CAMFED Association leader, Malawi
Growing up in rural Malawi, I experienced first hand the many barriers girls face in their education and I almost had to drop out when progressing to secondary school. Through my own fierce determination and with CAMFED’s support, I not only completed secondary school but achieved a diploma in Leadership and Development. Today, I work hand in hand with traditional leaders to eradicate child marriage and empower girls in my community to complete school and fulfill their potential.
Tackling child marriage in Malawi
I am a member of the CAMFED Association of women leaders educated with CAMFED support. In this documentary, I explain how my sisters and I use our powerful network to rally school and community members around our goal to end child marriage, which is especially prevalent in marginalized communities, where families lack the resources to educate their children.
How I navigated the challenges I faced growing up
My grandparents raised me from just six years old, after I tragically lost my mother and brother in the same year. By that time we were depending solely on subsistence farming and our yield was never enough to take us through the year. I would do odd jobs for our neighbors to earn money for necessities like food, clothes and school items, but we still had very little. I would often go to school hungry and sometimes I would go to sleep without having eaten anything all day.
Despite these hardships, I still excelled in primary school and was proud to be selected to attend one of the best secondary schools in my district. However, the challenges I faced were set to intensify, as my secondary school was not only very far from my village but came with even more costs, including school fees, uniform, exercise books and stationery. My future felt uncertain as I knew my grandparents would struggle to meet my school-going costs.
Starting secondary school was very difficult under these circumstances, but I remained determined and would wake up early each day to walk 7km (more than 4 miles) to and from my school. I felt inspired by the young women who would visit our school and share their personal stories of how they overcame challenges when they were students. I saw them as role models and realized if they can achieve their ambitions of becoming nurses, teachers and social workers despite all the barriers they faced, so can I.
When I found out I would receive support from CAMFED and the Mastercard Foundation, I felt so happy and relieved to be able to stay in school. This moment marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life and I was excited for a brighter future. CAMFED paid my school fees for the rest of my time at school, and provided my school essentials, including uniforms and exercise books. I felt even more motivated to study hard and passed my end of school exams (Malawi School Certificate of Education) with flying colors.
After completing secondary school in 2014, I graduated into the CAMFED Association, the network of young women leaders educated with CAMFED support. We are a Sisterhood, bonded by our similar experiences and desire to improve the lives of girls in our communities and across Africa. We are dedicated to ensuring every child has equitable access to education and we collectively support children through school with the little we have, with the hope of turning the tide of poverty.
I have been an active member since joining the network, having served as National Secretary for two years, before being elected as District Chairperson. I love being a CAMFED Association member as it allows me to give back to my community, who have shown me so much support over the years. With my fellow sisters, I carry out philanthropic activities such as providing local primary and secondary schools with essentials like pens, exercise books and school uniforms.
In 2017, I was selected by the Neno District Community Development Committee as a Core Trainer to help manage a CAMFED program to reduce child and early marriages among girls and young women in my district. As part of my role I trained CAMFED Learner Guides to deliver a life skills, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and wellbeing curriculum in target schools, and work with families to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education. I also began reaching out to community members to deliver information and training on HIV/AIDS and SRH.
As a passionate champion for girls’ education, I have grown a well established reputation in my community and beyond as an activist against child marriage. Girls in my community feel comfortable in coming to me for help and stakeholders count on me when it comes to protecting girls from child marriage. Together with local traditional leaders, mother support groups, social welfare officers and the police, Iregularly facilitate awareness campaigns around child marriage, speaking out in front of large groups of parents and children, teachers and school committee members. It is very rewarding to see more girls in school as a result of the community sensitization work we do on child marriage and the importance of girls’ education.
I advocate for the right of every girl to go to school, and have been reporting child marriage as child abuse cases to the Social Welfare Office. Thanks to my activism, at least 43 child marriages have already been annulled, the child brides are being supported and encouraged to continue their education, and where appropriate the perpetrators of abuse have been arrested. My work with traditional leaders has helped the community to ensure the creation and implementation of by-laws to uphold justice. Since the community members are the by-law makers, they must follow them or face judgment according to the law.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I was one of the young women at the forefront of child protection, going even further in my efforts to prevent child marriage. During this time businesses collapsed and there were increased burdens on already impoverished families. My advocacy became even more crucial, as some felt they had no choice but to marry off their daughters because they could not afford to feed the whole family, and hoped the husband would look after her.
Me speaking during the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020
In November 2020, despite disruptions due to the pandemic, I graduated with a Diploma in Leadership and Development studies. I have always felt inspired by Social Workers and the child protection element of this course gave me an opportunity to fulfill my own ambition of carrying out social work. The leadership and child protection knowledge I have gained is helping me to become even more recognized and trusted by stakeholders in my community and I will use this knowledge to enhance my day to day work, for example in decision-making and in conducting community meetings.
I began working as a Core Trainer of CAMFED Transition Guides – who in turn support school graduates to progress to employment, entrepreneurship or further education and training – in early 2021. At the end of that year, I also proudly celebrated the success of a disabled boy in my community, whom I had supported through primary school, when he passed his exams and secured a place at secondary school.
I also run my own grocery business, selling goods like cooking oil to my community. As an entrepreneur, I have not only been able to support myself and my grandparents with basic needs but I have also managed to support my three siblings with secondary school fees. Since starting my business, I have used the profits to support over 30 children with school fees, school necessities and food. Recently, my grocery experienced a major setback due to theft. However, as a resilient young woman, I’m determined to recover and scale my business so I can support even more children through school.
I am very happy that now my community is changing and many more girls are in school. Moving the mindset of a community towards a positive agenda is so rewarding.