Bernadetta happily back in school at Nambiti Primary School
In July 2021, Creative Centre for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM) through the Girls Get Equal (GGE)-Nzotheka Project conducted a psychosocial support training workshop targeting mother group members at Nambiti Primary School in Phalombe district. This was a two-day training but it was enough to revive the dying hope for a bright future of a 15-year-old Bernadetta Magawa who had dropped out of school in 2020, a year before the training. Bernadetta who hails from Sapayi Village, Group Village Headman Mwala, Traditional Authority Nazombe, dropped out of school due to early pregnancy when she was in Standard 7. She is one of the 19 girls that dropped out of school due to various preseasons including early pregnancies, child marriages and poverty, but have been readmitted at Nambiti Primary School following interventions by the mother group between 2021 and 2022.
Born in a family of four children, Bernadertta is the second born but the eldest among the girls in her family. The fist born is a boy and the rest are girls. Bernadetta’s younger sisters looked up to her as a leader and a model as she progressed well in her primary education from standard 1 up to standard 6. Nevertheless, things started to get sour when she reached standard 7 where peer pressure led Benardetta into a different life style full of wrong decisions. “I used to admire my friends who had money from their boyfriends while it was hard for me to have money since I come from a poor family. I later on found a boyfriend too so that he could be giving me money to be like my friends.” Bernadetta narrated.
A few months after getting into a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, Bernadetta became pregnant while aged only 14 and eventually dropped out of school to resort to early marriage with the boy. However, the boy refused to marry her and neither accepted the responsibility of her pregnancy. As a young girl, guilt and shame depressed her and she never saw the light again at the end of the tunnel for her future. Life became hard at home, as she struggled with her parents to afford quality maternal care while her classmates proceeded with school. She had set a wrong example to her younger sisters and other girls who looked up to her in the village. However, just when she thought her future had been permanently ruined, the Mother Group intervened and provided her with psychosocial support.
“We were taught by CRECCOM during the Nzotheka training that we ought to proactively support girls’ education in our community, and that means even helping dropouts to be readmitted to school according to the government’s policy,” explained Patricia Matelecheya, who is the chairperson of the mother group. “We then heard from the school that Bernadetta dropped out and we visited her home to talk with her parents… We encouraged them to plan for her readmission once she delivers and we also counselled Bernadetta herself to stay determined that it is possible to go back to school for a brighter future.” Matelecheya continued. The mother group visited and counselled Bernadetta several times and she made up her mind to go back to school.
Bernadetta is now back to school to proceed from standard 7 as her mother helps her to raise her baby at home. As trained by CRECCOM, the mother group still provides psychosocial support to her and other readmitted girls in order to help them stay determined and focused on education. “When I got back to school, some younger girls could make fan of me but my peers and older girls welcomed me and never made me feel bad in anyway” Bernadetta testified. According to her teacher, Beatrice Gama who is also the matron for girls at the school, teachers work hand in hand with the mother group in providing psychosocial support to the readmitted girls as a sustainability measure to keep them in school while mentally healthy for learning. “Bernadetta is a brilliant learner and this is her first term after the readmission… being her class teacher, I am impressed with her performance because so far in all her tests, she has been scoring above 70%.” Gama commented proudly.
Bernadetta now works hard in school and refrains from sexual relationships. According to her, she would like to finish school at tertiary level and become financially independent to support herself and her child. She is an example of many other girls who have benefited from the Keeping Girls in School component of the NORAD-funded Girls Get Equal (Nzotheka) project, which is being implemented by CRECCOM in partnership with PLAN International.