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Gladys

CAMFED Association member and journalist, Malawi

CAMFED’s support brought joy to my life, and I started seeing my dream of training as a journalist becoming reality. Today, I’m using my professional platform to amplify the voices of marginalized girls and women across Malawi. I’m also a Core Trainer of CAMFED Guides–young women once supported by CAMFED who volunteer in schools and communities to support students and young women into independence and secure livelihoods.

However, my journey to becoming an educated leader was not easy. I was raised in the rural Thyolo District of Malawi by my grandparents after I lost my father when I was just eight years old, and my mother migrated to Blantyre in search of domestic work. As the eldest child, my grandparents relied on my help to grow crops on the family farm to support us and provide an income. On top of this heavy responsibility and time burden, I attended school and worked very hard, determined to get an education and improve our lives.

I was determined in my heart that one day I would break the cycle of poverty.

Life became very tough when I reached secondary school. My mother and my grandparents found it very difficult to afford my school fees and essentials like school uniforms. Due to our financial challenges, we were sometimes forced to go days without eating, which would affect my academic performance. It was becoming almost impossible to continue with my education.

My teachers noticed my determination and work ethic, and the school committee became aware of my challenges. When I was in Form 3, just as I was about to drop out of school, the school committee selected me for CAMFED support, and everything changed. CAMFED provided everything I needed to stay in school like books, pens, and uniform. Suddenly I had hope for a brighter future.

Through CAMFED, I also received emotional support and mentoring from my Teacher Mentor. CAMFED-trained Teacher Mentors ensure that vulnerable students receive the additional psycho-social support they need to stay in school. My Teacher Mentor was like a big sister–approachable and always there to listen and help me with my challenges. Knowing I had an advocate in her meant a lot and gave me the courage to pursue my dreams.

CAMFED’s support brought joy to my life, and from there I started seeing my dream of becoming a journalist coming into reality.

Growing up, I enjoyed listening to the radio at my grandmother’s house. As I grew older I realized that I could reach many young women and advocate for them through the medium of radio. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a journalist, to carry vulnerable people’s voices and amplify them across the world. For a rural girl like me, this was an unusual ambition and I was excited to think I could be the first person in my family entering the journalism profession.

After graduating from secondary school, I joined the CAMFED Association, the network of women leaders educated with CAMFED’s support. With their support through the application process, I secured a place to study Communications and Cultural Studies at Chancellor College University of Malawi, making me the first in my family to go to university. CAMFED supported me with tuition fees, meals and stationery, so I could accept my place without fear of financial pressure.

While at university I met many more CAMFED Association members who were attending nearby tertiary institutions. It meant so much to gain friends I could relate to and express myself freely with. At times, I doubted that I could succeed in journalism due to my background, but with the support of my CAMFED sisters, I remained determined to fulfill my potential and graduated with a distinction.

After graduating, I started working with radio stations and other media outlets to gain experience and put my new skills into practice, and to reach as many girls and women as possible with advocacy. I continued to be an active member of the CAMFED Association, which means being committed in everything you do, including attending meetings, contributing resources, helping others financially, and mentoring. In 2021 I was very proud to be elected as the National Secretary for the CAMFED Association in Malawi.

Being part of the CAMFED Association helped me realize my power to challenge societal pressures that prevent girls from going further with their education.

In addition to my secretary role, I applied to become a Core Trainer of CAMFED Learner Guides (helping girls to thrive in school) and Transition Guides (helping recent school graduates to find employment, run businesses or apply for further education) at district level. CAMFED Guides are young women who were once supported by CAMFED through school, who volunteer in schools and communities to help the next generation.

I applied to be a Core Trainer to help many marginalized girls get educated and meet their potential.

As a Core Trainer, I identify and support new Learner Guides to volunteer at their former schools, where they deliver My Better World — a life-skills and self-development program. As ‘big sisters’, they look out for students and are someone who they can trust and confide in. When identifying potential Learner Guides, I look for young women who are role models in their communities. I mentor and support Learner Guides with practical advice for any challenges they face. 

I’m so happy to be a Core Trainer because I went to school before the Learner Guide program was established in Malawi, and I think Learner Guides would have helped me a lot. In school, Learner Guides coordinate study circles for students so they have a space to discuss the subjects they are finding difficult. Learner Guides also work closely with Parent Support Groups and carry out home visits to ensure vulnerable children’s welfare is being protected.

One Learner Guide I work with has supported more than 10 girls to return to school after they dropped out due to early pregnancy.

Through CAMFED I also got the opportunity to train as an assessor of the BTEC Level 3 Advanced Diploma – an internationally recognized vocational qualification. CAMFED Association members in Guide roles can opt to take the qualification in order to gain more transferable skills and hone their talents as para-educators. As an assessor I’m responsible for orienting potential candidates–most of whom are Learner Guides. Many get inspired and motivated by the orientation, as they learn more about the BTEC qualification and its importance. I guide them for a period of three months through face-to-face and online sessions on how to answer the assessment questions, as well as carrying out classroom observations, where I look out for certain behaviors and skills being demonstrated.

 

As a journalist, I’m proud to amplify the voices of vulnerable girls and women across Malawi.

I feel sorry when I see some vulnerable groups are not accessing what they deserve because they cannot be heard. Being a journalist, I can be there for them to carry their voice and amplify it to relevant authorities.

My mother is no longer a domestic worker as I helped her to start her own business, and as a result, our standard of living is improving. I also support my siblings and relatives with school fees and other necessities. It feels good being able to support my family financially and this positive energy helps me to keep on pushing. I’ve inspired my siblings to work hard in school since they see through me that it’s possible to thrive in life despite coming from a marginalized background.

My life is no longer the same. Education has powered me in so many ways, including financially.

This support also extends beyond my immediate family, as I’ve been proudly supporting a girl with school fees since she was in Form 1. In future, I aim to achieve a Master’s degree and set up my own multimedia company, so I can help many more marginalized girls in my community to reach their potential.

When I look back at my life I am so proud of how far I’ve come. Today I am a role model in my community, encouraging girls to stay focused and work hard in school. As a journalist, I amplify the voices of vulnerable girls and women across the country. I also refer girls and women to the relevant authorities when they need additional help. Together with my fellow CAMFED Association sisters who are also journalists–including Ruth Komwa and Carlo Chisiyano–we are showing the power of communication in bringing social change to marginalized communities.

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