For Enipher Finiyasi of Chumbu Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kambwiri in Salima, her 26 years on earth have been a time of disgrace.
She claims the period she was illieterate cost her heavily in her businesses as well as her dignity.
“It may sound absurd to some, but I regret my 26 years on earth because if I were educated and empowered, I could be somewhere by now,” said Finiyasi sounding divest.
She said this while giving her testimony to officials from Adolescence Girls Literacy plus (Aglit+), an organisation implementing functional literacy classes for adolescent girls and teenage mothers in her area alongside Unicef and Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development.
Until late last year, Finiyasi, who is a mother to an 11 year-old, could not read or write. She is a victim of poverty and cultural beliefs that haunt the future of many girls in her community. Boys are sent to school while girls are kept in the home for household chores in readiness for marriage.
“I’ve grown up knowing I will be married and the husband will provide for me. Coupled by lack of learning materials, I had no reason to stay in school,” she recalls.
Finiyasi dropped out in Standard Two. She says when she receive a letter from a boy friend; she would engage a minor to read for her.
“This exposed my privacy because some letters contained private information,” she explains.
Her decision to start a small business distinguished her from many other young women, who hardly thought of entrepreneurship as a source of their basic needs, but alas, the business hardly grew.
“At first, I thought some people were playing me tricks, but I realised later that education was the key factor. I could not manage the income properly and sometimes would give out more change to a customer,” she recalls.
This is the time Finiyasi decided to rejoin school, but says it was too late.
“At 15, I could not be in Standard Two,” she says.
Her story is not an odd one. This is the situation that faces many girls in Malawi. Since independence, a second chance to schools has been a challenge particularly to those who dropped out while in primary school. They feel uncomfortable to be in school.
There was hope for many when government launched the adult literacy classes, but the initiative fall short of incentives to attract and keep the adults in school. Beyond that, the system hardly connects graduates to formal education system.
Unesco says adults literacy rate is at 73 percent for men and 59 percent for women. While launching the government’s mass adult literacy programme in 2012, the then vice- president Khumbo Kachali said an uneducated woman can hardly contribute effectively to national development. His argument was attached to the global development goals which place education at the fore as a recipe to achieving other goals.
In Salima, Finiyasi rues her two decades of illiteracy have cost her several opportunities. She believes she could have been somewhere by now.
“I started selling fritters at the age of 12, but I can hardly show any fruits,” she laments.
But her story is changing. She is among teen mothers benefiting from functional literacy classes being implemented by Aglit+. She is learning at Kachitsa Literacy Centre under Katelera Zone in Salima.
Apart from Salima, other beneficiaries of the project are in Mangochi and Dedza districts. The project targets adolescent girls aged between10 and 25. They are enrolled into nine-month literacy classes which introduces them to reading and writing. In a year, each of the 168 literacy centres recruits 35 adolescent girls.
The classes facilitate re-entry into formal education system for those willing. Finiyasi says she wants to concentrate on her business to educate her children.
Aglit Plus programme manager Wilson Liwonde says they noted that they cannot force all girls back to school.
“For this, we decided to add livelihood and entrepreneurship lessons, among others, to help the graduates venture into businesses,” he says.
Finiyasi says the entrepreneurship classes have resuscitated her business. Within a year, she has raked more profits and expanded the fritters business to a grocery.
“It is only after the literacy classes that I have managed to buy a goat. The business is growing and with more capital, I see myself somewhere in future,” she says, sounding optimistic.
That is not all. Finiyasi is now a woman of status.
“Since the community realised I can read and write, they appointed me village development committee (VDC) secretary,” she says. “At wedding and Top-Up events, I am now assigned several roles.”
She is not alone. Katelera zone supervisor Charles Flyton says they have sent back to school 214 learners in two years and supported nine learners, who include Finiyasi to pursue various businesses.
Liwonde says those who cannot join formal education are put in groups and linked to their partners for support. Finiyasi now belongs to Kachitsa Club. Government and Unicef support them to run businesses.
“I am passionate about this project and will make sure you are supported and empowered,” Unicef programme officer for youth and adolescent Patrick Chakoloma assured the learners during the visit.
Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development deputy director of youth Judith Msusa says: “The UN global goals say no one should be left behind. We have a strong partnership that will support every learner to ensure we move forward together.”
According to Msusa, the project will from next month be extended to Thyolo, Nsanje, Machinga, Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay and Chitipa.s na