'Do not give up on your dreams': Back to school for girls in Malawi

February 28, 2020

When a family friend promised to take care of Chikondi* and cover her school fees, she and her family were overjoyed. Chikondi is one of five children and her parents were glad to have the assistance, while Chikondi was happy to have the opportunity to continue her education. She moved from her home to live with the family friend.

After she arrived at the man's house, however, things quickly went bad.

“He tried to force himself on me several times but I fought back,” she says. “One day, he raped me. I got pregnant and reported the matter to the local police. He got arrested but was released after only a week. There was nothing my mother could do because we didn’t know where else to take this matter,” she explains.

"With education, I can stand on my own feet and give my child and family a better life" - Chikondi*

Despite the ordeal, Chikondi’s spirits were not broken. She was determined to return to school: for herself, her child and her community. Unfortunately, her family struggled to raise the school fees.

Chikondi’s father had become estranged from her mother and had stopped supporting the family. Her mother sold banana fritters, but this wasn’t enough to sustain the five children and pay for their education. Her uncle tried to help, but only managed to cover her first term of school. She stopped attending.

After noticing her absence, Chikondi’s teachers followed up with the family to find out what had happened. That was when they told her about Spotlight Initiative’s scholarships for girls.

“When I heard about Spotlight scholarships, I did not hesitate. I asked my mother to come and meet the headmaster to find out more,” she says. “I am very happy I am back in school… With education, I can stand on my own feet and give my child and family a better life."

Today, Chikondi is getting good grades and is excelling in science; she wants to become a nurse. 

First day back

Chikondi’s first days back in class were difficult. Other students mocked her for having a child and called names. But she held her head high and promised herself that she was not going to let anyone dissuade her, she was focused on working hard in class. “I encourage fellow girls to pick themselves up and go back to school because education is a solution to many problems. Do not give up on your dreams. With the Spotlight scholarship, I can already see my dream of becoming a nurse come true. I have no intention of dropping out of school,” she says.

Chikondi also has a message for parents who push for their daughters to get married early. “Girls belong in the classroom, not in marriage. No one should look down on girls. They are equal to boys and you never know which of children will look after you,” she says. “It could be the girl child.”

"Education offers tremendous hope for breaking the cycle of poverty, especially for women." - Kimanzi Muthengi, UNICEF Malawi

At Chikondi’s school, 17 girls receive the scholarship. The school’s headmaster Abel Neba says they go a long way to easing some of the challenges students face.

Scholarships are provided to girls who are at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, gender-based violence and or those who are underprivileged and wish to return to school. Currently, the project targets six districts of Dowa, Nkhatabay, Mchinji, Chikwawa, Ntchisi and Nsanje.

“Through the Spotlight Initiative, we hope to address the harmful social norms and practices that drive and normalize violence against women and girls,” says UNICEF Malawi Chief of Education and Adolescents, Kimanzi Muthengi. “We are also removing financial barriers to education, giving girls like Chikondi an opportunity to stay and excel in school. If they are well educated, this offers tremendous hope to breaking the cycle of poverty, especially for women.”

By Sellina Kainja, original article from UNICEF. Photo: Girls on Spotlight Scholarships engaged in school discussion. UNICEF/Laurine Meke.

*Names have been changed.

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