She wants to be a lawyer and is prepared to study and work hard to achieve that. Young, intelligent and hardworking, 16 years old Monica Chilemba from Bolero area has all that it takes to make her ambitions come true. Two years ago, the form 1 girl had a whole different story.
”I decided to get married when I was 12 years because I had thought the life was so much easier as a married woman. It was a childish decision to quit school because I did not know any better and I regret that decision until this day. I encountered a lot of problems in my marriage. My husband would leave me alone for days and go to other women. He would not give me any money and I had no way to provide for myself and I was living too far away from home and did not know anybody there to ask for assistance”, explains Monica.
It all became too much for her and she decided to leave her husband and return to her parent’s home. Upon her return, Monica met the women’s forum, a group of women working in her area and they encouraged her to go back to school.
Today it is a different story. The women’s group now supports her and pays for her education. They visit her home once in a while to give her words of encouragement so that she stays in school
“I would like to commend the work these women are doing to help my fellow girls because we face so many obstacles in life. Boys tend to like you when you are very young and untouched. Once they get you pregnant, they usually leave you and move on to the next girl. I now know that when you are educated and can stand on your own, a man will not take you for granted because he knows that if he mistreats you, you can easily walk away and still be economically independent without him”, says Monica.
She now fully concentrates on her study and has not let any distractions because she clearly remembers her old life and will do anything not to be in that situation again.
Zione jere, the secretary for the women’s forum and mother groups says a lot of girls in their area are lured to drop out school because of poverty and also by their fellow friends who do not go to school
“As the Mother group of this area we look at girls’ welfare in the community. We encourage those who dropped out of school to go back”, Zione explains.
The mother group also goes to different schools to find out if the schools have enough female teachers who play a crucial part in ensuring that the welfare of girls at the schools is being observed. One of the problems that cause girls to drop out of school is the lack of the right facilities like bathrooms and good toilets for the girls to use comfortably without their male counterparts leering at them and posing a threat of sexual harassment.
Monica is just one example of the many girls in Malawi who are beating all odds to stay in school and achieve their dreams.