Dubai Cares project helps teenage girls in Malawi back to school

School re-enrollment rates have doubled in six months since Dubai Cares launched a pilot project to help young women in Malawi return to the classroom.

Teenager Promise Fondale, 19, with son Matthews, 3, is returning to school thanks to funding from Dubai Cares. Courtesy Sara Al Boom
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THYOLO, MALAWI // School re-enrolment rates have doubled in six months since Dubai Cares launched a pilot project to help teenage girls go back to the classroom in a Malawian village.

The Dh1.8 million programme is being expanded across the region this month, as part of a two-year education project funded by the UAE charity.

It is not only helping teenagers in Khwethemule but also helping improve the lives of older women who did not finish their studies due to unplanned pregnancies, ill health or poverty.

Emily Michongwe, 22, dropped out of education at 14 and left her village when she was promised schooling and a live-in cleaning job by a family living in nearby Blantyre, the capital of the southeast African country.

The promised education never materialised and she was instead forced to work long hours for little or no pay.

Ms Michongwe managed to escape and return to her village after six months but then became pregnant to a visiting businessman.

She returned to her studies in September thanks to the work of Dubai Cares and local NGOs.

“I was being exploited, and told I had to work,” she said. “The couple wouldn’t let me leave, even when I said I wanted to go home. My only option then was to get married and have a child.

“The village has motivated me to go back to school, particularly as my father has had a stroke so cannot work.”

Promise Fondale dropped out of Nagwengwere Community School when she became pregnant at 16 and abandoned hope of becoming a nurse.

She has returned to education thanks, in part, to a village forum established with the help of investment from Dubai Cares, encouraging the re-enrollment of teenage mothers.

“When my father found out I was pregnant, he shouted at me,” she said. “The father of my child lives far away now, and does not want to see his son or pay me any money to care for him.

“It is not easy to take myself back to class as my parents are poor.

“There is a nursing college nearby where I would like to train but I can only do that after I have finished school.”

School fees work out at about US$20 (Dh73) a year, a big expense for a low-income family in rural Khwethemule.

The village forum has offered to pay her fees, with Dubai Cares paying for facilitators to work alongside NGO Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation to encourage more girls to return to education by accessing such grants.

Other low-interest loans are being offered from a collective village fund to pay for houses, or goats to offer an income to the poorest families through livestock farming.

The charity is pushing more education classes so girls can learn English and advocacy to encourage gender equality.

Parents who allow their teenage daughters to fall pregnant can now be fined under new bylaws encouraged by charity workers to stop them abandoning their studies, although fines are often in livestock, rather than money.

Mwandida Khozamba, 21, left school at 13 due to ill health and never returned. She became pregnant last year and gave up on school until her village said it could now help pay for her fees.

“I started school late and was then chronically ill for many years. I missed a lot of classes, fell behind and then dropped out,” she said.

“I would like to be able to work so I can look after my family. I know I need to go to school so I can get a good job at the hospital. I want to be an independent woman and not rely on anyone else.”

A Dubai Cares-funded local NGO - Engaging Communities and Schools in Support of Adolescent Girls in Malawi - spoke to Ms Khozamba’s mother and encouraged her to help her return to school. She went back to classes in September.