Alex Kamtambe,18, from Mwalala Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumo in Ntchisi never thought he would one day be a star pupil.
Two years ago, Kamtambe had dropped out of school to work at an estate where he spent a year doing work that was too heavy for his age. Today, thanks to efforts of Gwangwa Youth Club (GYC), he has sat the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE).
GYC is a volunteer group which encourages youths who quit school due to poverty to earn money working as labourers in tobacco estates.
While working in an estate, Kamtambe had no future goals, but now he proudly says he wants to become a journalist.
“I like listening to the radio and I admire journalists when they are interviewing public figures. I also admire their good English,” says Kamtambe.
His return to school brought smiles among his friends, relatives and teachers.
Last term, Kamtambe scooped position one in the Makanda Zone PSLCE Mock Examinations. At district level, he was on position two.
“When I returned to school, I realised that I was wasting my time at the estate. Now I can see a bright future because I believe that with education, I will achieve my dream career in journalism,” he says.
Kissah Chibwana, head teacher of Gwangwa Primary School, says Kamtambe’s hardworking spirit has motivated others .
“Many pupils have started working hard when they heard that Alex performed well in mock examinations. Alex is so exemplary that every pupil wants to be like him,” Chibwana says.
Kamtambe is a member of GYC and he takes part in encouraging school dropouts to return to school. The club started in 1998, but partnered Save the Children in 2011 through a project called Child Labour Elimination Actions for Real Change (Clear), which focuses on overcoming child labour. The club now has 29 members who were trained by Clear.
The club’s secretary Macdonald Mbeya said they are leaving no stone unturned until child labour is strangled and buried.
“We go door-to-door sensitising people on the disadvantages of child labour. We meet estate owners to convince them that it is more important and beneficial to the community for children to stay in school and not at the estate or farm,” said Mbeya.
He said the club is also using drama to spread messages on the dangers of child labour and the benefits of education to children.
The youth cannot talk about their success without mentioning their head teacher, Chibwana, who they say has been guiding the club.
According to Mbeya, the head teacher gave them one of the rooms at the school to use as their office.
Chibwana said school dropouts were growing rapidly, a development which worried him because without pupils, there is no school.
“I am here working as a head teacher because there are pupils. So, if pupils are dropping out of school it means there will only be school blocks without pupils and we will have nothing to do here as teachers. We will be jobless.
“Furthermore, when children are dropping out of school it means this community cannot develop because education is the key to development,” says Chibwana.
Clear project officer, Arkangel Bakolo, said his organisation also trained the youths to offer psycho-social support to child labour victims. Bakolo said Clear project has helped people including youths to take a role in fighting against child labour.
“People are realising the long-term impact of child labour on development, hence they are standing up to fight against the vice,” said Bakolo, adding: “It is easy to fight child labour when youths encourage their fellow youths to leave estates and return to school. Kamtambe and his friends are doing a great job because youths obey them.”
Mbeya said this year, they have rescued 27 children from estates and now these children are back at Gwangwa Primary school.
“This is the number of children whom we rescued from estates. But there are also children who were neither at estate or school; they were just staying at home. So, when they saw their friends return to school, they too joined them,” said Mbeya.
Chibwana could not hold his excitement at the efforts of the youth to fight child labour. He said recently, school enrolment has also improved from 900 to 1 256 pupils. n