Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Mieke Mmeya
Some time ago I received a visit from Grace and Mercy (not their real names), two of my friends from my community. Grace is a cousin to my host sisters and was the one who introduced me to all the interesting spots in the community, while I got to know Mercy through Grace. Grace is in Standard 8 (Grade 8) while Mercy is in Form 3 (Grade 9). I like hanging out with Grace because she always has funny yet insightful stories that are helpful whenever I am feeling stressed. However, on this particular visit, she was beside her usual cheerful self and I assumed it was because she felt awkward since this was her first time visiting my house.
The three of us engaged in polite conversation to cover up the awkwardness we were now all feeling due to the silence. However, things got interesting when I asked the girls how they were coping with their schoolwork, to which Grace gravely replied: “Sindikufuna kumamvaso chilichonse chokhuzana ndi za sukulu panopa” (I do not want to hear anything concerning school right now). Mercy and I laughed a little at this but something in Grace’s face and tone told me that she was serious. When I asked her why she said: “Mmene zililimu nthawi ikupita ndipo munthune ndikukula. Akatsegula ma sukulu sindikalemba nawo mayeso” (As it is now time is passing and I am growing older. When they open schools, I will not sit for the primary school-leaving certificate examinations (PSLCE)).
Her answer threw me off completely but I understood where her frustrations were coming from because she is repeating Standard 8 and she worked very hard this year so that she could proceed to Form 1. The reason her answer threw me off was that I realized that she had taken a life-altering decision and it was my responsibility to convince her not to go through with it.
Instead of going through the motions and talking about the importance of education, the three of us talked about the stress the girls were going through due to the indefinite closure of schools and Grace opened up to tell us about how insecure she feels whenever she sees classmates from her previous school year (she had to enroll at a school in the next community because she could not bear to watch them attend secondary school while she was still in primary school).
In the course of the conversation, I asked Grace what she planned on doing after dropping out of school and she laughed nervously. She had clearly not considered the implications of her decision.
One of the reasons she hates the closure of schools is that she is now required to help out at the farm all day long. It finally hit her that dropping out of school means that this will most likely become her routine for the rest of her life since she will greatly lower her prospects to pursue other careers. By the end of the conversation, Grace was back to her usual self and she reiterated the plans she had for her PSLCE holiday.
As I was escorting the girls home, she was happily talking about how her parents will sell their cows to send her to the university and expressed hope that at this time I would have gotten a job that would allow me to also support her throughout university. This statement makes me very happy because it shows that not only will Grace sit for the PSLCE, but her dream has gotten bigger and she is excited to undertake the journey to make it come true.