My name is Eliza Chikoti, I come from Neno District, Malawi. I am the 6th born in a family of 8 children. Growing up in a rural village, we were very poor. Both of my parents did piece-work (menial labor) and farming to provide food and necessities for the family. Primary education is free in Malawi, so I attended the local government primary school.
My life started to become more difficult when I was selected to secondary school in 2010. At that time in Malawi, secondary school was not free, so with my three elder siblings all attending, my parents struggled to pay the fees (around $2 USD per term, per child). There was no way they could afford to pay for my fees and school-going essentials as well. The only option was for me to stay at home until my elder siblings graduated, and then I could attend when more money was available.
I was determined not to give up on my education, so I kept going to school even though I couldn’t pay fees, and my persistence paid off. The Headteacher had seen my good grades and organized for the School Based Committee to pay my fees. I was relieved, but I knew paying for other expenses would still be a challenge, and my future was uncertain.
In 2012 when I was in Form 3, everything changed when CAMFED started supporting me. They paid for my school fees and all the other essentials I needed like school uniform, books and pens. I also received support and encouragement from the Community Development Committee, who said I should work hard to reach my dreams. This was my turning point! With hope in my future restored, I could focus on my studies and I passed my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) leaving exams.
After leaving school I knew I wanted to give back to my community so I joined the CAMFED Association. With my CAMFED Association sisters I regularly volunteered at the district hospital, raising money to support children and elderly people with food and essentials. Because of my commitment to the CAMFED Association and community volunteerism, in 2013 I was proud to be elected as chairperson for the Chikole Cluster! As leader of our Cluster, I organized outreach to motivate and mentor thousands of girls in primary and secondary school in our local area.
My CAMFED Association sisters continued to be a source of inspiration, and they encouraged me to continue with my education. Later that year I was accepted to Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUNAR) to study for a Bsc in Food Science and Technology.
CAMFED continued to support me at university with tuition fees, accommodation, meals, transport and stationery. I had everything I needed to focus on my studies and graduated in 2018. During my time at university I continued to give back to my community by supporting 20 primary school children with school going materials.
At my graduation ceremony from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2018
In 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and like in many countries, schools across Malawi closed. I was sad because I knew this would negatively affect children, particularly rural girls for whom school is a vital place of safety and support. The closures of shops, markets and businesses meant many families faced increasing economic pressure, and struggled to pay for even the basics like food and shelter.
One day I received a phone call from a 15-year-old student in Mwanza District who said she was thinking of getting married. I asked her why and she explained that since the pandemic began, her family of six were struggling to make ends meet, and she thought marriage was the only option to reduce the financial burden on the family. I was determined not to see her enter a child marriage with all its risks of early pregnancy and permanent school drop-out. I knew that returning to school when they reopened was the best way she could help herself and her family.
I was so worried about her welfare that two days later I visited her house to see how I could help. I told her my story, how staying in education had changed my life for the better and now I am able to take care of not just myself, but my parents and siblings. I continued to check in on her over the next few months over the phone, offering encouragement and advice.
Thanks to my education I am able to support my parents and siblings, as well as other needy children in my community. I am currently working as a CAMFED District Operations Officer in Machinga District, and am continuing to develop new skills and leadership qualities. Elements of my role include supporting CAMFED clients to access their entitlements (such as school fees, shoes, and school uniform), coordinating volunteers (such as Learner Guides and members of School Based Committees), and organizing business management training for CAMFED Association members. I enjoy my work because it centers on supporting marginalized girls and young women to improve their lives.
Here I am working as a CAMFED District Operations Officer in Machinga District (left) and speaking at a CAMFED Association regional leadership meeting in 2018 (right).
I continue to be a passionate philanthropist and have supported three community members through their secondary and tertiary education, and I have used some of my own funds to help my siblings open a business. In the future I would like to set up a food production and processing enterprise using the skills I’ve gained during my degree, and take my knowledge further with a Masters Degree in Nutrition.
Support for Eliza was made possible through UK Aid from the UK Government. Through the leadership of educated young women like Eliza, we have developed a sustainable model through which community members join forces to provide girls with the wrap-around support they need to stay in school, learn, thrive, and become the next generation of leaders and change makers.
More News and Stories
Read Eliza's Interview on NPR
NPR’s Malaka Gharib interviewed CAMFED Association leader Eliza Chikoti from Mwanza District, Malawi in 2020. In her article and radio interview they discussed young women’s activism in the face of COVID-19.
University Scholars blazing a trail for girls and women in Malawi
We are thrilled that 190 Mastercard Foundation Scholars at CAMFED Malawi have secured places at university, after graduating from secondary school. We celebrated the young women’s achievements last month at an event held in Blantyre with the Ministry of Education.