CAMFED supported me through secondary school and today I am a climate activist, empowering young women to be leaders of change in my community.
My name is Malumbo, I come from Mzimba district in the Northern Region of Malawi. I grew up in a rural community where most people depend on agriculture for a living. My parents were subsistence farmers, selling surplus crops to pay for essentials for me and my five siblings. Most people in our area did not get the chance to finish their education and poverty was widespread. In spite of the challenges, I completed primary school and was selected for secondary school. When I was part way through secondary school my father fell ill and our life became increasingly difficult. My mother worked very hard to provide for us, selling drinks to buy food and trying to cover school-going costs, but her funds didn’t stretch far.
With few other options, I was under pressure to marry in the hope that this would reduce the burden on my family. My school work was also affected as I was so worried about my future I couldn’t focus well. The challenges at home intensified and I missed many days of school. My prolonged absence came to the attention of my Teacher Mentor who asked me about my troubles. I explained that we couldn’t afford the fees and she listened and reported my situation to the head teacher.
I was so relieved when CAMFED started to support me in 2012 when I was in Form 4, the last year of high school. I received a school uniform, shoes, menstrual products and books. I no longer had to consider marriage and I was able to focus on my school work. I passed my leaving exams with top results!
After I graduated from school in 2013, I became a pioneer member of the CAMFED Association (CAMA) in Malawi. Together with my sisters across five African countries, we commit to paying forward the benefits of our education by supporting more girls in school. Later that year when I was just 18 years old, I was elected as District Chair for the CAMFED Association in Malawi.
In the very earliest days of CAMFED’s Learner Guide Program in Malawi, I volunteered as a peer-mentor to girls at primary school in my community, motivating them to do well in school. In return for my voluntary work I was given a small grant which enabled me to start a business selling groceries and vegetables from my garden. I learnt a lot from my first small business: financial management, customer service and more importantly I learned that women can do business, we don’t have to wait for men to take the lead. I used the profits to provide for my family and buy school supplies for vulnerable children in my community.
In the past, farming has not been a popular career among my peers. We have seen our parents and grandparents struggle to access land, resources, and remain trapped in a cycle of poverty. I hoped that investing my time and effort in understanding agriculture would improve economic security and help poor families like mine prosper. So, with guidance from CAMFED and encouragement from my CAMFED Association sisters, I applied for and was accepted to study Sustainable Agriculture at EARTH University, Costa Rica in 2014.
Hear about my climate activism
I volunteer as a CAMFED Agriculture Guide to share my knowledge and experience with others. I see many young women in the community who are eager to support climate-smart action, and together we Agriculture Guides are working with young women to inform, adapt to, and mitigate climate change.
Growing up, I had never heard of climate change, but that all changed at university. I learned how our actions as human beings are contributing to the changes in the weather patterns and seasons. There is drought when there should be rain and heavy rain when it should be dry. Farmers are not harvesting as much as they used to, and in some cases whole harvests are washed away by floods. Families do not have enough maize, the main staple food in Malawi, and are becoming food insecure.
My family has been directly affected by climate change. Over time I’ve seen our harvests shrink due to drought and we can no longer survive on our crops alone. This increased burden falls especially heavily on women and girls, who are mainly responsible for collecting food and water for the family. Girls’ education is affected as they have to walk even longer journeys to collect water, reducing time and energy for studying. At EARTH University I learned that together we can mitigate this, by supporting the environment.
Malumbo (left) pictured on the day of her university graduation, against a backdrop of a rural school that reflects her educational experience.
After graduating from university in 2018, I gained agricultural experience through several internships. In 2019 I worked on a dairy farm in Virginia, USA, to learn different farming techniques and save up some money. I learned how to produce higher value products like cheese from milk, which is a way to achieve a higher price for products and increase profits.
Here I am during my internship at an artisanal dairy farm in Virginia, USA. I learned how to make a variety of raw milk, seasonal cheeses. (Credit: CAMFED)
Now I am the CEO of my own business, specializing in poultry, pigs and compost production. The compost I make is used by local farmers to improve yields without chemical fertilizers which are expensive and can damage the environment. I am changing the narrative, by inspiring other young women to get into farming and make it a success.
When I returned from my studies and internships, I was shocked to see how devastated my community was due to climate change. Bridges had been washed away by flash floods, leaving businesses who buy and sell in different regions unable to trade because they couldn’t cross the water torrents. Families affected by both crop failures and economic losses were now unable to afford to send all their children to school, with girls first to be excluded.
The challenges women and girls in Malawi are facing makes me feel so sad, but also galvanizes me into action. We are teaching local farmers about climate-smart farming techniques like tree planting, intercropping (planting different crops and trees together) and mulching. We are explaining how to harness natural resources like water to use in times of drought, reduce risk of flooding, and improve the hydrology of the soil.
There are challenges though. It is not easy to get information that can be understood by all, particularly in rural communities. I translate resources into local languages and explain the terminology in ways everyone can understand. I am supporting school students to take action on climate change too. We talk to the students about how best they can conserve the environment and share climate-smart farming knowledge so that their families can implement it at home. As a community we are becoming more resilient each and every day.
Currently I’m working as a CAMFED District Operations Officer for Mwanza District in the southern part of Malawi. I work with schools and students to support them with their education. Marginalized girls are the ones who face challenges so we support them with school necessities like books, school uniform, pens and menstrual products so that they can stay in school and have a better future. With colleagues and other members of the CAMFED Association, I mentor girls and help raise their aspirations and confidence.
I’ve always admired women leaders, in particular CAMFED’s Chief Executive Officer, Angeline Murimirwa and National Director of CAMFED Malawi, Susan Silika. They are great leaders who motivate me in different areas such as balancing personal and professional leadership skills. I hope to be like them one day. That’s why I stand up for those who are in need, and lend a voice to those who cannot speak. I am actively working with traditional leaders and community members to bring development and tackle issues that affect women and girls.
I am the District Education Network Secretary for Mwanza District which focuses on improving the quality of education in the district. I am also a member of a cluster committee which oversees a project called EQUALS (Equity with Quality and Learning at Secondary) led by the Ministry of Education to construct libraries and computer labs in secondary schools. I am supporting the project implementation in three secondary schools in Mwanza.
Malumbo (in turquoise and red) at CAMFED’s ‘Education Changes Everything’ Gala in New York in May 2019. (Photo: Ricardo de Mattos/CAMFED)
In the future I hope to pursue a Master’s degree with a focus on food security to build resilient and sustainable communities. I will support my children to get educated so that they are economically empowered. Then they will be able to support themselves and others, and end poverty in our community.
Learn why climate action starts with girls’ education
Girls' education and climate action
Investing in girls’ education and women’s leadership is one of the most powerful ways of tackling the climate emergency. It is the foundation for women’s equal participation in decision-making, green innovation, livelihoods and policy-making. We are determined to support millions more girls to go to school and to grow up to become the next generation of climate leaders.
My name is Esnath and I am a climate game changer in Zimbabwe. As a member of the CAMFED Association, sustainable agriculture expert and entrepreneur, I am a role model to girls and young women in my community who aspire for a brighter future as leaders in climate action. I am a passionate advocate for girls’ education and I have experienced first hand the barriers girls face in staying in school.
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.