Chaola Mother Group in Ntchisi reaching out to girls to remain focused on education amidst Covid-19
When the Malawi government, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, in March this year, ordered the indefinite closure of schools as a preventive measure to the spread of the Covid-19, Rigines Mickson, a standard eight learner at Chaola Primary in Ntchisi feared for her future.
Rigines, 17, feared her dream to become a teacher was lost to the pandemic. Her fear made sense.
“Since the school closed, I have had no time read,” she told ActionAid Malawi documentation team when we visited her in June, this year.
“Being the female elder child in our family, I am responsible for almost all the household chores, including fetching firewood for cooking. At some point, I just wish got married.”
Rigines’ situation was worsened by lack of access to distance education, an alternative mechanism championed by the government.
In May 2020, government introduced school radio programs to promote learners’ access to education. However, the learning method proved out of reach for girls like Rigines living in poor and hard-to-reach areas.
Such moments of rising gloom and doom push the disadvantaged girls into early marriages and teenage pregnancies.
While statistics of the total number of girls who may miss out of school due to early marriages and teenage pregnancies during the six-month-long school closure is yet to be confirmed, the situation is palpably bleak for the girl child, effectively reversing the country’s efforts to realise Sustainable Development Goals on poverty, education and gender equality.
It is even more hopeless for Ntchisi District which ranks as one of the few Malawian districts with high poverty levels.
But Chaola, a primary school in Chikho Zone of the Ntchisi may not see a drastic reduction of girls returning to schools which have just re-opened. This is due to relentless efforts by Chaola Mother Group which, despite Covid-19 related mobility restrictions, has been in constant contact with the girls to encourage them to keep dreaming of school rather than marriage.
The mother group is one of the key structures under the Tax Justice for Gender Responsive Public Services being implemented by ActionAid Malawi with funding from NORAD. Implemented in Chitipa, Ntchisi, Lilongwe Rural and Neno districts, the project is campaigning for increased public tax revenue through progressive and equitable tax reforms that support increased and progressive government spending on quality public education for all, especially for girls and marginalized children. .
Chrissy Chinjeza, leader of Chaola Mother Group, says she is inspired by the need to have more educated girls to act as role models in the area.
“I feel ashamed to hear people associating Ntchisi with poverty, illiteracy, and early marriages. I want to contribute towards changing the story of my district and that’s why I have teamed up with other 14 mothers in the area to mobilise girls to work hard in class,” she says
Chinjeza, whose group has reached out to about 60 girls with mentorship during the school closure, says they have, however, been affected by Covid-19 restriction measures, which means they haven’t reached out to as many girl in the area as they wished.
“But we are still proud of our little efforts to save the girls’ future from the Covid-19 early marriages and pregnancies,” she says.
Chinjeza, 41, advises government to invest more resources towards girl child education “so that, should a similar pandemic strike in future, girls’ dreams shouldn’t turn into nightmares,”
Rigines, one of the girls who have been benefitting from Chaola Mother Group support, says the group played a critical role in keeping her dreaming of becoming a teacher alive during the school closure.
“I will work hard in school so that I don’t disappoint the mother group,” she told us recently, upon her return to school to prepare for the primary school leaving certificate examinations.