Born on March 9 1991 in Dothi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chitukula in rural Lilongwe, Jessie Jeke is the eighth born of nine children born to Browen and Mellina Jeke.
Her father was a farmer, cultivating maize, sugarcane and vegetables, which were used both for household consumption and for sale to provide the family with its basic needs.
Jessie confesses that growing up in the village was very hard.
“Every challenge one can talk of, I have encountered it. My parents struggled a lot. We lived in a small grass-thatched house which leaked in the rainy season. It was no different from being outside. My whole village had such challenges and sometimes I asked myself why I was even part of that society,” she explains.
Looking back, she says there was never a time when she had everything she needed for her education.
Apart from that, Jessie says her community did not support her dreams as a girl, but went on to become the first person from her community to ever graduate from college
“I had peer pressure from friends, low self esteem and no role models. I didn’t see myself achieving anything in life. Becoming who I am today is not just God working, but the undeserving grace He has given to me and my family,” she says.
But Jessie could not change her identity. All she could do was take a step forward to better her life and for her, education was that step.
“I wanted a different life and the only way to turn things around was to get education,” she says.
In 2004, she sat her Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) at Chatata Full Primary School and was selected to Kabwabwa Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) where four years later, she had her first attempt at the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2008.
Realising that she would not make it to college with the grades she got, she decided to re-sit the MSCE in 2009 at Mlodza CDSS as an external candidate and she lowered her grades.
On August 23 2011, with financial assistance from Mercy Cares Malawi (previously Christ Cares Ministries); she pursued higher education at the African Bible College.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass communication.
But for the 28-year-old, it was really hard to grow up without anyone to talk to about life and all the things she was facing as a girl.
As an adult, that is what also encouraged her to explore the challenges girls face in rural areas for her college thesis.
“My research paper was titled, Girls Empowerment Programme: A Tool for Higher Education. I heard from various people and I also related my own examples of the things I went through when I was younger. After graduating, no other job was more satisfying than going back to my community to give back what God had given me,” she explains.
She started teaching at Mercy High School in the rural part of Lilongwe where she is also implementing a girls’ empowerment programme aimed at addressing issues of teenage pregnancies, child marriages, domestic abuse and issues of menstrual health among others.
“I want to be a solution and provide answers for the younger girls to some of the questions I had when I was growing up,” she says.
Jessie has run the programme from the time she was in college and has been doing it for nine years.
“A lot of people, not just girls are benefiting from the programme. Issues of teenage pregnancies, early and forced marriages; and poor cultural practices have been addressed.
“The society has more secondary school girls now and there are some who are in college while others graduated. This was not the case before. Families have been transformed and lives have been rescued from retrogressive cultural practices,” she says.
However, all this service comes with some challenges. Despite the fact that serving girls through the empowerment initiative is a blessing to many, some people are resisting it.
Apart from that, she needs the support of other stakeholders to achieve her objectives.
As if that is not enough, HIV and Aids— which has led to the death of parents— leaves children, especially girls prone to abuse and lacking basic things which makes it hard to convince them to carry on with studies.
Looking ahead of her professional life, she sees herself continuing with her passion to serve through teaching and reaching out to young people as well as learning from others and herself.
On her personal side, she plans to get married to the love of her life and grow old together.
Today, she owes it to her mother, who she says had her back.
“She saw potential in me and she pushed so hard and my father supported her. At first, my father thought that girls were not worth educating, but when I reached Form Four, he was very proud and would even boast about it. So, my mother played a greater role fighting for me and she’s a hero who was selling vegetables just to support us,” Jessie says.
She advises girls to stay away from men.
“Girls need to stay away from men and resist when they offer favours. Often, men want something in return whenever they give a girl a favour or a gift,” she warns.
She also calls on girls to have goals and strive to achieve them.