Christina returns to school despite having a baby

How the Spotlight Initiative is helping vulnerable girls

Lulutani Tembo
Christina stands by a tree at Liwonde CDSS
UNICEF Malawi/2022/Tembo
26 March 2022

Christina Banda has reached her final year of secondary school. In Malawi, where many girls fail to graduate high school, Christina is on the verge of a major achievement. She is confident she will pass her final exams and looks forward to one day becoming a nurse.

But it wasn’t always this way. A few years ago, Christina became pregnant when she was only in Standard 8. She was forced to drop out of school to have the baby, thinking she’d never return.

“I had friends who had boyfriends and encouraged me to start going out with an older guy,” says Christina. “They said that is how they find money to buy food to eat and other needs. I eventually said yes.”

After she gave birth, she became depressed because she didn’t think she’d purse her goal of being a nurse. Her parents tried to help, getting piece work to help support her and the child, but it wasn’t enough.

It was about this time Christina learned she qualified for the Spotlight Initiative. Being implemented by UNICEF and other UN agencies, the 500 million euro global initiative provides scholarships to girls and is designed to protect them from gender-based violence, including harmful social norms.

In Malawi, the multi-year initiative, funded by the European Union, aims to have a significant impact in the lives of women and girls in six districts across the country, and targets girls who experienced teen pregnancy.

Fidelia Mbiru, Spotlight Initiative Coordinator at Liwonde CDSS
UNICEF Malawi/2022/Tembo
Fidelia Mbiru, Spotlight Initiative Coordinator at Liwonde CDSS

At Christina’s school the Spotlight Initiative is coordinated by Fidelia Mbiru. She says the scholarship has helped 13 girls so far, with six girls taking their final exams and another seven being retained in class.

“Most of the girls on scholarship here were brought back after getting pregnant. They now have a second chance to complete their education. Most of them come from poor backgrounds, so the impact has been massive. I also support them with counselling and guidance on education,” says Mbiru.

For Christina, the scholarship brought relief to her and her parents, who immediately felt a burden lift off their shoulders.

Christina explains: “We were so happy when we were told the news about the scholarship. I am also the oldest in my family, and I feel the pressure of being a good role model. I want to work hard, so I can be independent and take care of my child.”

“I do not think early marriage is the way to go, because you could meet a lot of difficulties in marriage and be left alone to take care of your kids. Focus on your education instead.”

UNICEF Malawi’s chief of education and adolescents, Simon Jan Molendijk says the girl child deserves to thrive and reach their full potential.

“Christina’s experience indicates that, girls empowered by education are powerful agents of change, taking back control over their lives, positively impacting their future the lives of their families, communities, society and possibly the world,” says Jan Molendijk.