There is a saying that “one person’s bone is another’s meat” and I was thinking about that with regard to Join My Village and the work that has been done in the past five years. While some here in Malawi value education and give their full support to those who seek it, others think that with or without education life goes on.
I see these oppositional attitudes every day. A little more than 20 kilometers from the town of Kasungu is the village of Kalimaziche where Join My Village has been working since the project’s inception five years ago. Esther, who is 21 and the mother of a three year old boy, lives here.
Not only do I want to surpass all my family members with education but become a teacher in my community one day. I want also to help girls not to go through the same situation I went through.
Although Esther aspires to be a teacher, she has not had role models close to home. “I have never seen or heard of someone from this village and anyone from the surrounding community living in town just because they are educated and are working somewhere,” she says. In fact, Esther is so determined to become a teacher she re-enrolled in primary school – at the age most would be finishing college.
Going to primary school at a young age can be challenging enough under normal circumstances, but for the single mother of a young child, it is especially so. I asked Esther about her son Dellison’s father, who she met on a market day. Daniel, a grade eight drop out, was selling assorted second hand items which ranged from clothes, toys and shoes at the market. “I can’t remember how I found myself in a secret relationship with him that ended up with us being called a husband and a wife,” says Esther in a shy, regretful voice.
“Some members of the community encouraged me to marry the man while others said I am still young and have to wait. I also had to look at the history of my family and found that not one of my elder sisters and brothers has gone further than grade five in school, I ended up agreeing to marry the man.” Esther’s marriage was without a ceremony because they did not have consent from their parents. “We knew that my parents wouldn’t allow our marriage. We decided that he come to my home at midnight and ring a bicycle bell and I would go with him. So he hid himself in a nearby church waiting for me to come out and that was the beginning,” adds Esther.
As a new couple, and like most of the families in Kasungu, Esther and Daniel began farming to feed themselves and earn a living. They grew Tobacco among other things to earn some money but little did Esther know that it would be the Tobacco money that would snatch her husband away from her and the child. “After our Tobacco sales sheet was out, we agreed that he goes to the bank in town and withdraw the money. But what looked like a day activity ended up becoming more than one month activity. We tried all efforts to find out his whereabouts but none proved fruitful. He disappeared,” Esther confirms.
A new chapter of life begun for Esther and her son that left them with no choice but to fight for their future. “The torture I went through in marriage coupled with the encouragement from Miss Grace Ng’ambi, the new female teacher at Kalimaziche primary school, made me think of going back to school. I realized that I rushed into marriage while still young and uneducated,” says Esther. Esther thought that it is only when she is educated that she can ably support her son and be a role model for him. “I am very thankful to the female teacher who after inspiring me to get back to school, did not want to stop there but continue to mentor me. She also took the responsibility of talking to my fellow students to look at me as one of them and not a mother,” narrates Esther.
According to Esther, at 21 and in grade 8, age does not matter when it comes to school but staying focused is what she believes in. She hopes, with a warm welcome by the teachers and students and the presence of Grace as her role model at Kalimaziche primary school, her dream of becoming a teacher will come true.
Time flies, it is getting sunny here at Kalimaziche village and I have to say good bye to Esther. I ask her if she has anything to say before she quickly chipped in and say; “Not only do I want to surpass all my family members with education but become a teacher in my community one day. I want also to help girls not to go through the same situation I went through.”