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DEDZA, Malawi - For the past three years, Lusita Maikolo has been in and out of school. Her parents could not manage to pay her school fees regularly, and this led to her being excluded and missing entire periods of learning.
The 17-year-old girl never gave up. During the time she was home and out of school, Lusita would help on the family farm. And after harvest season, they would sell some of their surplus crops to pay the balance of the outstanding school fees. She struggled to catch up on studies after missing time at school, and she was falling behind and at risk of being left behind despite her efforts.
“Staying at home working for long periods made me fall behind in learning,” says Lusita, who attends Katewe community day secondary school. “However, I was always determined to continue with the next class as I didn’t want to lose out on education completely.”
Poverty drives harmful practices

UNFPA is supporting students at Katewe who live in risk of dropping school due to early marriages or pregnancies ©UNFPA/Luis Tato©UNFPA/Luis Tato

Lusita also feared falling into the same trap her sister did. A year before completing her secondary education, she dropped out of school as her parents failed to pay the fees. She stayed at home for an entire school year and finally decided to get married.
“She always talked of being a professional,” she recalls, “but now she is a mother of two, struggling to make ends meet with an unemployed husband.”
Lusita’s determination was rewarded when she was selected as one of the beneficiaries of a bursary scheme supported by the UNFPA and Korea International Cooperation Agency as part of the project to support adolescent girls and teenage mothers.
Education is a game-changer
Her bursary covers school fees, which are crucial to ensure Lusita can focus on her education. Additional support is also available for her school uniform, shoes, note books, and pens.

Lusita and her friends attend a class at Katewe Community Day Secondary School in Katewe near Dedza, ©UNFPA/Luis Tato

She is one of the 45 disadvantaged girls in Dedza and Mchinji districts to be selected as part of the scheme. Lusita beams “My school performance has improved since I was selected, and now I have more time to concentrate on my studies.”
So far, Katewe secondary school has three girls on the bursary scheme. Another beneficiary, Tapiwa Penuel says she wishes the scheme started some time back.
“I lost a lot of time loafing at home because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my school fees,” she says. “Although I tried to study on my own, I couldn’t understand most of the material. I needed to be guided by the teachers.”
Tapiwa is now on course to finish her secondary school education and she has big dreams. “I want to be journalist,” she says emphatically. “Ever since I was young, I have dreamed about this career. And now that I have a helping hand to finish my studies, I will work to make my dream come true.”

Tapiwa Panuel, a student supported by UNFPA poses for a portrait at Katewe Community Day Secondary School in Katewe near Dedza, Malawi ©UNFPA/Luis Tato

Mr. Macdonald Chinkombelo, who is the Deputy Headmaster at Katewe, believes the scheme is a game-changer for these girls.
“It’s worrying that some bright young girls see their dreams cut short because they come from a poor background. The bursary scheme helps them finish their secondary school and concentrate on education as a pathway, not marriage or having children.”

Education is a crucial catalyst for change for young girls. Access to girls and boys to primary level education has increased exponentially in Malawi since the introduction of compulsory primary education in 1994. Increased enrolment and a reduction in dropout rates are major markers of progress towards providing for an inclusive education system.

However, many challenges persist including low enrolment rates at secondary levels, large class rooms that average 60 students per teacher and the low quality of teaching resources. Girls are also more likely than boys to drop out of school in Malawi. Poverty, unpaid domestic work in the home and harmful practices including underage marriage and teenage pregnancy are key drivers of adolescent girls leaving school before completing the primary certificate.
Joseph Scott, Communications Analyst