Girls’ education helps in building a better future. Girls’ education prevents early marriages and early pregnancies. It promotes girls’ health and ambitions in life.
My name is Hendrina, I come from a village in Machinga District, Malawi. I grew up in a poor, single parent family with my three siblings. My mother was unable to find a stable job, so she worked very hard selling firewood and washing clothes to make a living. What she earned was not enough to provide all the basic things we needed at home, let alone for school. When I attended primary school I didn’t have the money for exercise books, pens, uniform or shoes, which affected my confidence and performance in class.
Where I come from in Malawi, girls face many barriers to education. In some families, no-one has had the opportunity to finish secondary school, so girls don’t have the role models to know it is possible. Girls are at risk of child marriage and early pregnancy as families look for a way out of poverty, hoping that marriage might be the solution and that the husband will be a provider for their daughter. But growing up I knew that education was the real solution to overcome poverty, so I continued to attend school despite the hardship in my life.
In 2010 I was selected to attend a community day secondary school, far away from where we lived. The fees were too expensive for my mother to afford so she had no choice but to send me to live with a relative who lived closer to the school and could pay my fees.
But even at my relatives’ home, finances were tight and I often went to school on an empty stomach. Sometimes I missed classes because I had to stay at home to do chores. When I was in Form 3, my relatives were unable to continue supporting me and I was about to drop out of school and return to my mother. It was a very stressful time. My mental health was affected and I felt like my future path was barred by my challenges.
I had almost lost hope when the Teacher Mentor (a government teacher trained by CAMFED to offer guidance and counseling to vulnerable students) at my school told me that I had been selected for CAMFED support. I was very excited and relieved to hear that my school essentials were going to be provided! My school fees were paid and I was given everything I needed like exercise books, school shoes, uniform, menstrual products and pens. From that moment, my future was bright and I was confident that I would finish secondary school.
My self-confidence and academic performance improved and I passed my school leaving exams, the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2014. After graduation I knew I wanted to encourage more girls to follow their dreams, so I joined the CAMFED Association – our peer support network of young women educated with CAMFED support. We are dedicated to passing on the benefits of our education.
Completing my secondary education helped me develop confidence and self-respect. So in 2015, I decided to follow my dreams and take a 6 month vocational course in tailoring. My teacher saw passion in me and suggested I work there for another 6 months to gain more experience, and then set out on my own. After completing the course my mum helped me buy a sewing machine to start up my business. I was so excited when I opened my own tailoring shop!
As a Learner Guide I use CAMFED’s bespoke curriculum — called My Better World — to deliver wellbeing and life skills sessions to students. During the COVID-19 pandemic Learner Guides like myself were determined children should not miss out on these crucial sessions so we reached out to students in small outdoor study groups. Our efforts were deemed an essential service by governments for our role in supporting children to continue learning, in spite of challenges like lack of digital connectivity.
My tailoring business has helped me become financially independent. I am able to pay school fees for my child and my siblings, provide for my family and support two primary school children in my community with uniforms, pens and exercise books. I’m achieving my vision of providing social and material support to children in my community to help them stay in school and achieve their goals.
Here I am outside my tailoring shop in Machinga, Malawi. [Credit: Chris Loades/Yidan Prize Foundation]
Being an entrepreneur certainly has its challenges. When I first started out I faced tough competition and lacked industry experience. To combat this I started going out and selling directly to customers in nearby villages instead of waiting for customers to come to me. I made sure I could offer the best value service in the area, and I sought the guidance of an experienced tailor for further training. Next, I diversified my business by stocking cloth wrappers and sewing materials such as zips and needles, and started providing mobile money services too. All my efforts paid off and I started gaining customer trust and satisfaction.
In 2019 I trained as a Learner Guide when the CAMFED Learner Guide program was introduced in Malawi. I deliver wellbeing sessions to students at my local school using My Better World, a bespoke self-development curriculum developed by CAMFED. We support both boys and girls with sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information, dispelling any myths or taboos. I am a motivating and encouraging role model to students because I understand the challenges they face, in and outside of school. I can inspire them and help them achieve their goals.
Here I am motivating primary school children outside their school in Machinga district, Malawi. [Credit: Ottavia Pesce, Be That Girl Foundation]
If a student has been absent for a period I travel by bicycle to their home and speak with the parents or guardians to find out the issue. I refer learners that may be affected by child marriage or abuse to local stakeholders like the CAMFED Community Development Committees, Parent Support Groups, Chiefs, and if necessary the Social Welfare Office and Police so that they can receive help and support.
There was a student who I learned was pregnant and feared that she might drop out of school permanently. I coordinated a home visit with the Teacher Mentor and Mother Support Group to speak with her family and explain that returning to school was the best option. After she delivered the baby, the family were able to take care of the child at home and the girl went back to school.
During the COVID-19 pandemic when schools in Malawi were closed, Learner Guides like myself were instrumental in encouraging learners to keep going with their studies. We established small outdoor study groups of learners to discuss different topics, we borrowed books from local schools for learners to use during the discussions, and we visited students at home to check up on them and help them stay motivated.
Through the Learner Guide Program I received further business training and a smartphone to help log my activities. In 2021, I applied for a business grant amounting to MWK 73,000 (around $90) which I used to grow my business. With the increased investment I was able to hire an employee from the community. He was able to provide for his family and with his earnings he eventually started out in business too! It’s a success story that he has been empowered through my business.
I was quick to adopt technology for my business, using WhatsApp on my mobile phone to advertise products and process payments using mobile money. I implemented the mobile money service during the COVID-19 pandemic when demand increased, and it’s still going well now.
However in Malawi we do experience regular electricity blackouts, during which mobile networks don’t work properly which slows down business transactions. The high price of data is also a challenge, but as a Learner Guide I receive funding every month for data and communications.
Another challenge for my business has been securing the right equipment. The hand sewing machine I use works well but has limitations. In 2022, I successfully applied for and received a Kiva loan of MWK 185,000 (around USD $180) to invest in my business and purchase a new electric sewing machine which will enable me to create more intricate designs and ornate embroidery. Customers come to my shop because they like my unique designs, and now I will be able to make anything! I really enjoy the design process. When I sleep, sometimes I think of a design, then when I wake up and go to the shop to make it.
Currently I rent my shop, but in the future I want to build my own space and open a fabrication shop. My vision is to own a tailoring training school where I teach CAMFED Association members how to sew, free of charge. To me, sisterhood means a state in which young women of common interests make deep and lasting connections in supporting each other socially, physically and economically so that everyone is able to exercise her potential. Therefore I want to empower other young women to be independent through my business.
I mentor young women in business and help them have confidence in their ideas and ambitions. Patience in business is paramount, it takes time to become well established. I advise other aspiring young women entrepreneurs to connect with each other and share knowledge.
Today I’m a respected role model in my community and Chairperson of Liwonde CAMFED Association cluster in Machinga district. My CAMFED Association sisters and I help look after vulnerable people in our communities. We provide school materials to children, conduct guidance and counseling sessions for girls in schools, help the elderly and hospital patients with basic items, and clean public spaces like hospitals. We help each other become more financially secure through Village savings and loans, for use in times of unexpected emergency. I also contribute part of my business profit to the CAMFED Association for philanthropic purposes.
Together with my sister Eliza Chikoti (left) CAMFED Association member and District Operations Officer, we are multiplying the benefit of our education. [Credit: Chris Loades/Yidan Prize Foundation]
We conduct sensitization in the community, breaking down misconceptions about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS so young people are aware and understand the risks. We work closely with Chiefs and Traditional Leaders, and because of this we have the support of parents and the wider community.
Because I got educated, my son is also educated. I’m proud of him. I teach him a lot of things.
I'm Tawonga from Malawi. With CAMFED support I completed my education and studied agriculture at EARTH University. Now I am plowing back my climate-smart knowledge into my community and supporting young women farmers to increase their yields and create jobs for other young people.