Luzily’s Story – Growing up and going to school in rural Malawi
Getting an education in Malawi isn’t easy. Only two in three adults, and one in five 5-9-year-olds are able to read and write. Children, particularly girls, face numerous obstacles including expensive school fees, having to travel long distances to reach schools, and poor sanitation infrastructure. This week we want to share Luzily Chiponde’s story with you. She’s Temwa Malawi’s Communications Officer living in Usisya and was one of the lucky few who has been able to reach University level education in Malawi.
What I learned growing up in rural Nkhata Bay is that there are people out there failing to unlock their full potential because of lack of opportunities and exposure to education. My name is Luzily Chiponde. I am a Malawian, born and raised in the rural Northern part of Malawi, Nkhata Bay District. Nkhata Bay is beautiful and blessed with a lake and mountains, hence the common economic activity in my area is fishing.
Growing up, my house was a few meters away from Lake Malawi. Me and my 3 brothers would go, swim, wash and play by the lake. We lived with our father and mother. My father was a civil servant working with Nkhata Bay district council, my mother was a housewife, our livelihood was quite comfortable.
Today, I want to share a story of what I experienced after the death of my father when I went to live with my grandmother in Kapilizama, one of the hardest to reach areas of Nkhata Bay. After his death, we went to live with my grandmother and my Cousin Ruth. Their village is very far away from town, a very mountainous place, with no electricity, no water supply, no hospital, no nothing. Well, except for one school, Kachenga primary school, which was 30 kilometers away from her house. We would cross three rivers to get to school. I was in standard 3 and my cousin Ruth was in standard 8. We would leave very early in the morning and return very late, tired and hungry. During the rainy season we would go by boat and reach school premises late and wet. When the rain was too much we failed to go to school.
I remember sometimes refusing to go to school because of the distance. Almost all my peers were not attending school. Upper classes would only have less than 10 children in a year. The whole school of 8 classes had only 3 teachers, teaching all the eight classes in a day and only 4 school blocks. The remaining classes were learning under a tree and during the rainy season we would combine classes.
There were more boys than girls in the school. In my class there were 14 girls and 29 boys while in my cousin’s class, Standard 8 there were only 2 girls and 6 boys.
Walking to and from school with Ruth was fun. Because she always had money to buy mandasi (flitters) and chigumu (African Cake). She would stop mostly on our way back from school to talk with older men and I would be waiting for her in the shade. The men would give her money which we used to buy flitters and African cake along the way.
Unfortunately, Ruth did not sit for her Primary School Leaving Exams because she got pregnant. One of the men who was giving her money on our way to school got her pregnant and denied responsibility. Out of our 7 classmates who sat the exams only 3 were selected to go to secondary school. The only remaining girl in her class was selected to Likoma secondary school but she couldn’t enrol because she wasn’t able to pay the school fees. Of the other 2 boys only one continued with his secondary school education at a nearby secondary school while the other one joined his father fishing as a way to earn money.
We had limited aspirations because teaching was the only profession we knew and the fish business was more profitable as far as making money in the area was concerned. I couldn’t go back to school to continue my standard 4 because I had no one to go with as Ruth was heavily pregnant with her child and I felt unsafe walking the huge distance on my own.
One day, my grandmother’s brother from Enukweni visited us. He was a pastor of the Presbyterian church. He took me along upon his return. I went to stay with him in another remote area. But this remoteness was better because the place had a school nearby a hospital, even tap water. Thanks to this change, I passed my Primary School Leaving Exams with flying colours. I was selected to go to a boarding Secondary School at Ekwendeni Girls School. There I completed my Secondary School with best results and I was selected to go to Chancellor College, the University of Malawi to study communications.
When I went back to Kapilizama in 2019. I discovered that all my peers had children and were either married once or twice or divorced. One thing was common amongst them, they had more responsibility than ever but inadequate support for their families.
When I joined Temwa as an Assistant Communication Officer, I was very happy to learn that Temwa is working hard to reach remote areas in Nkhata Bay to address these challenges that the communities face.
Temwa built a girl’s hostel at Usisya Secondary School to allow girls to stay closer to school premises and prevent them from being vulnerable to men on their long walk to school, thereby addressing the challenge of child pregnancies, school dropout, and lack of concentration in school. The hostel is well furnished and has electricity so the girls can study and have a greater chance of completing their education with flying colours.
Temwa also supports both primary and secondary schools with reading materials, like school books. The organisation also pays school fees for vulnerable children thereby increasing opportunities to quality education and improving the well being of the people in remote areas of Nkhata Bay.
I was lucky enough to have my grandfather to support me and now many communities have Temwa. My employment into the organisation also is of great value to me, now that I can give back to the community that raised me.