By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Nkhope Primary School is located in the lakeshore district of Mangochi, which is known for its chambo fish and beautiful beaches. Despite the picturesque setting, child advocates say it is important the school is a safe space for children.
Volunteers like David Chilombo work closely with students at the school to make sure they are free from violence, whether it be at home or on the playground.
“We teach the boys about assertiveness, awareness of abuse and how they can speak out if they experience violence at home. We tell them to report incidents to the police or someone else in authority,” says Chilombo.
Chilombo visits two schools once a week, specifically to teach the Boys Transformation Programme. The programme is administered by Ujamaa Pamodzi Africa and is part of UNICEF’s Safe Schools Project.
A great impact in schools and communities
“The schools I work with, such as Nkhope Primary School have benefited a lot, because the knowledge they’re being taught about violence and abuse has brought a lot of respect between the boys and girls”, says David. “The impact on surrounding communities has also been helpful, because now parents who have their children in other schools are asking for the programme to be implemented in those schools too”.
Ujamaa District Coordinator, Rahman Pelusi, has a similar story to tell about boys that he has bworked with in various schools. “They no longer keep quiet when they witness their peers being abused and they know they have the power to report incidents to authorities,” Pelusi explains.
The hope in the communities is that the Boys Transformation Programme can expand to other schools. Particularly because boys are now learning new skills and getting guidance on violence and abuse. For many of them, their parents usually have little knowledge on these issues or don’t spend enough time with their children to be able to teach them about violence and abuse.
Twelve-year-old Adam Mussa is one of the boys to have benefitted from the programme. He once intervened to stop a group of boys from abusing a girl. He told the boys that if they didn’t stop and leave the girl alone, he would report them to the girl’s parents and the school headteacher.
“I felt so good the boys left the girl alone because I had never done anything like that in my life. I was happy I could help,” Adam explains with a smile.“The programme has taught me many skills and has been my source of strength. Now I know what abuse is and how to identify it.”
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.
“The programme is very promising, shifting harmful attitudes towards girls and women,” says UNICEF Malawi chief of child protection, Afrooz Johnson.“Boys are stepping up to stop violence against girls and are contributing to a safer school and community environment, more conducive for learning and participation.”
In the meantime, volunteers like Chilombo are giving back to their communities. Their partnership with mother groups is equally important too because all parties are playing an important role on assisting girls and boys who are victims of abuse.
Chilombo says he is happy he has made an impact on children at Nkhope School. “I enjoy my job because I am helping reduce violence against children in the community. Sometimes I even feel like a hero!”