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May 2017: Fridah Mwenya is realizing her potential

By Precious Mumbi Habeenzu

© UNICEF/Zambia/2017/Habeenzu
Fridah Mwenya at the April 2017 Lusaka Internship placement.

31 May 2017 – Fridah Mwenya is the fifth born from a family of six in Mungwi district and is one of the selected participants currently on internship in Lusaka as part of the Zambian Girls’ 2030 Initiative program dubbed Realizing my Potential. At only 17 years of age and in Grade 12, Fridah has achieved more than she ever dreamed possible by this age and she is the vice head girl at Musenga Day Secondary School in Mungwi district.

Girls’ dropout from Grade 7 onwards is notably almost twice the rate of boys, with the rate spiking at Grade 9 at 5 per cent (versus 2.5 per cent for their male peers). This highlights the emerging challenges for adolescent girls in attending, progressing and learning, which all become even more poignant in later years. This in turn impacts learning outcomes, with just over half (54.3 per cent) of girls obtaining a final Grade 12 school certificate (59.3 per cent of boys) which is why girls like Fridah are proud to have made it to Grade 12 at such an age.

With a daily 9km walk between school and home, Fridah’s day begins at 4am if she has to make it in time for her first class which starts at seven in the morning. “It takes me more than an hour to walk to school and because my parents are unable to afford school fees or bus fare for me and my 10 year old brother, the walk seems short because I have someone to talk to along the way.” Fridah’s family solely depend on her mother’s small scale farming activities while her father is blind and unable to work.

Skills and interactions

“I have learnt so much from Restless Development, starting with the Kasama Camp. For instance, I am now able to save money and I have taught my mother how to save too no matter how small the amount; I have learnt about the re-entry policy which I was only learning about for the first time. I have also learnt how to behave, plan my studies as a pupil and finally I am able to conduct research,” Fridah shares.

During her internship placement with Zesco, Fridah shares her interactions with high profile women in positions of authority yet coming from rural areas such as her own. “While at Zesco, I was able to connect with women who started off like me from villages such as mine and now they have high positions and have made it big,” she excitedly shares. This experiences was shared with her peers and family and this has motivated her to work even harder in school.

The Lusaka experience

“Firstly, this is my first time to visit the capital city of Zambia and during my time in Lusaka, I have had the rarest opportunity to attend parliament! Imagine me in Parliament. I have come to learn more about how Parliamentarians make rules which guide us and of the 167 seats, the Speaker runs the show while all the Ministers take up front row seats,” she shares. “I was shocked at the high number of female parliamentarians and one day, that will be me.”

Plans for the future?

“I would like to be a journalist because I want to interact with society as a whole and educate them on matters of national interest. I was motivated to make this decision especially after my placement at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) where I met and interacted with journalists such as Kabeke Banda, Golden Mukelebai, Masuzyo Ndhlovu and the Director General himself.”

Message to peers?

“My simple message is to encourage girls to concentrate in school and remain focused whilst having confidence to study as an opportunity because this is the secret to performing well in school. In other words, if you study, you do well in school.”

Fridah equally attributes success in school as being able to select good friends especially for girls her age who are easily influenced. “Girls should pick friends with care and learn to be assertive as well as know consequences of an action before they take it,” she says.

Improving the quality of education in Zambia

Zambian Girls 2030 is a programme of entrepreneurship, financial literacy, career guidance, and corporate mentoring aimed at empowering adolescent Zambian girls. The Government of the Republic of Zambia with support from UNICEF and other development partners, renewed its commitment to improve the quality of education in the Revised Sixth National Development Plan (R-SNDP). UNICEF Zambia, with support from the UK NATCOM, is supporting the development and implementation of this program managed by its implementing partner, Restless Development. Girls such as Fridah have been identified to participate and use this as an exposure learning experience.

Habeenzu is a Communications Officer with UNICEF Zambia.



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