Nkhotakota, September 17: When the dry season of the year arrives, Khwapu Primary School Head teacher Lizinet Chimteya receives plentiful wedding invitations from surrounding community in the southern part of Nkhotakota.
This year however she has made a bold stance that she will not entertain wedding invitations from under-aged who are dropping out of school.
She announced the matter during one of the morning meetings with learners at the school that she will no longer entertain wedding invitations from any school drop-out.
“I decided to make the announcement after I received a wedding invitation from a standard 3 learner who has just dropped out of school and he is wedding with a fellow standard 3 learner who has also dropped out at Chibothera primary school,” says Chimteya.
The head teacher says many learners in the area do not go further with their education and they envy fellows who dropped out of school at a tender age and organize weddings where they get gifts.
“Most of the times, these early marriages are engineered by their parents who encourage their children when they come of age to hold liselo [wedding],” she says.
Chimteya further says the learners come in large numbers in standard one but the enrollment starts dwindling as they climb the education ladder.
“For instance, only five girls sat for standard 8 exams against 21 boys during the last academic year. Last term, 10 girls dropped out of school due to early marriages but two of them resumed school before dropped again for good,” she says.
Stonard Chigumula, a role model parent working with Khwapu Community-Based Organization (CBO) in girl programming, says school drop-out and early marriages are a concern in the area.
“For instance, a standard 7 drop-out is wedding over the weekend but he is just 14 years old,” says Chigumula.
Such is the case surrounding Namvuu, Msamala, Khwapu and Mkumbaleza primary schools in the area of Senior Chief Mwadzama in Nkhotakota.
Located close to Lake Malawi, all the schools feed Mkaika Community Day Secondary School with learners. The economic activity for most people in the area is fishing.
Hoja Mhone, 19, a learner at Mkaika CDSS, says many people in the area are pre-occupied with fishing and some people utter discouraging words to boys who concentrate on education.
“This bad thing is reinforced upon seeing some youths who are unemployed after completing secondary school education. They argue that there is no reward in education but in fishing.
“The sad thing is that we lack support from parents and some NGOs because most of NGOs opt for assisting girls and not boys thereby leaving boys at a disadvantage,” says Mhone.
Patricia Thimba is among the victims of lack of parent support. She says when she was selected in 2011 to start her secondary education at Mkaika CDSS, she went to stay with her aunt because her father had gone to South Africa while her mother passed away.
“My aunt settled my school fees for the first term which was K2, 500.00. During the second term, I was told that they would no longer pay for my school fees because there is no reward in educating a girl child and I should just get married,” says Thimba.
The learner said the second term elapsed with paying the fees and during the third term she brought the matter to the attention of her head teacher who told her that there were no willing organizations to pay for her school fees.
“The head teacher told me to temporarily leave school and do some piecework like farming to get the money to pay the fees and after getting the fees I will resume school,” she says.
The learner was relieved when Nkhotakota District Youth Office got to know the matter and the office motivated her not to despair and linked her to an NGO which is paying for her school fees and buying school uniform for her.
“My aunt currently does not say anything when she sees me continuing with my education and she is not bothered to support me.
“For instance, when we were about to sit for junior certificate exams we were encouraged to do self-boarding to concentrate on studies thereby dealing with the challenge of long distance to school but she never supported that idea,” says Thimba.
Zione Phiri, 16, says when she completed primary education, her parents told her to wait for four years as they wanted to be paying school fees of her brother and they would start paying her school fees after her brother completed his secondary education.
On her part, Patuma Kasimu was told by her guardians that they were tired of supporting her and she should marry and be self-reliant rather than beginning form one.
“I was told to join the bandwagon of girls who marry after coming of age. I was told to envy the girls who had held liselo [who were given gifts and money during their wedding while carrying lichelo],” she says.
Apart from parents forcing girls into marriage and failing to provide support to children especially girls, the learners are also to blame because in some instances they succumb to the problem due to peer pressure.
Evelyn Kananji, 19, is an example of those who landed in early marriage due to peer pressure but now she is continuing with her education and she is in form 4.
She vows to concentrate on her education after she faced challenges during marriage. She says her husband was failing to take care of her because she was not ready for marriage as they were all young.
“I also faced a lot of challenges during delivery due to my tender age and I’m just thanking God that I’m alive because even my mother never expected that I would be alive today because of what I went through,” says Kananji.
Currently, she says she is fully cognizant of dangers of early marriages and fellow youths can learn more from her experience.
Khwapu CBO leaders say that from their assessment, the vicious cycle of illiteracy in the area is propagated by several reasons including poverty which makes the parents to fail to support the education of their children.
They also argue that it is also a cultural norm in this area for any child especially girls that they should automatically marry and abandon school whenever they have come of age.
Group Village Headman Mkuwa conceded that illiteracy is the problem in the area.
“We have to acknowledge this problem because if we glorify this problem we will not solve it or we will not be assisted to solve it.
“Parents have to be sensitized on the dangers of early marriages and not focusing much on getting gifts after arranging weddings of children. The liselo practice will get us nowhere,” says the traditional leader.
Nkhotakota District Youth Officer Samuel Gondwe who arranged an awareness meeting on back-to-school campaign involving learners from Mkumbaleza and Khwapu urged learners to continue with their education even if they encounter hurdles like long distances to school, lack of support and bad cultural practices.
“If you have any problem and you think of dropping out of school, make sure that I should know that before dropping-out. Let me assure you that our office is there to assist you to deal with such challenges or mitigating them so that you excel in education,” says Gondwe
Gondwe also urged traditional leaders and CBOs to roll out back-to-school campaign and streamline the messages of this campaign on any gathering. He also pledged to reward any learner who will persuade at least three girls to resume school after dropping out.
The headteacher says parents, traditional and religious leaders who bless such weddings are to blame. She says some parents argue that they are the ones who feed their children as such nobody should be telling them about their children’s destiny.
“It’s pathetic because we may have eleven girls in standard 7 but only three can make it to standard 8. Illiteracy levels are contributing to the problem. I think if we can establish adult literacy classes here things can improve,” says the head teacher.
The situation is indeed bad in most lake shore areas. Nkhotakota Aids Support Organisation (NASO) sub-granted funds to Msamala Youth Organisation which is working in Msamala, Khwapu and Mkumbaleza to assist in girl programming but NASO did not sub-grant funds to any CBO in Nkhotakota North due to lack of vibrant CBOs.
Nkhotakota, September 17: When the dry season of the year arrives, Khwapu Primary School Head teacher Lizinet Chimteya receives plentiful wedding invitations from surrounding community in the southern part of Nkhotakota. This year however she has made a bold stance that she will not entertain wedd...