Chaos at home, safe spaces in children’s corners

By Rebecca Phwitiko, UNICEF Malawi

Ibrahim Karim has dreams of travelling all over the world.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Rebecca Phwitiko

Ibrahim Karim has lived all his life in a small village in Machinga District, Southern Malawi. The farthest he has been from home is about 54 km away from his village, to a town within Machinga. His dream is to travel, see more of his country, more of the world.

At just 17, Ibrahim has already been through quite a lot. A little over a year ago, Ibrahim lived with his parents and four younger siblings.

They struggled financially but his parents managed to provide the basic things Ibrahim and his siblings need every day. All that changed when his father left and remarried in a nearby village.

“My father left a week before I started standard 7. This disturbed all of us so much, I could not concentrate in class because suddenly there were so many problems at home. Some days I would knock off from school and find no food at home. My mother had no way of making money on her own,” explains Ibrahim.

His mother eventually got a job on a sugar estate in Mangochi but with 5 children to feed and put through school the situation barely improved. Ibrahim decided that the best way for him to help his mother and siblings was to get a job. He talked to his mother about it and she agreed. Two days later Ibrahim quit school and went off to look for a job in Liwonde, a town 30 km away.

The District Social Welfare Officer for Machinga believes there are a lot of children in Ibrahim’s situation in the district. They are being forced out of school by poverty and lack of parental support, he says.

Ibrahim worked for a family of four, earning just K6000 ($8) per month. He cleaned, cooked, fetched water and washed. “I missed school, my friends and my family but I felt this was the best thing for me to do because of the situation at home,” recalls Ibrahim.

Back home, Ibrahim’s father, who at the time lived with his new family, heard about his son’s decision to drop out of school. He was not happy with the news, so he sent an uncle to bring him back home. Ibrahim returned home, unhappy. He had returned to the same situation he left- no food, no soap, no hope.

Children’s corners provide a much-needed opportunity to relax and play with friends
© UNICEF Malawi/2079/Govati Nyirenda

Regrouping, fresh start in children’s corners

A children’s corner facilitator came to speak to Ibrahim, he encouraged him to join the children’s corner. Here, Ibrahim met some of his school friends who pushed him to return to school. “My friend Rashid said it does not make sense that I stopped going to school when I did much better than him in school. life is still hard at home, but I am now back in school and I look forward to attending the children’s corner sessions every weekend” explains Ibrahim.

 “I enjoy sports at the children’s corner. I am now in the soccer team and we get to travel as far as Nsanama which is 54km away to play against other teams,” he adds.

Ibrahim says he also enjoys reflecting about his life at the children’s corner through various activities like Journey of Life and family tree through which he says he understands where he comes from and the experiences he has gone through.

UNICEF has been supporting children’s corners across Malawi by providing recreational kits and training facilitators. Imran Jawadu is a facilitator at Nanyumbu Children’s Corner, where Ibrahim and 155 other children go. He says he interacts with many children who have had to take on too much responsibility at a young age, leaving little time for them to just be kids and focus on school.

“When they come to us we create that space for them to play but also to express themselves, and reflect on their lives, where they want to go. We also encourage them to stay in school to achieve their dreams.”

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