By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Collins Gwape, 17, is in Standard 8 at Magomero Primary School in Mangochi, Malawi. When he was younger, Collins was friends with a group of popular boys at school. They would often physically abuse girls and touch them inappropriately.
“We used to hit girls and disrespect their rights,” says Collins. “If we’re in an argument with a girl we would make sure we would corner her after school and swear at her.”
Today, Collins, who comes from a poor family and has three siblings, is also well mannered and confident. But it has not always been this way.
“I used to be very troublesome. I was a nuisance with the way I had no respect for people around me, particularly girls. I even used to verbally abuse my sister.”
The change in Collins came about when he joined the boy’s transformation programme at his school. It is under UNICEF’s Safe Schools initiative which is being implemented with Ujamma Pamodzi Africa in primary schools in Mangochi, Dedza and Salima districts.
The transformation programme aims to train boys to change their mindset from violence and abuse and create friendly and respectful environments.
“I joined because I saw my friends going there and I was curious to know what it was all about. My friends told me that they are taught about what they should do if they experience violence in their homes, and other skills.”
One particular experience that made Collins realise how much he had learned from the boy’s transformation programme.
He was walking home from school in the evening, the sun was setting and it was close to getting dark. He found a group of boys surrounding two girls. The girls were visibly uncomfortable. The group of boys harassed them as they tried to force the girls to go out with them.
The girls declined, and as result, the boys lost their temper and started touching the girls inappropriately. Collins didn’t like what he was seeing and decided to do something.
“I stopped the boys and told them that touching girls in inappropriate places is abuse. They responded aggressively but they eventually left the girls alone,” he says.
Magomero Primary School patron, Franklin Chavinda, is pleased that the boy’s transformation programme has had a positive impact on Collins. He says the programme has helped Collins mature.
“Since joining the boy’s transformation programme, Collins is more relaxed and responsible. I even think he’ll be selected to secondary school at this rate,” says Chavinda.
Mr. Chavinda, a standard 8 teacher, is also the Ujamma champion at the school. He believes the programme has decreased incidents of harassment among boys and girls at the school. Harassment has contributed to low attendance and dropouts of girls.
Since April 2018, UNICEF has been working with Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa to implement the Safe Schools Programme in Salima, Dedza, and Mangochi. The main aim of the project is to end violence against children in schools and communities.
Courses such as the boy’s transformation programme encourage boys to challenge ideas of masculinity and the use of violence.
“Ensuring that schools have a safe learning environment is important to help children stay in school, and learn to the best of their ability. Violence and abuse in school can often lead to children not reaching their full potential in life,” says UNICEF Malawi Chief of Child Protection, Afrooz Johnson.
“Our hope is that through this safe schools programme, boys can be equipped with courage to stand up against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence at school, at home and in their communities.”
For Collins, the boy’s transformation programme was a turning point. He encourages his peers who are also in the programme to take back what they learn on child rights to the community.
“My message to other boys who perpetrate of violence and abuse against girls is that they should know that girls have rights too, and violating them is wrong.”
“I am grateful for this project at our school because previously many children didn’t know what constitutes of violence and abuse. Now they do”.