In Malawi it is extremely common for girls to go no further than Primary School education. Such is the case at Nalipiri Primary School in Mulanje district where over 10 girls dropped out of school last term due to early pregnancies. Therefore, WESM ICS volunteers decided to get involved in a girl child empowerment awareness campaign alongside the previous placements ICV’s to help combat this issue. In particular, the volunteers talked to the Nalipiri Primary School girls about the dangers of early pregnancies and marriages.
The occasion was graced by the local Chief, headwoman Mangani, alongside the headmaster, teachers, parents, guardians and of course students of the school. ICS volunteers also invited a local, female nurse to give a motivational speech to the girls about the importance of education. She warned against early marriage and emphasized the dangers of young pregnancy highlighting that the death rate for underage women in childbirth is extremely high in Malawi.
Virginia Kazembe, a standard 8 girl (final year of primary school) said that girls face a lot of problems such as extreme poverty and peer pressure which force them out of school: “Some of our parents expect us to buy the basic needs like soap, clothes and school materials by ourselves so we end up sleeping with boys and men for us to get the needs” She explained.
One of the concerned parents present on the occasion also said that some parents even find marriage partners for their daughters at a young age so that they can, in turn, feed their families. Headmaster Mr Jonathan Nguluwe said he was happy because WESM volunteers encouraged the girls and motivated them to work hard in school: “I hope the girls have learned a lot from you people and they will focus on their studies from now on.” Group Village Headwoman, Mangani also thanked the ICS volunteers for coming up with the event: “The girls fail to voice out their problems, but you gave them the opportunity to do so on this event, we will definitely find a way to help them.” She also urged the government to take a greater role in encouraging girls and to help them get access to school materials like books and writing materials.
The event turned out to be a great success, attracting 185 people of which 155 were female and 30 male.
To support this event, ICS Volunteers will also be celebrating International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March by preparing activities based on gender equality for other schools and youth groups within the Mulanje District. The team was extremely inspired by the nurse who spoke at the awareness campaign and will pass on her message to others over the coming weeks. Volunteers have also prepared a learning workshop for the team on why celebrating International Women’s Day is important and why we should encourage women all over the world to mark the day.
Throughout the placement period, ICS volunteers have been truly inspired by the local women we have been working alongside. We are delighted to see that the legal marriage age for girls in Malawi has been raised from 15 to 18 and we hope to see improvements like this to continue far into the future.
By Jessica Lameck and Erin Gregory