Without education, most girls end up in early marriages or early motherhood, spending their lives in poverty. But with education, they are able to improve their own lives and those of their families, breaking the cycle of poverty in the process.
Unlike others who drop out of school because of deprivation, Chifuniro Ndelemani, who is the Senior Group Village Head Jonasi of Mponela in Dowa had everything at her disposal.
She had parents who could afford to send her to school, but Ndelemani admits she had her priorities upside down and got pregnant when she was in Standard Eight.
“All my brothers went to school. I am the only one who never went far with education. I played with boys and ended up pregnant,” explains the mother of five.
Ndelemani’s parents took her to the responsible man’s family so that the two of them could take care of the baby together. However, his parents sent him to school while she stayed home.
“When my parents heard about this, they were not pleased and they got me back. I was later sent back to school at Tchawale Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) after giving birth, but I did not go further after sitting my Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examinations,” she explains.
Life as a woman and a traditional leader who did not go far with education has been a challenge and she now understands the value of education more.
Being a chief, she says she attends many developmental meetings, but confesses it has been hard for her to follow proceedings in English.
She could not even share her thoughts because of failing to communicate in the language.
“This was my biggest motivation for going back to school. And apart from just learning English, I want to position myself for a better future when I get education. Initially, I wanted to simply find someone to teach me English, but I realised that it was not going to help much,” she explains.
At some point, Ndelamani was in the Girl’s Empowerment Committee where she met many English speaking people from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), but could not mix freely with them and had to use her interpreter for proper communication.
“This has pained me for years,” the traditional leader says.
After 17 years of being out of school, the Senior Group Village Head is back to Form One at Mpando CDSS.
She has also been envious of her friends who are in various employments after going to college and she dreams of one day walking the corridors of Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) as an agriculture student.
“I made this decision on my own. No one told me to go back to school,” says the 43-year-old.
Ndelemani took over chieftaincy in 2014 from her grandfather. She has six group village heads and 22 village heads under her.
“We are living in an age when governments and civil society organisations are advancing gender equality. My grandfather chose me to take over as a way of advancing the concept of encouraging women in leadership,” she explains.
In the country, just like in many others around the world, girls are asked to fetch water, take care of their siblings and help their mothers to cook and clean.
Because of that, girls often miss the opportunity to go to school because their contributions to the household are valued more than their education.
However, the traditional leader notes that when girls are educated, they are better able to develop the nation.
“Women have the power and can do anything. I have six group village headmen under me; and most of them are men. I encourage them to empower women all the time,” she explains.
The traditional leader admits that despite all her achievements, she has faced resistance from men including some village headmen and the chiefs that come under her leadership.
“Some of my subordinates use my being youthful and a woman to my disadvantage. They look down on me and think that I am too young to tell them what to do. Being a woman makes it worse because others think they cannot take orders from me. I always give them the example of our former president Joyce Banda, that she was able to lead the country despite being a woman,” she says.
Ndelemani was born in Mponela on October 11 1974. She was born in a family of five children and she was the only girl.
She is also a grandmother of two.
The leader encourages fellow chiefs and others that it is never too late to go back to school.
“I did not look at my age or my standing in society to go back to school. Anyone can. It is never too late for education and no one is ever too old for it. People say all sorts of things about me; that I am too old for school or that I have the position of leadership for instance, but I chose this route and i will stick with it,” she says.
In her class of 18 students at Mpando CDSS, she says she likes English, Mathematics, Agriculture and Physics.
When at school, she is able to perform all school activities including cleaning up, but says she is unhappy about being called ‘madam’ by fellow students.
Ndelemani is a member of the Women’s Guild under Nkhoma CCAP Mission and during her free time, she enjoys playing netball.