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Back to school for a brand new dress

UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
© UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
The Mothers’ Group has been instrumental in getting girls back to school in a country where just 16 per cent of girls finish primary school.

By Kusali Kubwalo

At 16, Jennifer Mailosi has experienced poverty first hand. Her parents have no income but rely on a small piece of land behind their compound. Other than her uniform, Jennifer has never owned any brand new garment, relying on hand-me-downs (second-hand clothes) from her sisters or well-wishers. Once, she fondly remembers and smiles, she was bought a dress by the mothers’ group from the second-hand clothes market.

“One day when I finish school, I will be able to buy myself anything I want,” she says, smiling shyly.

This is the dream of a sixteen year-old who dropped out of school for two years because her parents could not afford new clothes, let alone soap for her clothes. In the midst of the poor, Jennifer was the poorest. This forced her to drop out of school.

“We realized that the only way to stop the cycle of poverty in our area was to make sure that girls finish school. For them to do that, we had to meet some of their needs,” says Deputy Chairperson of the Mothers’ Group Mseka Jailosi.

The Mothers’ Group comprises a group of women from the community tasked with the responsibility of coaxing girls to return to school. This initiative sprung from the Child-Friendly Schools for Africa Initiative, a concept that encourages community participation in school management. The idea is that if parents participate in educating their children, they are most likely to keep their kids in school.

UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
© UNICEF/Malawi/2008/van der Merwe
Deputy Chairperson of the Mothers’ Group Mseka Jailosi says the only way to stop girls from dropping out of school is to meet some of their needs.

In Jennifer’s case, the Mothers’ Group first held discussions with her parents to convince them about the importance of education before approaching Jennifer. The talks were a success on condition that the women would support Jennifer with some of the needs that her parents could not afford. Jennifer now has a pair of uniforms courtesy of the group and is now in Standard Seven at Mnjolo Primary School.

“It is nice to know that somebody cares enough to want to help me. If it wasn’t for the Mothers’ Group, I would still be at home,” says Jennifer.

Mnjolo Primary School is one of the pioneers of the Multi-Country Child Friendly Schools for Africa Initiative. Under the Initiative, a new school block was constructed, teachers were trained in life-skills, students received learning materials and additional pit latrines were constructed. As a spring-off of this initiative, the Mothers’ Group has been instrumental in getting girls back to school in a country where just 16 per cent of girls finish primary school.

So far, at least fifteen girls from Mnjolo area have gone back to school. These are now role models and assist the Mothers’ Group in their efforts to get as many girls as possible back to school.

 

 
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