The 2013 Education Management Information Systems (EIMS) report shows that out of one million pupils that enrol in Standard One, only 60 000 make it to secondary school. Yet one boy, despite his poverty, is defying statistics to stay in school.
It is midnight at Zomba Bus Depot. The few people around, apart from security officers, are taxi drivers locked in their cars waiting for the arrival of buses to take the disembarking passengers to various townships.
Samuel Chimera, 18, of Chikumbu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikowi in Zomba is neither a security officer nor a taxi driver. But he, too, is in the depot.
Standing on the sidelines of the depot’s shed carrying a basinful of bananas; Samuel makes a living out of selling his products to travellers.
“I have been selling bananas since 2010,” he says, adding: “this is what gives me bread. I don’t know what could have happened to me had I not made this decision,”
Chimera, who left home while in Standard Seven, arrived in Zomba City in 2009. He adds that he migrated to the city to raise money for school.
“I thought I could raise enough money in six months. It didn’t work. Life in the city turned out to be tougher than I expected,” explains Samuel, who dreams of becoming a lawyer.
Upon arrival in the city, Chimera secured a job as a houseboy. While working, he met a director of one of the private schools in Zomba. Having noted his interest in school, the director enrolled him on a scholarship programme at his school.
However, his boss could not allow him to go to school and work after classes. This forced him to quit the job.
Unfortunately, the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PLSCE) examinations only yielded a pass which led to the scholarship being discontinued because the condition was that he get selected to secondary school.
In 2010, Chimera says he got K2 000 after doing a piece work. He invested it in banana business.
“The profit was little as at times I could not make even K200 a day, but I never stopped because I knew if I increased my capital, the profit would also grow,” he says.
Slowly, the capital grew to K4 000, thus, the profit also increased. He saw the possibility of returning to school while continuing with the business. But still, he could not raise enough money to enrol at a private school. He joined Cobbe Barracks Open Secondary School. In 2012, he was awarded the Junior Certificate of Education (JCE).
Sadly, his dream to continue with his studies in Form Three hit a snag. His business started to face challenges and he attributes this to increased number of people selling bananas during the day.
At the same time, his young brother dropped out of school and wanted to join him.
He accepted, but it meant increased responsibility as both had to continue with education.
It was a mature decision, but it only achieved to keep the two out of school during the last school term of the 2013-2014 academic year.
However, Chimera took advantage of the situation to work harder in his business.
He doubled the time he spends at the market and this was the birth of selling bananas at night.
During our recent visit to the city, we met Chimera carrying a basketful of bananas and moving from one restaurant to the other targeting customers in eateries.
“I start my business at 3pm at the main market. From 5pm, I walk around restaurants targeting customers at the eateries. When the food outlets close, I transfer to the bus depot. At times, I visit bottle stores and bars within the city,” says Chimera.
He adds that he makes sure that he is home by 3 am so that he can sleep and wake up at 6 am to prepare for school.
The equation is working for him. Apart from managing to pay K4 000 for a house he rents and feeding the brother, Chimera is back in school. He is repeating Form Three at Sadzi Private Secondary School.
He reveals that he struggles a lot, especially during the night, as some people want to eat his bananas without paying.
He adds that some time back he lost all his bananas to thieves he met on the way from sales.
Chimera’s class teacher, Aaron Bizza, rates him among the best students both in manners and academic performance.
“I understand his situation because he explained to me how he makes a living. He works hard, but his greatest challenge is that he shows some tiredness when in class and this affects his concentration.
“We have been lobbying for well-wishers to support him with school fees, but none is coming forward. If there is anyone, please come forward,” he says.
In a country were thousands, faced with poverty, drop from school, Chimera is an inspiring story.