this opportunity to warn teachers who like going out with their learners that as FAWEMA we’ll collaborate with ministry of education, science and technology to ensure such teachers are dealt with in accordance with the law,” she warns.
Kawiya Zone PEA Prosperina Thokozire Ludaka whose seven of the 12 schools in her catchment area are beneficiaries of the Building Skills for Life, says her zone is now a success story thanks to the FAWEMA initiative.
She says for example, in 2012 her zone recorded a reduced dropout rate of four percent among primary school girls from nine percent the previous year while in secondary school education the zone recorded dropout rate of two percent down from nine percent the previous year.
“Our girls now know the importance of school because of FAWEMA and through it most girls have come back to school,” testifies jovial Ludaka.
She however bemoans some cultural traits which she says stand in the way of girl education in the area. She cites domestic labour and early marriages as the main issues requiring collective action to deal with.
“During rainy season, the girl child remains at home to cook for the parents who go out to work in the fields. And when she grows up a bit, she is married off in return for lobola,” she explains.
She says as a role model she hopes for zero dropout rate among girls saying the country needs more educated girls for continued development.
But Senior Group Village Headman Kawongo expresses hope that the said cultural hindrances to girls’ education in the area will soon be history saying all traditional leaders there have now united to ensure more girls are retained in school.
Kawongo discloses that a fine of K4, 500 awaits every parent who marries off their daughter while at a school going age.
“We are very grateful to FAWEMA for opening our eyes to see the importance of sending girls to school. As chiefs our pledge is to ensure that all cultural hindrances to girls’ education are removed,” he says.
He expresses desire to see more girls from his area continue with education to secondary level saying uneducated society is a blind society and that the blind cannot lead others.
Kasungu is one of the two districts benefiting from the Building Skills for Life Initiative after Mzimba where the project is also being implemented in 40 schools.
A total of 4,500 girls are expected to be reached by the end of the project’s three-year period.