Yamikani Chimtengo and Tiyanjane Muliwa have one striking thing in common—they are go-getters.
The 18-year-old girls are among the first three students from Namphungo Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Mulanje to be selected to public universities.
They defied stereotypes about girls’ role in society by helping change perceptions to become role models for their peers.
Their exploits did not go unnoticed. Yamikani, Tiyanjane and a male student received laptops and assorted items worth K2 million from Timveni Child and Youth Media Organisation through the 18+ Atsikana Osaphweketsa Project.
With support from Plan International Malawi and Norkring, Timveni is implementing the 18+ Atsikana Osaphweketsa Project in T/As Juma and Nkanda in Mulanje District to keep girls in school until their dreams come true.
This is a part of the push to end child marriages and other harmful cultural practices in Malawi. To achieve this, the project supports almost 1000 students in 24 girls’ clubs, encouraging girls such as Yamikani and Tiyanjane to work hard in school and giving them motivation talks from female role models.
Yamikani says: “The laptop and other gifts are a relief and an encouragement to me as I begin a new life in university.
“Through the 18+ Club, I have learnt a lot including menstrual hygiene and to work hard in school. However, I am concerned that my mother cannot afford high tuition fees that universal education entails.
Yamikani is a first born in a family of four. She is bound for Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi.
She stressed the need to empower and encourage young girls to work hard in school.
“I’m excited because it has always been my wish to go to university. I believe fellow girls can do it too because I was motivated to work hard. Much of my time was dedicated to studying rather than engaging in risky behaviour like most girls do,” she says.
Yamikani encourages girls from poor families, teen mothers and those who married not to despair but work hard to achieve their goals.
For Tiyanjane Muliwa, the death of her father when she was in Form 1 almost ended her aspiration to further her education.
However, she persevered and scored 19 points in the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination. This earned her a ticket to Mzuzu University.
Like Yamikani, Tiyanjane is also not sure about where her tertiary support will come from.
However, she thanks Timveni for giving her a laptop and other academic items.
Tiyanjane has a word for her peers: “Young girls should always work hard in school and realise that they are key to development of the country.
“I will work extra hard in my academic work to see to it that my other siblings also finish school.”
Timveni Child and Youth Media Organisation executive director Herbert Chidaya described the girls as satisfactory fruits of the project.
He said, now more than ever before, the three students need support from all stakeholders to achieve their goals.
Said Chidaya: “It is not a mean feat for them to be selected to university considering many youths from the community have tried their luck but in vain.
“I understand it is the first time for Namphungo CDSS to send students to university. Going to the university definitely presents big transformation for the students, their families and the community at large. It’s really an achievement.”
Namphungo CDSS head teacher Anusa Tambala said the school’s topmost achievers destined for tertiary selection will send a strong message to their communities not to tolerate child marriages.
He asked well-wishers to construct more hostels at the school to accommodate more learners, especially girls.
Stated Tambala: “These students lack support, with some coming from single-parent homes that aren’t financially stable.
“We encouraged the students to apply for government loans, but competition is tough. We’re calling on well-wishers to assist the students to pursue higher education and inspire their peers to also work hard to go to university.”
Child marriage remains widespread in Malawi.
The 2015 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey shows that nearly 50 percent of girls get married before reaching the age of 18 and teen pregnancies contribute to 30 percent of maternal deaths.
On February 14 2017, Parliament took a landmark decision towards advancing girls’ rights.
The lawmakers unanimously adopted a constitutional amendment that raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years.
The amendment aligned the Constitution with the 2015 Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.