By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi
Tadala Sempani, 21, stands proudly at Chinamvuu Secondary School ground with a group of children who have just received scholarships from the Secondary Education Trust Fund. Her face is wearing a massive smile. It is a day to remember for her. Just a couple of months ago she thought her chances of continuing her secondary education were over.
Born and raised in Lirangwe, rural Blantyre, Tadala is one of many Malawian children who have gone through the troubles of dropping out of school because of not having money for school fees. She lives with her mom, her little brother and her 6-month old baby.
“My father passed away when I was a year old. My little brother is 6-years-old, and my mom works at a nearby health centre as a cleaner but the money she makes isn’t enough to take care of us”, says Tadala. “There are times I go to school without learning materials because my mom cannot afford them.”
Tadala’s school fees woes were a big problem. Initially her uncle paid her school fees for only the first time of her form two, since there was no one to pay for her school fees for the second term and because her mother could not even afford it, the Lirangwe native was then forced to drop out after being sent back home by the head teacher.
“After I was sent back home from school, it would hurt me to see my friends going to and from school. I thought my future was ruined,” Tadala describes.
A downward spiral
While she stayed at home, and her hopes for a better future deteriorated. She began a relationship with a 24-year-old man and fell pregnant. “I thought to myself that I might as well get married, since I was no longer in school. My partner lied to me that he would marry me, and I fell pregnant”, she says. We moved to stay with his parents because my mom told me to go stay there after learning about my pregnancy. I stayed with him until my child was born.”
At the time Tadala’s partner was not do anything for a living and was a secondary school dropout, so he struggled to take care of her and the baby. When her mother-in-law saw how her son was struggling to take care of his family, she told Tadala to go back to stay with her mom. This led to the breakup of their “marriage”.”
“When I broke up with my partner, I was hurting, I didn’t know where my life was going. Instead of fixing my life , it appeared that I was actually ruining it again . My mom struggled to welcome me back home but being a parent, she had no choice and warmed up to it,” she reveals.
Her mother, Margaret was equally hurt to see her daughter going through such a tough time. “I was hurt when she dropped out of school and it still hurts me till today. I was also upset when my daughter fell pregnant. When I heard she was struggling with her partner, it made me feel sad. I really hoped for her to return to school,” she says.
Going back to school
With all the encounters Tadala was facing, she started contemplating going back to school because of how tough life was becoming for her. She believed that her life would be a lot better if she manages to stay in school.
“I told my mom that I wanted to go back to school, and that if we would have problems finding school fees, we would have to deal with that right there and then.. My mom agreed, and she was so happy when I returned to school because this was what she wanted for me,” Tadala says boldly.
She returned to school and had to repeat form two, Tadala didn’t mind as this worked to her advantage having forgotten some of the stuff she had learnt before she dropped out. Unfortunately, her mom only managed to pay MWK3,000 which was just three quarters of her full school fees of MWK4,250 per term. The danger of being sent back from school was imminent. But lucky for her, things were different this time. When she consulted her head teacher on her school fees woes, he gave her good news that she would soon be put on a scholarship sponsored by the Secondary Education Trust Fund.
“When I was told about the scholarship, I felt so happy. I felt like God had answered my prayers. The head teacher told me and a few other students that our school fees will now be paid for. When I told my mom about it, she was in high spirits, she didn’t expect it,”explains Tadala.
Funding from Secondary Education Trust Fund
In December 2018, UNICEF along with New Finance Bank and the Ministry of Education Science and Technology launched Funo Langa (My Wish), a national fundraising campaign for the newly-established Secondary Education Trust. The Secondary Education Trust was officially launch in March 2019. The Trust brings together existing bursary schemes run by UNICEF, the Government and others. It allows Malawian companies, individuals and expatriates to donate money towards increasing the number of scholarships for both girls and boys.
UNICEF Malawi has promoted the Secondary Education Trust as one way that individuals and businesses in Malawi can support the education of vulnerable children in the country. Over 3 million Kwacha was raised from Malawian individuals and companies through the national Funo Langa fundraising campaign. This money enabled 25 vulnerable students, including Tadala who previously dropped out of school to be re-admitted to school with scholarships provided by fellow Malawians.
“Malawi is a developing country and over half the population are children, so they are the future of this country,” UNICEF Chief of Education Kimanzi Muthengi says. “It is great to see the 25 students being given the chance to continue their education. We hope that more donations can be made to the Secondary Education Trust to ensure that more vulnerable children will have an opportunity to attain their secondary education.”
During the launch of the Trust, children from surrounding schools also attended, and were part of the 25 children awarded scholarships. The Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Bright Msaka handed them a large certificate to signify their qualification as the first Secondary Education Trust scholars. The 25 students also received school bags along with other school materials. The atmosphere was jolly. Students performed dances, and some cited inspirational poems describing the challenges many children face with their education.
Better days ahead
Tadala is now more optimistic about her future than ever. Her mother takes care of her 6-month-old daughter Princess when she is at school. Her favourite subject is English and she wants to be lawyer when she gets older. “Without the scholarship, I was doomed. Now I see a bright future ahead of me. I can see the impossible becoming possible. I can see myself becoming independent and taking care of myself,” she explains with passion. “I want to work hard so I don’t disappoint the people helping me. My message to those helping me continue my education is that they should also help other children who are struggling like me.”