My Education is Back on Track - Royce Rejoices in Scholarships From K.I.N.D Fund
Empowering girls through scholarships
Royce Boyd trembles, her voice breaks and she shakes her head speechlessly as she recalls the months she was stuck at home while her classmates kept learning.
The 17-year-old Form Four girl at Thyolo Secondary School experienced a grueling two-year struggle to raise school fees since her parents died before she turned three-years-old.
"My past makes me emotional because I lost both parents when I was a baby and was told only when I was in Standard Seven," she says.
"That left me unable to pay school fees. I wouldn't be in school today if UNICEF didn't give me a scholarship. My education is back on track."
Royce grew up with her maternal aunt who hardly yields enough maize to feed the family to the next harvest.
“With what I have gone through the last couple of years, I would have been out of school, married and having one or two babies by now," she says.
Royce is one of 32 girls at Thyolo secondary school who receive educational support from Lawrence O'Donnell's Kids In Need of Desk Fund (K.I.N.D) through UNICEF.
The fundraising initiative founded by the host of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell has provided scholarships to more than 6,500 needy girls to help keep them in secondary school until they complete it and reach their full potential.
The scholarship package they receive include school fees, uniforms, shoes, socks, bags, notebooks, hardcovers, calculators, mathematical tools and other essentials for their education.
Clad in her school shoes, black skirt and white blouse, Royce feels equal to her privileged peers at the school surrounded by picturesque tea fields.
"I'm just happy to be here. The scholarship has lessened my worries. It has given me the confidence to work hard and complete school. I dream to become a nurse to help the sick and beat poverty," she narrates.
Royce was at risk of dropping out when she was in Form One as her aunt could not afford her school fees.
While in Form Two, the headteacher informed her that she would receive the complete scholarship with some add-ons.
She explains: "It was the happiest day of my life. I stared at him and pinched myself just to be sure that I wasn't daydreaming. Before the scholarship, every term brought more trouble. I used to arrive late every term and would be sent back home just a few weeks later because I had not paid my fees in full amounts.
“I usually spent more than a month at home because there was no one to provide for me except the same aunt who had earlier failed to provide the money and other basics because her barren maize field cannot produce surplus grain for sale."
Royce no longer spends months out of school. The only other time she spent months at home was from March to September 2020 when schools suddenly closed to reduce the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
"I was disappointed because my education stopped again and I couldn't figure out when schools would safely reopen. I lost half a year, meaning I will spend more than four years in secondary school. I’m happy to be back in school. I can’t wait to go to university and become a nurse," she explains.
The emergency school break confirmed the importance of keeping girls in school to avert early pregnancies and marriages.
After the resumption of classes, the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare reported that 14,000 teen pregnancies and 40,000 child marriages had occurred during the lengthy disruption.
Behind these figures were 10 of Royce's schoolmates, who fell pregnant.
"We are safer in school. While home, I had few hours to study and spent most of the time doing household chores. I had to do without food two days a week. Some boys and girls mistook the school closure for the end of education and started having intimate relationships. Many didn't return to school when classes restarted," she narrates.
UNICEF supported the government to roll out radio programmes so children could keep learning during the school closure.
Royce says the radio helped remind her of what she had learnt before the pandemic and updated on what to expect once it was safe to return to school. However, some learners on the scholarship missed out because of lack of radio receivers and phones and could not afford internet connectivity to access online learning as well.
"Those without access to the radio programmes were left behind as some children from well-off families were learning online while the poor were doing household chores," she explains.
Despite the global push to ensure every child learns, less than half of Malawian girls complete primary school and just one in three proceed to secondary school.
Royce sounded determined to stay in school and go to university to study.
"The scholarship leaves me with no reason to quit school. The only way to repay the people who are assisting me is to work hard, become a reliable citizen and inspire needy girls to dream big," she states.
Isaac Longwe, the headteacher at Thyolo Secondary School, says the scholarships constitute a huge relief for children most likely to drop out without external assistance.
He explains: “For the recipients, the future was bleak because their guardians cannot meet their educational cost needs. We would have lost these girls to teen pregnancies and child marriage which are rampant in Thyolo. When schools suddenly closed due to COVID-19, 10 fell pregnant. The scholarships have given the recipients confidence and hope; they have no excuse to marry or engage in risky behavior.”