CAMFED Association member and Learner Guide, Malawi

I’m Linley, a CAMFED Association member from Mulanje district in Malawi. 

I am the last born in a family of four children. Growing up in rural Malawi was not easy. Both of my parents passed away when I was just six years old, and my grandmother struggled financially to care for us.

When I was in primary school I would work in our garden early in the morning to help support the family. I was pleased to be selected for secondary school, but my pride went down when my grandmother was unable to settle school fees and pay for my school uniform. I wasn’t just struggling financially, the government secondary school was far from our village so I would walk for 50 minutes one way and arrive already tired. Because of these issues, my academic performance suffered and I worried I might have to drop out of school altogether. 

At that time I was facing a lot of pressure from people who thought marriage was the best solution to my problems. I received many marriage proposals from men and boys, and all the while I could hear a voice in my head saying I may as well get married, as soon I would be turned away from school for not having books, fees, or uniform.

In spite of my desperation, I challenged myself to keep going to school.

Then, there was a moment when things changed. The School Based Committee (a group of teachers, parents and community leaders) recommended me for CAMFED support.  When I knew I would no longer have to drop out of school and get married, I really felt good! My performance changed such that I became one of the top academic performers in the class. I was so happy when I graduated from secondary school and joined the CAMFED Association, the network of young women just like me who have been educated with CAMFED support.

When you educate a woman, the whole community benefits.

In my community girls face many barriers to education. Parents often struggle to provide for a large family and hope marriage is a way to reduce pressure on their stretched resources. I decided I wanted to do something to support children from my community to finish primary and secondary school, so in December 2019 I became a Learner Guide. I currently volunteer weekly at a local government primary school.

Linley, Learner Guide session in Malawi

Here I am delivering a session to students at school.

Being a Learner Guide, I have developed a lot. By taking part in the program I have been able to earn a vocational qualification known as a BTEC. This in turn helped me progress to a course on ‘Teaching basics’ at Machinga Teacher Training College (TTC) which helped improve my skills and knowledge in how I can better deliver my sessions at school.

When I say Learner Guide, it means someone who is a role model and who can reach learners in and out of school.

We use a book called My Better World – a self development and life skills curriculum, which is very essential to learners. With the help of short stories developed by other young people in Africa that feature on every page, learners are able to understand different topics, and they read it for themselves. My Better World helps learners to know their world.

During the sessions we empower girls to work hard in class, make good decisions, and set career goals. Through the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) sessions girls can understand how to live a healthy life. Through the role, I have become a valued member of my community and I am respected for my SRH knowledge.

We Learner Guides also conduct home visits to minimize risk of child marriage, referring cases to community authorities and law enforcers. So far, I have managed to withdraw 3 children from marriages.

A lot of teachers in my school and around Mulanje district appreciate this program because of its effectiveness in minimizing the number of school drop-outs and early marriages.

During the COVID-19 pandemic child marriages increased in my community due to girls being at home for so long. When in school, girls are protected. 

One girl I helped had dropped out of Standard 8 (the last year of primary school) aged 15 to marry a 24 year-old man.  When this was reported to me, I investigated and then immediately approached the Mother Support Group Chairperson, who went to meet the girl. We went on to inform the Chief and the community police forum. The girl was withdrawn from the marriage and now she is in Form 2 at secondary school.

Education brings empowerment to girls – they can become economically independent and are able to choose if or when to have children, and how to live a healthy life.

A lot of things have changed in Mulanje district since the CAMFED Association sisterhood has been active here. We are able to share different ideas and skills on how we can go further with our education, how to run different types of businesses, and support many children to go back to school.

When starting out in business I struggled to raise capital, but with access to a Kiva loan of MWK 100,000.00 ($123 USD) through CAMFED I was able to launch my second hand clothing business. During the COVID-19 pandemic the business of selling second hand clothes was prohibited, so I used part of the KIVA loan to diversify into selling maize and farm produce. I would like my business to grow big and to become a sole trader of various farm products. 

I use my earnings to support my everyday life, taking care of my grandparents, and paying school fees for my relatives. I have twice paid fees for a girl child in my community who could not afford school fees. I also reinvest my profits back into my business. To women starting out in business I would say, psychologically, they should be prepared that running a business is up and down, and they should let it grow first before they start eating its fruits.

Women who are successful in business become role models to other aspiring young business women in the community.

With my CAMFED Association sisters I do a lot of philanthropic activities. I have provided over 13 children with school materials, and supported 18 out-of-school youth twice a month with sexual and reproductive health sessions.

I am passionate about education as the only weapon to defeat poverty, and the CAMFED Association is that unstoppable movement of young women, ready to defeat poverty.

When I met Angie Murimirwa in Mulanje, Malawi in April 2022, it was so very good and I learnt a lot from her. I learnt how to set a good career path and the steps to achieve it. In the future I want to go further with my education up to university level, to help my family financially and to end child marriage in my community.

Linley Noniwa, Angeline Murimirwa, Teacher Mentor

(Left-right: Myself, Angeline Murimirwa, and Teacher Mentor Annie L Macjessie). In April 2022, I was excited to meet Angeline Murimirwa when she visited the primary school where I volunteer.

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My experience as a Learner Guide

I’ve been volunteering as a Learner Guide since 2019, and I want to tell you more about this program that is supporting young women to lead and girls to succeed – at the same time.

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I was very happy to be among the girls chosen to receive support through university. I chose to study Nursing and Midwifery at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences because I want a career where I will be able to serve human needs.

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