The stories of Olivia Ngoleka, 17, and Rose Banda, 15, from Yesaya Village, Traditional Authority T/A Mavwere in Mchinji are similar.
They are both teen mothers who have returned to school and are in Standard Eight at Nkhwazi Primary School.
Banda says: “I was living with my father and step mother when I got pregnant. My biological mother persuaded me to abort, but my boyfriend was against the idea. We agreed to have the baby and return to school after. To this day, me and my mother don’t talk because I kept the baby. My baby’s name is Gertrude and she is four months old.”
Her step mother takes care of the baby when she goes to school and she is brought to her for feeding in between lessons.
For teen mothers, challenges are many, including finding people to take care of their babies while they attend school.
The increase of early pregnancies among adolescents prompted Girls Empowerment Network (Genet) to establish the happy, healthy and safe project.
It aims at keeping girls in schools, preventing early marriages, harmful traditional practices, promoting sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and preventing gender-based violence (GBV).
Genet executive director Faith Phiri says they have partnered with the Ministry of Health to promote the use of health services.
She observes that since 2014 when the project started, people in communities have changed their mindsets with teen pregnancies and early marriages declining.
Phiri adds that most girls are being selected to secondary schools.
Nkhwazi Primary School head teacher Watson Malichi says skills Genet imparted to mother groups and teachers are among strategies bringing girls back to school.
“Previously, when a girl got pregnant, her future was almost doomed. But with the readmission policy, many girls return to school even after marriages and motherhood. Even issues of parents forcing girls into marriages have gone down,” says Malichi.
Nkhwazi Primary School currently has five girls in Standard Eight who have since resumed classes.
The head teacher adds that out of 1 747 pupils at Nkhwazi, 934 are girls and 813 are boys with girls’ numbers increasing each year.
“In the 2014/15 academic year, 68 girls sat the Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC) examinations and 39 of them were selected to secondary schools. In 2015/16, 124 girls sat the examinations and 51 went to secondary schools. The 2016/17 year saw 136 girls sitting the examinations and we are hopeful the results will be just as good,” he says.
Veronica Mwanza, mother group chairperson for T/A Mavwere, however, says the battle of bringing girls back to school has not been easy because a total of four girls refused to leave their marriages despite the group’s efforts.
“Our wish is to see girls get educated as they will contribute to the development of the area and the country. They can achieve independency,” says Mwanza. n