One Saturday afternoon in October this year a football match was organised between Kandiyani and Nakuwawa primary schools in Traditional Authority (T/A) Njewa in Lilongwe. The match took place at Nakuwawa school ground. But Kandiyani pupils hardly predicted that apart from losing the match 2-0, they would also lose one of the school’s girls to marriage soon after the match.
The girl, 14-year-old Angelina Arnold from Kakungu Village in the area, was in Standard Seven. She was among the group that went to support their school team. During the game, she would dance around the football pitch together with other Kandiyani Primary School pupils while singing songs as they cheered on their team.
But when the final whistle blew, Angelina disappeared. Nobody knew her whereabouts. Her parents, who were on separation at the time, suspected nothing as the mother thought Angelina was at her father’s house. Similarly, her father thought she was at her mother’s place.
But Angelina had eloped with a man who was already married.
When her parents got the news, they reunited for the sake of rescuing their firstborn daughter. The couple has four other children.
Now Angelina is back to school, proceeding with Standard Seven. Interestingly, she is now advocating girls’ education in her area.
However, it was not an easy road for her parents and a 14-member mother group to get Angelina to leave her marriage and return to school.
“When I heard that my daughter got married, I was angry because I have always wanted her to complete her education.
“I reported the issue to Chitedze Police Unit. Police officers under Victim Support Unit [VSU] asked my daughter and her husband if they loved each other. They both answered that they did. Surprisingly, one of the police officers told me to leave my daughter alone since she loved the man. I was disappointed and left the police station,” says Arnold Njolomole, Angelina’s father.
Njolomole did not stop there because he understood the importance of educating girls.
“I am not very educated, but I know the importance of education. Members of Kakungu mother group, who were trained by Creccom, move door-to-door, encouraging parents to support their girls’ education. I could not let my daughter stay in marriage before completing her education,” says Njolomole.
With his wife Aidess Mphamba and members of mother group, Njolomole reported the issue to Lilongwe Police Station VSU at Area 3 where they were assisted. The police arrested Angelina’s husband.When the man agreed to release the girl, he was given bail.
Angelina’s reports at Kandiyani Primary School indicate she is performing well.
The school’s head teacher Blackson Chifuti says the mother group has played a great role in encouraging girls to attend school.
“The mother group has helped improve enrolment and attendance at this school. Currently, the number of girls exceeds that of boys. In the 2013/2014 academic year, the school had 484 girls out of 945 pupils at the school. This academic year [2014/2015], we have 555 girls out of 1 063 pupils,” says Chifuti.
The mother group was trained in their voluntary work by Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom) under the programme Enhancing Girls Participation and Completion of Primary Education, which is being funded by Swedish Plan through Plan Malawi.
Creccom programme officer Maclean Simika says the use of mother groups has helped improve school enrolment for girls.
“This programme is being implemented in Lilongwe, Kasungu, Mzimba and Mulanje. In all these districts, mother groups have ensured that girls prioritise education not marriage,” says Simika.
The mother group chairperson Efrida Mberenga says her group helps needy girls with school resources such as school uniforms, pens and exercise books.
“This year, we contributed money to buy 36 school uniforms for girls worth K72 000. We have also paid K30 000 in examination fees for 100 girls,” says Mberenga.
Angelina is not only happy to be back in school, but also to spread the message of the importance of education to her fellow girls.
“Whenever there is a gathering in my village, I speak about the challenges that girls face with early marriages. I also talk about the importance of education,” says Angelina, who dreams of becoming a teacher.
Angelina’s father says he is happy with her daughter’s advocacy.
“I am happy to see Angelina discouraging her friends from early marriages. I hope many girls will now focus on education and not on marriage,” says Njolomole.