Supporting vulnerable students through mother groups

Doreen can afford a smile on as she pursues her education journey
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

By Leticia Nangwale, UNICEF Malawi

Hearing birds tweet every morning and watching trees sway as the Dedza winds sweep over Kasonkanje village is the everyday atmosphere that 15-year-old Doreen Limbani wakes up to. Born in a family of three, Doreen is the second born daughter in the family of the Limbani’s.

Following the death of her mother when she was only 4, her father remarried leaving Doreen and her siblings in the custody of their grandmother, Esinta Wilson. Life was never the same again. Their grandmother had no source of income and was only dependent on seasonal farming. Doreen’s father had assumed other responsibilities in his new home and hardly came to visit.

Doreen, a very meek girl with a warm personality, has always dreamt of becoming a nurse – she believes that she has a role to play in bringing healing to people in her community and beyond. She trusts her abilities and hopes to become a a nurse who inspires other girls from Kasonkanje village T/A Chiswe in Dedza.

In standard six, life was not rosy for Doreen as she lacked basic needs to enable her attend school and learn comfortably. Her grandmother felt that her meagre resources were being stretched very much and decided in June 2018 that Doreen had to stop going to school as she could no longer afford to support her education.

Doreen and her friend Tevele foresee a bright future ahead through education
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

“I recall waking up to some gruesome news from my grandmother that she had arranged a husband for me and I had to quit school as Mr Gwetsani had come to end our misery,” narrates Doreen. She was left with no choice but to accept her grandmother’s directive. This was to be the end of the road to her dreams. She recalls seeing her nursing career crumble right in front of her eyes. Doreen cried but soon realized that all her tears were meaningless if she couldn’t bring any hope or solution.

So, with great fear for the future, Doreen confided in her friend Tavele of what she was about to experience. Her friend advised her to meet a member of Chimbiya mother group who could bring an end to her unfortunate experience.

“I told Tavele that I was not ready to become a mother, let alone a wife to an older man and that- I wished I could pursue my dream,” says Doreen.  Yet she could not gather courage to meet the mothers’ group.

It was Doreen’s teacher who was to change things. after noticing her absenteeism from class and hearing rumors that Doreen would soon become a wife to one of the businessmen who sell cooking oil at Chimbiya trading centre, the teacher informed the mothers’ group of the unfortunate development. The group promptly confronted Doreen’s grandmother on her plans.

Doreen’s grandmother was very unyielding and bluntly told the group that there was nothing they could do as her decision was final- Doreen was getting married. The mothers’ group was also not relenting. It reported the case to police and Doreens grandmother was called in for questioning. Marriage of a child before the age of 18 is against the law in Malawi and attracts a custodial sentence.

“Gogo Esinta remained adamant when questioned by the police of her decision. This resulted in her detention at the station for somedays”- says Gladys Sofaya- Chairperson of the mothers’ group. She was released a few days later after she had committed not to interfere with Doreen’s education.

Chimbiya mother group members ensuring that girls from Chimbiya zone remain in school
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Moving Minds

When Doreen heard of this, she was filled with joy and realized that she was given another opportunity to pursue education. In September 2018, she returned to school and the mothers’ group has been supporting her with sanitary needs including provision of soap and school stationery.

 “I am happy- very happy, “says Doreen with a smile from within her standard seven class. “I come to school with clean clothes and have books and pens thanks to the mother group and school authorities for coming to my rescue.


Doreen is one of the few students at Chipsye primary school that are being supported by Chimbiya mothers’ group with various needs including school uniform, stationary, soap and other sanitary supplies. Thanks to the UN Joint Programme on Girls Education (UNJPGE) funded by the Norwegian government through UN agencies – the mothers’ group was provided with a startup capital for a revolving fund of K300,000 aimed at growing and supporting vulnerable students at the school. This development has seen several girls such as Doreen stay in school raising hope that they will live to fulfill their potential.

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