Tiyanjane Chafungatira from Ndenguma Village in Nsanje dropped out of school at the age of 14 because her single mother, Lucia Seveni could not meet her needs.
She was in Standard Four at Kapalakonje Primary School when she quit to help her mother fend for the family of four.
“Life was tough. I did back-breaking piecework, but still couldn’t meet the needs of my children,” says the mother of three.
The UN reports that only 25 percent of Malawian girls complete primary education.
“Tiyanjane is my firstborn, so I needed her support so we both contribute towards food and other necessities,” Seveni says.
With a K3 000 capital, the girl sold fritters in neighbouring schools and markets, but “my siblings could go to school on empty stomach,” she says.
However, Tiyanjane returned to school after missing two terms. This followed the introduction of initiatives to end violence against women and girls in Traditional Authority Malemia in December 2019 by Oxfam in partnership with Women’s Legal Resources Centre (Wolrec).
Through star circles—meeting points where community members discuss problems affecting them—the programme has helped parents understand their responsibilities to promote girls’ rights, including education.
Tiyanjane is now in Standard Six and dreams of becoming a doctor. She thanks Ndenguma Star Circle for reaching out to her mother to discuss the importance of educating girls.
Star circle chairperson Fortunate Mpasanje says they “acted swiftly” to get Tiyanjane back to school because they appreciate that keeping girls in school breaks the vicious cycle of poverty.
“Girls who remain in school tend to be empowered and healthy. They earn higher incomes than dropouts. This is necessary to build a bright future for their families, communities and country,” she says.
Mpasanje urges parents against child labour, saying it infringes girls’ right to education.
Seveni concurs: “I accepted to send my daughter back to school because I realised that education matters.
“I want her to remain in school until she has the capacity to support herself and the family.”
The woman no longer struggles to fend for her family after obtaining a K23 000 soft loan from the star circle’s savings and loan group. She now sells fritters and footwear.
Pemphero Gale, 19, also commends the initiative for rescuing her from a child marriage and persuaded her to return to school after giving birth.
“My future looked bleak when I was impregnated by a violent man in 2017. Had the star circle not intervened, I’d still be in that hell,” she says.
The Form Two girl at Nsanje Secondary School desires to become a nurse. She is one of 10 teen mothers that have re-enrolled since 2019.
For Loyce Harawa, Wolrec project officer, ensuring every girl learns is pivotal to ending violence against women and girls.
“Educated girls do not marry young, which reduces cases of child marriages. School provides an opportunity for one to get higher-earning jobs and have a say over their bodies and life. They will stand up against any form of abuse, thereby, exercising their rights freely,” she explains.
The programme is bankrolled by UN Women through the UN Trust.
It empowers rural communities to summon duty-bearers and demand access to basic services to end gender-based violence (GBV).
Christopher Billy, from Malemia Community Action Group, says people are committed to curb GBV.
“We have raised awareness on human rights and ways to fight against physical, sexual, economic and psychological abuses. We want women to be economically empowered and more girls to remain in school for sustainable development here,” he says.
Group village head Mvundula and other traditional leaders have formulated child protection by-laws to ensure girls learn and steer clear of early pregnancy and marriages.
“I have also adjusted and banned some harmful cultural practices to protect and empower women,” he says.
Oxfam gender programme officer Sarah Kambilinya is pleased with the strides to ensure that women and girls live to their full potential.
“We hope this will accelerate development because empowered women usually use their incomes to provide for their families. Such support goes will ensure children, mostly girls, become proactive citizens,” she says.
Nsanje social welfare officer Emmanuel Mbenuka says: The involvement of community structures assures us of sustainable efforts to end GBV.”