Girls on the Move Secondary School is a symbol of hope for girls from poor families in Malawi. The school is free and welcomes young girls who would traditionally be forced to marry.
“My parents could not afford to pay my school tuition…because they are poor and don’t work,” said Emily Galenta, a student at the school.
“They are only peasant farmers who don’t earn enough,” she added.
In the southeastern African nation, more than half of young girls are married before they complete secondary school.
Memory Chazeza Mdyetseni began the school after she resisted relatives’ pressure to marry following the death of her parents.
Three years later, the uncle who paid for her education died, and she went to live with her grandfather.
“I was the only girl in the village, and when I asked where the other girls were, I was told they were all married. And in this small village, the expectation was that I was the next girl to get married,” she said.
Mdyetseni began working as a volunteer teacher in an all-girls secondary school that had just opened near her village. She became friends with a volunteer teacher from Canada who raised enough money to pay Mdyetseni’s college tuition.
After receiving a degree in Bible studies, Mdyetseni and her Canadian friend, Christie Johnson, discussed the idea of starting an all-girls secondary school.
“It’s such an achievement (for) a girl child,” she said, adding that a girl with an education has many more opportunities.
The school gets most of it funding from Rotary Clubs in Canada, where Johnson now lives. More than 800 girls have gone through the school’s program since 2007. Some are now working as teachers while others have gone on to universities.
Manesi Samuel, a graduate, said that without the school she would be married to a subsistence farmer and have several children – a life she did not want.
Instead, Samuel studied economics at the University of Oklahoma in the United States. She plans to start an organization that will bring employment to her village.
Recently, financial problems have forced the school to enroll some students who pay tuition.
Mdyetseni plans to open a few more schools using the same model. Someday she dreams of opening colleges for Malawi girls.
I’m Susan Shand.