Face to face; Mwawi & Mwandinda against the primary school girls
It is not necessary to be an old person with neither great life experience; nor does one need to be a prominent figure or from a well to do family to change the mindset of the girls in the rural village of Kasungu. All that is needed is a bit of enthusiasm and a good reputation- like that of Mwawi Banda and Mwandida Chione, two girls who were once students at the Santhe primary school who have now returned to mentor younger students. They stood with confidence among the girls, some of whom they have grown up with in their neighborhoods.
Mentoring is one of the activities Join My Village is facilitating in Kasungu. Mwawi and Mwandida are among 40 girls identified and trained to be mentors to primary school girls. Mentoring, which takes place in 20 primary schools under JMV in Malawi, has reached out to 2374 girls enrolled at Santhe primary, as well as other primary schools.
Santhe Secondary school and Santhe Primary school are less than two miles apart. However, that does not guarantee that students from Santhe primary are automatically offered a place at Santhe secondary school. They also have to compete with students from other schools for open spots. This is what made Mwawi Banda and Mwandida Chione go back to their former primary schools and encourage their fellow girls to work hard in class if they want to attend Santhe secondary school. Among the primary school girls was Mwawi’s younger sister, Beatrice who said that she looks at her sister as a role model. Beatrice tells me that her sister’s hard working spirit encourages her to look towards her future.
“We have come to encourage them and tell them that being selected into secondary school starts with good performance at primary school level,” said Mwawi who sounded cool and focused when asked why she and her fellow mentor had travelled all the way from Santhe secondary school to this Santhe primary school on a Saturday morning. Listening to their conversation, I knew that these young women have a common denominator of challenges which every girl from this part of Kasungu would recognize. Talk of tradition, religion and poverty which continue to fuel child marriage are made worse by lack of education for girls and women.
“Girls, you need to be strong as you will be meeting some people who will tell you we have enough educated people in Malawi and therefore going to school is just a waste of time,” explained Mwandida while attracting comments and questions from an attentive gathering of girls. “Some will tell you that all jobs are already filled and they will even cite young boys and girls who finished secondary education but are just staying as living example to discourage you like they did with me. This however did not stop me and no wonder I worked hard in primary school and I am still doing the same at Secondary school,” she added.
There was no need to hide the truth and not share the real life situation facing rural girls. “My parents encouraged me to work hard in school but I didn’t see the importance as I can be a lazy child. Today, I am inspired by Mwawi as I didn’t know that a peer I have known can come back and mentor us,” said Elizabeth Moses a grade 8 student at Santhe primary school who is also older than Mwawi.
“Teach but never refuse to learn,” said Mwawi. According to her the mentoring process has also been beneficial for her growth. The questions and comments from the primary school girls have taught her things she never imagined. According to Mwawi, the mentoring has taught her that if you have a parent who is more concerned about your education like hers, then you must be thankful as some parents never mind about their children’s education.
Just looking at these girls one may doubt whether they would be able to make a difference in the lives of their peers. My time spent with them was one of the best mentoring sessions I have seen so far, and they made a believer out of me!