Monday, 2 April 2018

School Girls Speak Out Against Forced Marriages In Rural Areas

Katete-based alangizi Dorothy Mwale teaching teenage mothers
in Mnyamadzi area of Katete. - Picture by Paul Shalala
By Paul Shalala

If you live in town, issues of early or forced marriages may not matter much to you.

This is because in urban areas, it is rare to hear a child of 13 or 15 years being forced into marriage by her parents.

But in rural areas, it is very common to see juveniles falling pregnant and being forced into marriage.

As a child, growing up in rural Mumbwa, I saw these things and it was normal at the time.

By the time I was going to Mumbwa High School for Grade 10 in the year 2000, most of my Primary School classmates at Kasalu Basic School were already in marriage.

These are friends who were below the age of 18 and today when I go back to the village, I find them with 3 to 5 children each.

This was normal to me because it was part of the community I grew up in.

Seeing what early marriage and teenage pregnancy does to children in rural areas, i teamed up with friends to help fight this vice

Early last year, we sent a grant proposal to the United States government under its Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund to start a project to help bring back girls to school.

Lucky enough, the proposal was accepted and we embarked on implementing it in November 2017.

Last month, I embarked on a marathon five day tour of Pemba District in Southern Province and Katete District in Eastern Province where my fellow Mandela Washington Fellows and I are running the US-funded Nileleni Project.
Teenage mothers in Pemba show off the reusable sanitary
pads after being trained how to make them

The $22,000 initiative is being implemented by Evans Nsooka (in Katete), Nangamba Chintu (in Pemba) and myself to help bring back 10,000 girls back to school.

In this one year project, we are working with traditional leaders, religious leaders, traditional counselors (alangizi) and schools to bring back girls who have been married off.

For those girls who are currently in school, we are encouraging them to continue with school even if they fall pregnant.

Using the Ministry of General Education’s Re-Entry Policy, we want girls to finish school despite them being pregnant, married off or lacking sponsorship. 

Pemba

Pemba is a newly created district which was initially part of Choma.

The district is predominantly rural with most people involved in agriculture.

Here, early marriages and pregnancies among teenagers are common.

The Nileleni Project set base in the area late last year and started the process of engaging the girls.
Nangamba Chintu interviewing Headwoman
Kalyengu (left) of Muzoka area

2016 Mandela Washington Fellow Nangamba Chintu is the implementer of the project in Pemba.

Ms Chintu, who is also Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) Pemba District Information Officer, has gone an extra mile in bringing various stakeholders together to bring back girls to school.

“We have made a lot of progress here in Pemba. Many people have bought the idea of the girl child going back to school. This is so encouraging. We have so far reached 359 girls and brought back eight girls to school and retrieved one from forced marriage,” said Ms Chintu.

One of the traditional leaders who has been co-opted in the campaign is Mary Kalyengu, the Headwoman for Kalyengu Village in Muzoka area of Pemba District.

Headwoman Kalyengu says as traditional leaders, they have been encouraging parents to take back their children to school in order for them to upgrade their education.

“In my village, we have many girls who are dropping out of school due to pregnancies. But under the Nileleni Project, we are now working with parents to ensure that these girls go back to school,” said Headwoman Kalyengu in an interview.

At Pemba Primary School, a number of girls have go back to school.

One who delivered a baby eleven months ago is back in Grade eight while another who dropped out of school two years ago is also back in Grade nine.

But 17 year old Jane Moono (not real names) has an interesting story of what courage can do to a girl who is determined to make it in life.
The Nileleni Team meeting alangizi in Muzoka
 area of Pemba District



Jane narrates that after passing her Grade nine examinations last year in Namwala District, her parents organized a forced marriage for her after failing to find school fees for her to proceed to Grade 10.

“My parents brought this man to our house. It was my first time to see him. They told me he is my husband and they asked me to pack all my belongings and follow him to his house,” she said while sobbing.

Jane says she walked with the man to his house and he took her to the kitchen.

“He told me that since I was the second wife, I would be sleeping in the kitchen. He then left me and walked to his father’s village where he invited his relatives to come and see me. But before he could come back, I ran away and found my way to Pemba.”

The girl now lives at an orphanage in Pemba and she is one of a dozen girls under the Nileleni Project who are scheduled to return to school in the second term, somewhere in May.

“I’m still young and I love school. I can’t get married at my age,” insisted Jane.

But 22 year old Charity Chimbwali, a mother of two, is a shining example of a married young lady who can defy village norms and go back to school.

Charity is married but when alangizi visited her, she decided to seek permission from her husband to continue with school.
Braison Mweemba escorting his wife
Charity to school

“I dropped out of school a long time ago. But recently, my husband allowed me to go back to school and today am in Grade 10 at Muzoka Secondary School,” she said.

Her husband Braison Mweemba, also of Muzoka area in Pemba, says his friends laugh at him for allowing his wife to go back to school.

Mr Mweemba says people have been teasing him that once she gets educated, his wife will desert him.

“As you can see, am not educated, I stopped school at Primary School level but I want my wife to finish secondary school and get a degree. Maybe she will take care of me and our children,” said Mr Mweemba in an interview.

Apart from just taking these girls back to school, traditional counsellors in Pemba are also equipping them with skills to make reusable sanitary pad.

This is because pads are inaccessible in rural areas.

“We have taught these girls to make reusable sanitary pads. They make enough of these pads for themselves and sale others to raise money for school fees,” said Nyuma Mahachi, the senior alangizi in Muzoka area.

On average, girls miss school for 2 to 4 days a month due to lack of sanitary pads but with the coming of the reusable pads which they are being taught to make, schools are recording a reduction in absenteeism among girls.

Muzoka Primary School has seen a number of its female pupils take part in the making of reusable sanitary pads.
Nyuma Mahachi demonstrating how a
reusable sanitary pad is made

Authorities there say the use of these pads has made a significant change in school girls coming for class.

“We have noticed in the recent past that very few girls stay home because of menstruation. These pads have really reduced absenteeism here,” said Muzoka Primary School Headteacher Sebastian Chifwala.

All this work is done by a group of women whose passion for a brighter future for the girls burns every day in their hearts.

The alangizi walk on foot from one village to another to talk to parents whose children have dropped out of school.

Sometimes they cover as much as 30 kilometers a day to do this voluntary job.

“We owe the success of this project to the alangizi and the traditional leaders here in Pemba. These people are so dedicated, they do not get paid but they have sacrificed a lot to ensure that girls go back to school,” said Ms Chintu.

Katete
Malita Banda at home with her one year old son

18 year old Malita Banda of Keni Village in Katete District has a very disturbing story.

She says her parents withdrew her from school and forced her to get married to a man who paid them a pair of blankets popularly known as Puma.

“I lived in an abusive marriage. My husband used to beat me all the time. When I ask him for money to grind mealie meal, he used to beat me. When I tell him that soap for the baby is finished, he used to beat me. I used to get beaten every day,” said Malita.

Malita says on two occasions, she ran away from the matrimonial home and went back to her parents’ house but they forced her to return.

After more beatings, she left the marriage and returned to her father’s house and early this year, she met Dorothy Mwale, one of the leading alangizi who are working with girls who have dropped out of school.

Malita has a one year old baby boy with her former husband.

Malita Banda in class at Kanjeza
Primary School 
“Aunt Dorothy told me about the Nileleni Project and I got interested. She guided me, took me back to Kanjeza Primary School where I enrolled. And now, am back in Grade 8,” she said while smiling.

This blogger visited Malita in class.

“I want to finish school and become a doctor. I want to help people who are sick.”

Malita is not the only one who has come back to school this year at Kanjeza Primary School.

“Every year we have girls who drop out. Last year, six girls dropped out of school due to marriages and pregnancies. But the good news this year is that so far, 10 girls are back in class and we are happy,” said Bernard Phiri the Headteacher at Kanjeza Primary School.

Across Katete District, more girls have gone back to school with the help of the Nileleni Project.

Chieftainess Kawaza of the Chewa speaking people in Katete is one of the local opinion leaders who have been instrumental in bringing back girls to school.

The traditional leader has been ensuring that girls who are forced into married are sent back home to continue with school.

“So far, we have 306 girls who are now back in class. Further, we have another 54 girls who were married and with the help of World Vision and the Nileleni Project, they are now in school,” said Chieftainess Kawaza when this blogger and the Nileleni Project team visited her palace in Kagoro area of Katete.
Chieftainess Kawaza during the interview at her
palace in Kagoro area of Katete

World Vision is a partner in the implementation of the Nileleni Project in Katete.

2016 Mandela Washington Fellow Evans Nsooka is an employee of World Vision and he is the lead implementer of the project in the area.

“The project is moving on well here. We have the support of many traditional leaders, alangizi and teachers who are helping us identify girls who need to go back to school,” said Mr Nsooka.

He also revealed that from time to time, the Nileleni Project sends teams of alangizi and health workers to far flung areas to teach young mothers and girls how to safeguard their lives as well as knowing the challenges that are associated with teenage pregnancies.

The Nileleni Project is in the process of rolling out the production of reusable sanitary pads in Katete.

Conclusion

The Nileleni Project targets to reach 10,000 girls in both Pemba and Katete Districts before the project comes to an end in September this year.

The Nileleni Team poses with the Mphangwe FM Station
 Manager after securing airtime for radio programmes 
This goal is expected to be met through face to face meetings, home visits, media coverage and church meetings.

In both districts, the Nileleni implementation team has engaged community media to help sensitise both girls and parents on the need for learners to go back to school.

In Pemba, Chikuni Community Radio station will carry live weekly programs on the Nileleni Project for 10 weeks starting this week.

And in Katete, Mphangwe FM will also carry similar programs for nine weeks starting this week.

The two radio stations are the most listened to media in the two communities.

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