Mikute 2 village before the sunset © UNICEF Malawi/2018/Yuka Nakamura
By Yuka Nakamura, UNICEF Malawi
It was a hot day for May. In the late afternoon before the sun sets over beautiful Lake Malawi, we visited a small village located by Senga Bay in Salima district. Less than two hours of driving distance from Malawi’s capital city Lilongwe makes the lakeshore in Salima district one of the most popular “weekend getaway” destinations for people living in Lilongwe.
Mikute 2 village is located just off the main road, only 17 km away from the centre of Salima. Children in the village do not seem to care about the heat. They are running on the reddish-brown ground chasing each other among chickens and goats. Nearby, 10 to 19 year old girls are learning to read, write and count.
18-year-old Mirriam Samson is one of the girls. Like most of her friends in the village, she entered primary school late due to a lack of financial and material support. Although she was excited to go to school, Mirriam was constantly absent from school because her parents could not afford to consistently provide her with food and clothing. As a result, her progress was so slow that she was still struggling in her second grade (Standard 2) even after six years of entering the school.
Mirriam (left) with her daughter and elder sister outside of their house
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Yuka Nakamura
That was when she found herself pregnant. She was only 14 years old and the boy – the father of her baby – refused to take responsibility. Both of her parents died around the same time leaving Mirriam and her elder sister helpless. Mirriam had no choice but to quit school, with a very limited ability to read and write.
Mirriam and her elder sister had to find a way to feed themselves without their parents. Mirriam got piece work helping fishermen and farmers whenever they require extra labour. Living in a lakeshore village, most of Mirriam’s income came from helping fishermen, sometimes having to lift fishermen’s baskets in her pregnant state.
A couple of years later, things took a turn for the better when she enrolled in a Functional Literacy programme in her village. The classes are provided by Adolescent Girls Literacy Plus (AGLIT+) in partnership with the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development and UNICEF. AGLIT+ uses an accelerated learning model to help girls who have never been to school or have dropped out catch up in knowledge through an integrated package of academic and life skills. In addition to literacy and numeracy classes, the programme also teaches parenting skills including nutrition and child care development to encourage young mothers to send their children to school so that they can get out of the vicious cycle of non-educated children from non-educated parents.
After nine months, graduates are automatically registered to youth clubs in their area. The youth club in Mirriam’s village received 100,000 MWK (Malawian Kwacha) – approximately US$140 – from the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development. They took turns borrowing it to invest in small businesses. Each member got 20,000 MWK (Approximately US$28) to be returned once the business is on track. After the fund was successfully passed on to all original members of the club, they decided to extend the loan to other young women enrolled in the AGLIT+ programme. Mirriam is one of the second cohort of beneficiaries. She successfully returned the money within four months of the start of her business.
A proud business owner – Mirriam by her kiosk © UNICEF Malawi/2018/Yuka Nakamura
“I can now buy things for my baby” says Mirriam proudly. She is using the skills she learned from the functional literacy class to run her business. As the nine-month programme is coming to an end, she is now motivated to go back to school and realise her dream of becoming a teacher.
There are at least 500,000 school aged children who are currently not in school because of various reasons such as poverty, distance to schools, household responsibilities, early pregnancies and marriages.
Thanks to the Government of Norway’s financial support, UNICEF, AGLIT+ and the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development are providing second chance opportunities to children and adolescents (10-19 years old) who are otherwise left behind. So far, the programme has reached about 13,900 girls in Dedza, Mangochi and Salima districts over the past three years.
UNICEF is now in consultation with the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development to scale up this programme nation-wide to provide such opportunities to the most vulnerable children.