Girls in traditional authorities (T/As) Maseya and Ngabu in Chikwawa may live to regret not utilising an opportunity presented to them.
Stephanos Foundation, a non-governmental organisation operating in the two areas, introduced a Goat for Girls Project in 2014 to empower girls in poor households to attain education.
Through the project, girls are given goats to rear them until they multiply. After multiplication, they pass on some goats to other needy girls.
As the number of goats increases, the girls are required to sell some to raise money for their education needs.
Since the project began, with support from Stephanos Development Fund Canada (SDFC), the organisation has supported 25 secondary school girls in the two areas.
This is despite the fact that Stephanos Foundation and its partners have the capacity and are willing to support the beneficiaries beyond secondary school level into tertiary education.
Unfortunately, since the inception of the project in 2014, no beneficiary has made it to college.
Stephanos Foundation executive director Clifford Kuyokwa says most girls do not proceed to university or college due to poor performance in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
“It is not impressive when we look at how the girls are performing at MSCE level. There is need for them to pull up their socks,” he says.
Kuyokwa explains that with support from SDFC there is an opportunity for girls to attain college or university education, but performance remains a limiting factor.
SDFC representative Jannine Koert attributes the girls’ poor performance to their environment.
“Indeed, results have not been good. Maybe, there could be a challenge in terms of where they are coming from.
“However, we would like to see them through to whatever level they may aspire to reach with their education to become independent and productive citizens,” she says.
To this effect, Chikwawa District social welfare officer Rosemary Mahata says there is need to enhance some programmes to encourage girls to perform well.
She cites strengthening of study circles and children’s corners as some of the interventions that could be championed to boost performance.
Study circles and children’s corners enable learners to continue learning through discussion groups in their localities.
Mahata says: “Parents should as well play their role to encourage children to read books even during holidays.
“Sometimes there are issues to do with their well-being and that’s why we have child protection case management structures where, if used appropriately, you are able to identify some issues that need attention.”
She, however, says the structures are resource-constrained to operate effectively.
Girls’ education activist Cecilia Banda, who is also project officer for Malawi Red Cross Society in Chikwawa, says most learners in rural communities need moral and psychosocial support in addition to material support.
At least 25 girls have graduated under the Goats for Girls Project since 2014.
The girls, together with members of the communities in which they live, commend Stephanos Foundation for the support towards their secondary education despite not getting selected to public universities.
Caroline Alfonso, 18, who completed her secondary school education at Makande Community Day Secondary School in Ngabu, says the goats have helped in improving her livelihood.
“I did not face many problems to pay school fees and buy other basic necessities,” she says, adding that she plans to pursue a health-related course.
Group village head Malemia says the initiative has improved girls’ perception towards education in his area and many are now able to reach Form Four.
“Through the initiative, many girls will get educated and in the long run, they will participate in tangible development of this area,” he said.
The traditional leader, however, has one message for the girls.
“You should appreciate that Stephanos Foundation is spending a lot of money towards your education. Work hard in school; do not rush into marriage; proceed with your education beyond Form Four,” he says.