I’m just back from a truly inspiring trip to our Team Girl Malawi project. Dozens of young women, some with babies, parents and village leaders treated us to a light-hearted drama about the importance of saving money and not listening to the intoxicating medicine man. Though he promises untold riches, don’t be fooled – the only way to business success is hard work and saving.
The project, funded by UK Aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge, supports 5,250 marginalised girls (those with disabilities, young mothers and wives, heads of households, or orphans) and 1,050 boys aged between 10 and 19 years, who have never been to school or dropped out early, to first gain functional literacy and numeracy skills, before supporting them to engage in vocational training (sewing or hairdressing) or entrepreneurship training with access to a Village Savings and Loan group.
They were an impressive group. The girls demonstrated great confidence in speaking and acting in front of a crowd, and the sewing group showed off their amazing garments and shared that with their profits from selling uniforms and sanitary pads they had managed to buy two machines.
Neither of these skills would have been possible, first without working hard to learn how to read, write and count whilst developing the confidence and determination to choose their next pathway (midway impact has shown an 88% increase in reading, 86% increase in maths and 83% increase in life skills), and second without the steadfast support of the structures around them.
The Village Chief was an old sage with a great smile and evidently had the respect of all. He said, “It’s our responsibility to take what you [TEAM Girl Malawi] have brought us and drive it forward”. He was an inspiration and clearly cared deeply for his community. The District Steering Committee was another impressive support structure with officers from education, inclusion, youth, gender, social welfare and planning sectors, as well as the police, who regularly gather to discuss successes and challenges, and importantly how to overcome them. They demonstrated clearly how local problems can (and should) be solved by local solutions such as tackling child marriage by sensitising parents, ensuring the girls knew their rights and establishing an effective child protection reporting mechanism.
The impact of this project is broad, from an increase in community volunteerism to a deeper understanding of the rights of children with disabilities to an education. One participant said the project had been an “eye-opener, showing us what can be achieved when everyone pulls together.”
Challenges still exist - poverty is the overriding barrier to more progress. But now these girls and boys have options. They can read and write, can set up a business or get married – but the point is they have a choice and the skills and knowledge to make a safe choice for the good of their own future, and that of their children. The collaboration of those around them who communicate well to solve problems and are committed to their community will ensure these benefits last.