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Choosing education over early marriage

LILONGWE, Malawi- Two years ago, Ms. Hawa Jawada was living a happy life with her family at their home village in Salima district, Malawi. Her husband was a well-known painter and he had many customers within Salima and in the capital, Lilongwe.

To supplement their income, Ms. Jawada and her husband grew different crops in their family farm a few kilometers’ from their village.  However, things came to a head when her husband was involved in a car accident, which left him with serious head injuries.


Ms. Jawadi with her daughter Mariata who is now back in scool after
giving birth. UNFPA/J.Scott

“My husband was our main bread winner,” says Ms. Jawada, a mother of eight. “But now with his injuries, he can’t do painting anymore or help with farming. I have to take care of the family alone and it has been very tough as I have a big family.”

Poverty forcing girls out of school

The change of fortunes for the family had a big impact on Ms. Jawada’s children. Relying on farming meant having an income only after harvesting their crops and selling the little surplus. Her children who used to have all, now had barely nothing.

“It was very difficult, especially for my girls as they had grown up in town having all the basics but now struggling in the village,” she says.

One of her girls, Mariata, got pregnant when he fell in love with a local boy who promised to marry her. By then, she was only 17 and in form two.

The family of the boy owned up the responsibility and offered to have a formal marriage arranged but Ms. Jawada, although struggling, couldn’t have any of it.

“I knew Mariata had made a mistake but I couldn’t give her away for marriage at that tender age,” she says. “I wanted her to go back to school after delivering the baby.”

But for Mariata, marriage was the only option to escape the pangs of poverty gnawing at her family. She couldn’t think of abandoning all the nice things her boyfriend was giving her to return to the life of destitute student.

No to early marriage

At first, Mariata refused to listen to her mother’s counsel but was later convinced when she visited a UNFPA supported youth friendly corner in her village.

“None of my friends’ new I was pregnant,” she says. “So, one day I joined them to a youth friendly centre for a counselling session. That day, the talk was about the importance of education and they brought a nurse from the facility.


Mariata's mother takes care of the baby as she continues with her studies
©UNFPA Malawi/ J.Scott

“She told us on how she became pregnant as a teen and later on went ahead with her education after giving birth. This changed my thinking and I went home and told my mother that I didn’t want marriage anymore.”

The youth friendly centre is one of the 53 supported by UNFPA with funding from the Government of Norway under the Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE). In Senga Bay, the centre offers youth friendly information and services to in and out school adolescents from surrounding areas.

When Mariata returned home, she told her mother of her decision. Since then, she has never looked back. Now, Mariata is back in school after giving birth and is in form three.

“I visit the centre every weekend to meet my friends and discuss how we can better our lives through education,” says Mariata. “Sometimes when I face situations I can’t handle, I visit the youth friendly centre to meet our counselor for advice. This has helped me to stay focused with my education.”

Although things haven’t improved at Mariata’s home, her mother has been the hero as she doubles as a bread winner and also takes care of her baby while is at school.

“I don’t mind taking care of the baby as long as she goes to school,” says Hawa. “I want her to be educated and be better off than me as I didn’t go far with my education.”

 

Bright future for Mariata

Having learnt life’s lessons, the hard way, Mariata now dreams of becoming a teacher. She says she wants to be a role model for the many youths in her village who don’t go to school after dropping out for various reasons.

“We have so many youths being idle in our village,” she says. “If I work hard to become a teacher, probably they may get motivated to go back to school. Most think education is not important as we don’t have many educated and successful people in our community.”

By Joseph Scott, Communications Office