Children’s Corners Offers Hope to Youngsters
Milala Children’s Corner is home to a group of jovial youngsters. The UNICEF-supported facility in Zomba, Malawi, offers psychosocial support to vulnerable children.
In the searing heat of October, children laugh at each other’s jokes, sing, dance and play games.
But their smiling faces conceal the fact that many of these children have suffered through significant trauma and violence.
The Plight of Tumpale
For young Tumpale Jumbe (not her real name), it began in March 2019, when her village, Mangwere, was devastated by floodwaters.
“The heavy rains fell continuously for many days and water flooded into our home and destroyed our crops,” says Tumpale, 15, a standard seven student at the local primary school.
After the waters subsided, Tumpale's family was left with little to eat and her parents struggled to make ends meet.
In better times, her family made a living doing odd jobs. But now there was no casual labour for her father and her mother wasn’t able to sell doughnuts as there was no money to buy flour.
Then one day a man came to her Tumpale's home and told her parents he would pay them if they allowed him to marry their daughter.
Tumpale's mother did not want her daughter married off at such a young age, but there was nothing she could do.
The teenager was forced to follow her father’s instruction, leave school and marry the man. She even had to give up her dream of growing up to become a soldier.
But soon the shame of being married to an older man left Tumpale feeling traumatised and socially isolated.
“My friends started avoiding me. People mocked and insulted me,” Tumpale says, looking downcast. “I lived a lonely life.”
Milala Rushes to Help
News of Tumpale's marriage reached the facilitators of Milala Children’s Corner. They were concerned and vowed to intervene as the legal age to marry in Malawi is 18.
Milala was established in 2011 and, through the support of UNICEF and partners, including the Government of Japan, now offers assistance to more than 150 children who have experienced violence and trauma.
Million Nankhonya, a child protection officer at Milala, said when he heard what had become of Tumpale he wasted no time to correct the situation.
“The chief was informed and Tumpale's parents were called to end the marriage and send her back to school,” said Nankhonya.
Nankhonya said support from UNICEF had been essential in ensuring that facilitators at Milala had been trained on protecting children from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.
A Dream Restored
Now back at school, Tumpale's dream of becoming a soldier has been revived. “I want to be a soldier and be like other women who put on the uniform and protect their country.”
Thanks to UNICEF and Milala, her dream now has every chance of coming true.