By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
As a field officer for an agency dedicated to empowering women and children, Phillipina Nkota is passionate about teaching young people how to stand up to violence and abuse.
Every week Nkota and her colleagues, who work for Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa, a non-government organization, visit primary schools in Mangochi.
“When we go to the schools we teach the children verbal skills and physical skills to defend themselves against violence,” says Nkota.
“Usually physical skills are the last resort. We mostly emphasize to them to use their voice and scream, and we encourage them to speak out and report abuse.”
Phillipina has been working with children for 4 years now. She works on the IMPower project delivered by Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa (also referred to as Ujamaa), as part of the UNICEF-supported Safe Schools Programme. The aim of the Safe Schools Programme is to make schools, homes and communities safer for children.
Ujamaa field officers and volunteers work with school teachers and mothers’ groups to help children live a life free from violence and abuse while they learn in a safe and supportive environment.
Impact on communities
The collaboration with mothers’ groups has been critical. Group members are regularly invited to participate in the IMPower programme classes that Ujamaa field officers and volunteers hold.
Mothers’ group members have seen children become more vocal in reporting abuse to them because of the awareness that Ujamaa is raising.
“Now we have a collective effort. Ujamaa, ourselves and chiefs, work together to ensure that the right action is taken when a child reports abuse,” says Harriet Bell, a mother group member in the Mkumba village area.
“We have seen a decline in cases lately. The good thing is that children, especially girls, are no longer shy to tell us if they have experienced abuse.”
The impact of the programme has been being felt in communities as children tell their parents what they’re learning in the IMPower programme. Ujamma volunteers like Nancy Thunga acknowledge that communities are being informed about violence and abuse through children who tell their parents what they’re learning in the IMPower programme.
“Through our work, children are now able to enlighten their parents about abuse, because sometimes parents are the main perpetrators of violence in homes”, Nancy says. “Before these children enrolled in the IMPower programme they really didn’t know much about violence and abuse. Now if you ask them questions on that subject, they are able to answer easily, they even open up to you about their experiences. It shows they are learning a lot from the programme”.
At Masuku Primary school the girls and boys now know their rights and are respectful of each other.
Nkota and her team are kept updated by school teachers who let them know when students are participating in class and are improving in their studies.
“So far the impact in schools has been great. Absenteeism was previously high, students lacked confidence and were shy, and their performance was often poor.”
Tadala Pilingu, a 14-year-old student that Nkota has mentored, said people think she is crazy when they see her practicing some of the skills she has learnt.
“Sometimes when I am walking I scream ‘No, No!’. This is what they teach us in the classes. We’re also taught other skills like twisting a perpetrators finger or arm,” explains Tadala. “I joined the IMPower project because I wanted to know how to protect myself from violence, and Ujamaa officers have taught me that”, she adds.
UNICEF has been working with Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa since 2014 to implement in the Safe Schools Project in Salima, Dedza, and Mangochi districts, and have so far trained 12,000 girls and boys.
“Through the Safe Schools Programme girls are able to attend school and learn without fear or anxiety,” says Afrooz Kaviani Johnson, UNICEF’s chief of child protection.
“The programme has been proven to reduce sexual violence victimization and increase self-defence-related knowledge among girls.”
For Nkota, knowing that students are benefitting from the classes makes her feel good.
“I feel great knowing that when I help these children, they will remember that ‘she was there for me’. Girls have traditionally been treated poorly but now they have a voice.”