Carving Beliefs for Change: RTP Open Day

Friday 29 July 2016

Wednesday, July 13th was a precious day for the children and community of Namisi Education Zone in Mangochi district as they had an Open Day organised by the Reducing Teenage Pregnancies (RTP) project.

Reducing Teenage Pregnancies is an integrated health and education programme that is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). The project started in 2014 and is running for 3 years in six districts (Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka, Mchinji, Ntcheu and Phalombe) with project partners, the Forum for African Women Educationalist Malawi (FAWEMA) and Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) – in close collaboration with various Government ministries.

The event, organised by project partner FAWEMA, was graced by a number of influential people within the community including chiefs, teachers, as well as the Primary Education Advisor (PEA) for Namisi Zone. The theme of the event was centered on Reducing Teenage Pregnancies and Increasing Girls’ Participation in Education in Malawi.

The theme was fitting for a crisis looming particularly in Mangochi district – teenage pregnancies. Mangochi consists of the highest proportion of children in Malawi who have started childbearing – close to 50%.

In the Malawian context, teenage pregnancies occur as a result of compounding reasons consisting of poverty, education and cultural practices. It is common for parents to groom their daughters for marriage at an early age out of tradition or for girls to drop out of school and depend on a man – influenced by the perceived economic benefits of marriage.

These are just some of the harsh realities surrounding teenage girls. They help explain the staggering rate of school dropouts and the underrepresentation of girls in school.

In his opening remarks one of the teachers at Namisi Primary School stated that this year alone, over twenty girls dropped out of school because of early pregnancies. “We have over forty girls still in school, that are working hard – and we are expecting that the girls who dropped out will return to school after giving birth,” he said.

Several activities at the Open Day by students, teachers, and parents were aimed at raising awareness on the various struggles teenage girls face. One of the activities was a song from a group of girls, which was in essence – a plea to teachers to stop molesting them.

Photo Caption: Students singing at the event [Photo taken by Jonas Gratzer/Freelance Photographer]

As melodic as the song was – accompanied by a spectacle of a dance, it did more than just entertain the crowd. The song left an awkward chill… a sense of realness and conviction from its listeners, who were hearing at first hand – accounts of the day-to day-struggles of teenage girls.

To this, the Primary Education Advisor for Namisi Zone, Mrs. Mkumbira, remarked, “the message did not just come as an act of entertaining the audience, it is a very important message that should be taken seriously.” She went on to publicly criticise and shame all teachers that are involved in such misconducts and urged them to stop immediately.

Furthermore, the PEA encouraged all teenage mothers to return to school. She also encouraged girls to work hard in school and avoid early pregnancies that bring with them complications and diseases such as Fistula and HIV/AIDS. 

As an inspiration to the girls, Ms. Kholomana, the youngest teacher at the school posed as a role model and spoke to the girls about the importance of getting educated. Using herself as an example, she narrated her life experiences. She also recounted the challenges she faced as a girl throughout her education such as being pursued by older men and lacking financial provisions – that could have gotten her off track. “This did not stop me from working hard and getting to where I am today,” she said movingly, leaving the crowd cheering.

Photo Caption: Teacher Kholomana giving an inspirational remark[Photo taken by Jonas Gratzer/Freelance Photographer]

In closing, the Guest of Honor Mr. Zingani, Head Teacher of Katema Community Day Secondary School expressed his support for educating girls. The advantage of educating a girl he said, is that they make mature and sound decisions that serve as a model to other girls.

Chief Chilembwe, on behalf of Group Village Head (GVH) Katema was appreciative for every one being present at the event and thanked Save the Children and FAWEMA for putting the event together.

It is one thing to bring a crowd together and have them listen to speeches and be entertained – its another thing to do just, but compel that crowd to change for what it is you are advocating.

The RTP Open Day ended in an optimistic tone because of what the crowd took home. They took home thought provoking words that will surely start chiseling away at the set of beliefs and practices undermining and prohibiting teenage girls – words that will be sure to cement change starting in Namisi Zone, for every last child!

Written by Anissa Chitwanga, Advocacy & Campaign Officer