|12 year-old Mary Imran|
Not many girls from Mangochi district reach standard 8 of their primary education and this is attributed the case due to a number of factors like child marriages, teen age pregnancies and lack of enthusiasm due to lack of role models. Further to this, young people from Mponda village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Katuli have an additional causative obstacle which is a. long distance to and from school.
Most young people get tired of the 15 km distance a few days after enrolling and they decide to drop out first and enroll again when they are old enough to manage the distance. However, most of the boys and girls return to school after getting older but they eventually drop out again after a few weeks as well. This time around, the reason for dropping out of school revolves around the issue of age. By the time the dropouts feel they are old enough to walk 30 kilometers to and from school for 5 days in a week, they get into a class that is full of learners who are two times younger than them. Coping up becomes difficult and they eventually dropout as they feel too old for standard 1.
However, 12- year old Mary Imran who is a standard 3 learner at Kwisimba Primary School has a slightly similar story to tell but her story comes with a different twist at the end.
In 2009, when she was exactly six years old, Mary enrolled at Kwisimba Primary School which is 15 km away from her village. She enrolled together with her two age-mates from her village as well.
After only a week, the three young girls realised that they were up against an insurmountable task. This is when they all realised why other older girls just stay at home despite having knowledge on the importance of education.
Mary remembers the general body weakness and fatigue that made her feel paralytic on Saturday after walking for 30 km every day for 5 days. Her friends also complained similar ailments. The inevitable was about to happen and just like many others before them; they dropped out of primary school without much ado. The agreement was that they will go back to school after reaching 12 years of age as their muscles and bones will be stronger and harder.
Upon reaching the age of 10 in 2013, Mary was old enough to join a group of adolescent girls which she had always been wishing to join since the group was established but age was the only limiting factor.
After the then 10-year old Mary joined Mponda Adolescent Girls Club whose establishment was facilitated by UN-JPAG (United Nations Joint Programme on Adolescent Girls), Mary has been learning a lot and the group’s activities met her expectations.
One day, during one of their usual sessions, all the group members were encouraged to go to school. Mary remembers the lengthy discussion which the group had on the importance of education.
After that particular session, she went straight to her two friends and pleaded
Determined and unwavering, Mary enrolled in standard 1 of her primary school studies again in 2013 at the age of 10 and not 6 as is the right age in Malawi. In her class, there were younger learners than her. She stated that many of them were only six years old. However, to her, the difference of 4 years is negligible unlike 12 to 6 years.
She recommenced her studies and took them seriously so much that she is now in standard 3 and in the last academic term, Mary scooped position number 2 in a class of over 15 learners. She is very confident that her dream of becoming a secondary school teacher will one day come true.
“I always get along well with my fellow learners and the age difference is not that huge unlike if I had started school when I was 12,” said Mary.
She stated that the activities of Mponda Adolescent Girls Club have tremendously changed her life and she boasts of being equipped with relevant and age appropriate information about sexual and reproductive health and rights.