Although she is a self-confessed believer in God working out miracles for her and other people, 22-year-old Harriet Banda does not hide the fact that this first week of October will be one of the most trying times in her tender life.
“I have fasted and prayed fervently for a miracle to come up on this day, because I don’t want my dream to die. I don’t know how I will handle it if the Malamulo College of Health Services finally kicks me out at the beginning of the very first semester for lack of fees,” she told The Nation.
Tears welled up in Harriet’s eyes and her voice quivered with emotion as she narrated how much she dreads losing the chance of her lifetime, to pursue a three-year diploma in clinical medicine course at the college which is under the Malawi Adventist University at Makwasa, in Thyolo.
Tuition fees for the course per year is K1 286 000. This translates to K643 000 per semester for residential students and K410 000 per semester for non-residential students.
The college requires each student to pay 50 percent of semester fees upon registration and the balance to be paid evenly in two months after registration.
“Any student who will not deposit appropriate fees will not be registered and the place will be declared vacant after a week of commencement,” reads in part a study offer acceptance letter.
But Harriet’s concern is that she, and her struggling grandmother, who is looking after her and three other children with proceeds from charcoal selling in Lilongwe, cannot afford the school fees.
She is an orphan. She lost her mother in 2001 when she was only five and her father died nine years later.
By the time Harriet—who comes from Chowe Village in Traditional Authority Chowe in Mangochi—started learning at Tsabango Community Day Secondary School in Lilongwe, she had made up her mind to become a nurse, or even a doctor, if possible.
“I noticed that many medical personnel seem to work under stress and sometime ill-treat patients. I swore that if I can make it, I would have a cool and professional disposition that patients yearn for,” she declared.
She scored 34 points in her Malawi School Certificate Education (MSCE) examinations and could not make it to University of Malawi. She vowed to save some money for a second attempt.
But this turned out to be a three-year wait that saw her building her savings painstakingly after a basic computer course and work stints as a cashier at an eye clinic and a secretary at a driving school in Lilongwe.
When Harriet re-sat her MSCE, last year, after attending evening classes, she had a reason to smile. She had secured 25 points this time around.
She applied to Malamulo and passed what she describes as ‘tough’ entry interviews.
Harriet intoned: “I had mixed feelings the day I was notified that I had made it. On one hand, I was elated that only a three-year course stood between my dream career and I.
“But on the other hand, the cost of the programme left me feeling that my dream career may turn out to be a painful illusion. That is when I went into serious prayer and fasting,” added the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) member, who also fellowships at Peace Ministry in Lilongwe.
Besides praying, the girl and her colleague with a similar challenge, Patsani Gauti, approached several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for bursary support. She recalls responses such as “we stopped providing bursaries to students for higher education in private colleges”.
“At one NGO, we were told by an officer to look for only half the fees we wanted because the organisation was to look for the other money. When we returned a few days later for an update, we were scolded by another officer. We returned home in pain,” recalls Hariet
In desperation, she went to Capital Hill and boldly knocked on the doors of two senior Cabinet ministers.
“It may have been my childish thinking. But I said to myself ministers always emphasise the need for the girl child education. And, so, I thought I would be assisted…,” she remembers.
Her hopes were raised when the personnel she found at one office asked her to spell-out her issue in a letter to the minister. But this did not yield any positive results.
Harriet received a ‘can’t-assist’ response through a WhatsApp message from the minister’s assistant, who said he had been told to say the minister’s personal sponsorship fund for needy students had been exhausted.
“I was shattered,” Harriet said.
But a miracle happened a week earlier.
When she and other students were trying to register for the diploma course, she was allowed to pay the K150 000 she had saved from a short survey she did at an organisation in Zomba. The college advised her to pay the balance by October 1.
“The same day, I meet several other students who were denied registration and were pointedly told that only students with K322 000 could be registered.
“As I travel back to Makwasa to know my fate later this week, and await for a bigger miracle over my fees balance, I leave everything in the hands of God to move the hearts of people to help me. I truly do not want to lose the golden chance to pursue my dream career,” said Harriet last Friday in Lilongwe.
Whether the administration will be lenient to keep her for a week or a well-wisher will come forward to rescue her is a puzzle that has no answers for now. This will certainly be a long defining week for Harriet n