The fisherman’s money attracted Lucy Bilifi, (18) of Thendo village, Traditional Authority Masache in Chikhwawa.
Their love was to her advantage since she comes from an impoverished family in where her parents struggled to provide the family with basic needs let alone buy her school uniform and other school necessities.
Despite this, she still struggled to get education at Sojeni Primary school some kilometers away from home.
“I was in the same class with my husband but he used to have money from fish sales, he was involved in a family business. I used the money he gave me to buy my daily needs,” Bilifi says, adding that he used to give her K2000 per week.
She fell pregnant immediately after sitting for standard eight examinations and automatically got married.
When the results were released, Bilifi was selected to Sojeni Community Day Secondary School while the husband completely failed and was never bothered.
She failed to go back to school because she had to take care of the baby and new family.
District Youth Officer for Chikhwawa, Baldwin Mkumbadzala says a baseline survey which the United Nations conducted established that T/A Masache was behind in terms of girls’ education.
“This contributed to the underdevelopment of the area. There were a lot of early marriages and girl school drop outs as a result,” he says.
As a follow up to the survey, UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO and UNESCO introduced a Joint Programme for Adolescent Girls (JPAG) whereby girls through already existing youth networks are encouraged to go back to school after dropping out.
Through the programme, the girls have full scholarship and are provided with school shoes, uniform, notebooks and pens among others and Bilifi happens to be one of the beneficiaries.
After a year of being out of school, she is now in form one at Sojeni CDSS and an ambassador to motivate other girls who dropped out of school.
“I would like to become a teacher so I could educate my community when I finish school,” Bilifi, who likes science and agriculture proudly says.
At the moment, she has managed to motivate five other girls to go back to school.
Bilifi adds: “I’m glad this programme came whilst I have not spent many years out of school. It’s fun to be back in school.”
Nevertheless, she laments that people have been ridiculing her and many other friends who are back in school saying, “they tell us to go back home and take care of our marriages and children.”
Another ambassador, Jane Mike, (17) of Vega Village, T/A Masache in Chikhwawa who dropped out of school to get married says girls need to realize that one gets empowered through education.
“Early marriages are perpetuating violence against women and girls. At least if you are working you could divorce an abusive husband and support the children,” she notes.
Her husband left for South Africa a few years ago and sends no support for her child.
Mike adds that though she is older, she feels it right to go into form 1 to lay a better foundation for her life.
Since 2010, UNFPA, WHO, UNICEF and UNESCO have been executing a Joint UN programme in Malawi on adolescent girls aimed at advancing the rights of adolescent girls.
UNFPA coordinates the programme delivery at the UN level while government and a number of NGOs have been implementing the programme in Chikhwawa and Mangochi.
According to Mkumbadzala, the programme has had education and health components but has recently introduced advocacy component hence the inclusion of Ministry of Information district Information Office.
Through this component, youth groups which Bilifi and Mike belong to have been trained to be producing radio programmes airing the problems they are encountering in their daily lives.
The 50 adolescents will be provided with radios and recorders and their programmes will be aired on selected radio stations since the district does not have a community radio station.
Mkumbadzala says, since the programme started a few years ago, no one has reached tertiary level but some youths who dropped out and cannot go back to school have been trained in electronics, hair dressing, tailoring, carpentry and bakery. These youths were also provided with start up business capital.