This story contains information about sexual violence, which may be distressing for some readers.
By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Masuku Primary School is located near the Chiponde Mozambique border in Mangochi district. The school has a population of 2000 students, who attend the school from nearby villages. One of these students is Amina Banda (not her real name). She lives with her grandmother in Nakapa village along with her two siblings.
Her father passed away several years ago and her mother lives in another village an hour and half away. Softly spoken and shy, the 13-year-old girl has been through a lot for her age.
“I was in standard 6 in term 2, when I was sexually assaulted by my uncle (mom’s brother). I told my grandmother who promised she would tell my mother to sort out the situation.”, explains Amina who was 13 years old when the incident happened.
Amina’s grandmother sells village beer, which she brews at home. The day when Amina was sexually assaulted, her uncle had come to the house to buy some beer from her grandmother. Her grandmother didn’t have enough change to give to her uncle. She decided to send Amina to go the market with her uncle to look for change so they can finalize his beer purchase.
As they began their journey to the market, he suggested they take a shortcut through a graveyard. He then offered to give her money in return for sex, but Amina refused.
“My uncle through then threw me to the ground, removed my clothes and assaulted me,” she says, her eyes cast downward. “After it happened, I got up and ran home and told my 17-year-old cousin who advised me to tell my grandmother. When I told my grandmother, she told my mother who was distraught to hear what happened to me. But I felt so sad that neither of them acted on my situation. All I know now is that my mother and my uncle don’t speak to each other anymore”.
Amina said she was deeply affected by the attack. It affected her ability to concentrate in class and there were times when she would cry about it.
But everything changed when “IMPower” classes were started at her school as part of UNICEF’s Safe Schools Programme. The classes gave her an opportunity to open up about her situation and eventually receive help.
IMPower is taught by UNICEF implementing partner Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa and provides girls with mental, verbal and physical self-defense training, to equip them with self-confidence and skills to protect themselves.
“During the first session I participated in, they instructed us to write down any problems we faced at home, such as sexual assault and other types of abuse. I wrote what my uncle did to me.”
After the trainers went through Amina’s paper they called her to privately to speak with them. They then accompanied her to the police station, with members of the local mothers’ group.
“When I was taken to the hospital I was relieved to find out that I was not pregnant and had not contracted any diseases,” says Amina. “I am grateful for the help I got from Ujamaa trainers, they took away all my worries”.
The Safe Schools project also allowed Amina to join the Sexual Assault Survival Anonymous group, where survivors of sexual assault receive counseling and discuss how to deal with issues of abuse and assault.
“I know now what to do if someone decides to hurt me. I know that if someone wants to assault me I should scream, stab his eye, or step on his tippy toe,” Amina says. “I am encouraging other girls to report abuse quickly if they experience it”.
Chimwemwe Kambelembele, matron at Amina’s school, says the Safe Schools Programme had taught the 13-year-old skills she can use in case she experiences a similar situation.
“I was very touched by Amina’s story, especially because she was hurt by a relative,” says Kambelembele, “It was scary to know her uncle would do such a thing. The way her family concealed the incident wasn’t good either”, she adds.
UNICEF has been working with Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa to implement the programme under the Joint Programme for Girls Education (JPGE) in Salima, Dedza, and Mangochi districts.
The programme aims is to end violence against children in schools and communities. IMPower is also helping girls to acquire verbal and physical skills that empower them to protect themselves against sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
“Through the Safe Schools Programme, girls are able to attend school and learn without fear or anxiety,” says Afrooz Kaviani Johnson, UNICEF Malawi’s chief of child protection.
“IMPower has been proven to reduce sexual violence victimization and increase self-defense-related knowledge among girls in primary and secondary schools in Malawi.”