Every time Caroline Alfonso, 17, hears goats bleating from a small kraal behind her home, she feels encouraged and empowered.
This has been her feeling in the past few years. For three years now, Alfonso, from Tsebeta Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu in Chikwawa, has been kept in school by the goats in the kraal.
“I can’t believe that I will be in Form Four this September,” she says, sounding dazed.
Alfonso recalls missing classes due to lack of school uniform and other learning materials during her primary school days and says this threatened her future.
“No one in our family has gone beyond primary education. I grew up knowing that after Standard Eight, marriage is next,” says the outspoken girl.
This is a common situation among teenagers in her community. Education beyond primary school has no meaning. Not by choice though, but because of poverty.
The story is common in Malawi. The number of students who complete an education cycle in the country drops each academic year. In 2017, 271 000 pupils sat the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations.
According to 2013 Education Management Information System (Emis), when the class entered primary school in 2009, there were 877 217 pupils.
Thus, over 600 000 pupils dropped out of school.
Alfonso lives with her grandmother, Sophia Failose, and five other children. They are subsistent farmers, but Failose says she cannot remember the last time they harvested enough for a year.
“I could not dare promise my niece fees for secondary education,” she says. “I only encouraged her to finish primary school and be able to read and write.”
Alfonso says: “Although I wanted to proceed with my education, there was no hope. Sometimes I would shed a tear because I want to become someone in my community.”
She says she is moved every time she sees a nurse. However, there was no hope until 2014 when she was in Standard Seven.
Stephano’s Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) implementing a number of developmental projects in Chikwawa and other districts introduced in her community an initiative that promises a new generation of educated youths, particularly girls.
The organisation introduced a Goat for Girls programme in two T/As of Maseya and Ngabu to provide financial support to girls to stay in school.
Each household with a girl child received a minimum of two nanny goats. They were expected to sell some after multiplying to meet their school needs.
Stephano’s Foundation project manager Happy Chiumia says they were avoiding duplicating other projects which offer cash to needy students.
“We felt that the goats would be ideal because after multiplying, they would sell and use the cash to meet their education needs,” he says.
Chiumia says they identify the girls at the age of eight so that as they grow up and climb the education ladder, the goats are multiplying.
Stephano’s Foundation executive director Clifford Kuyokwa says the NGO engages government in identifying the needy girls.
By targeting needy girls, the project responds to global goals on education. One of the major themes of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) says “no one should be left behind”.
The theme promotes prioritisation of individuals who without support will remain in poverty.
Goal number four asks governments to ensure there is quality education for all.
Senior Chief Ngabu now sees a better future for the girls in his area.
“This will help many girls to complete their education and become leaders, but we should not leave it to government and non-governmental organisations,” says the chief.
Chikwawa district social welfare officer Rosemary Mahata says the project complements government’s efforts in educating the girl child while empowering future women.
She advises the girls to take advantage of the opportunity to turn around their fortunes.
“Every successful woman met temptations that could have jeopardised their success, but they resisted,” she says. “They should work extra hard because it is not easy to make it even with all the resources around.”
The Goat for Girls project runs with funding from Stephano’s Foundation Canada. It was founded by Jannire Koert after her visit to Malawi in 2010.
During her visit, she made friends and says she expected more from them academically, but was shocked during her second visit in 2012. She found them married.
“They had dropped out of school due to lack of fees. This motivated me to source funds in Canada to keep young girls in school. We buy goats and give to the girls to breed and sell later to support their education,” she says.
So far, 192 girls have benefited from the initiative. Five have sat for the 2018 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination.
Alfonso says: “The future is promising. I will work hard in my MSCE to realise my dream of becoming a nurse,” she spells out her vision.
Alfonso says all her fees come from goat sells. She says they are multiplying quickly and is optimistic to meet her college fees.
Failose says: “We faced serious hunger since 2015 and we relied on money realised from goat sales to buy food. She cannot learn properly on an empty stomach,” she says. n