12 Oct
  • By Isaac Msiska
  • Cause in

From the ashes rose hope

At age 3 and when she was still in pre-school, Alinafe’s father was killed in a tragic car accident. The tragedy disrupted Alinafe’s education right from the early stages and resulted in a long struggle with her studies. Alinafe’s father was the breadwinner of the household and everything in the family depended on him. Her mother was jobless.  She supported the family in a minor way by hawking doughnuts and small groceries. The demise of Alinafe’s father meant that her mother was now faced with a heavy responsibility of supporting Alinafe and her 4 siblings. As a single mother and coupled with the fact that she was surviving only by peddling small items which obviously would hardly keep the family going, Alinafe’s mother started sliding into financial troubles.

“It was a nightmare,” Alinafe recalled, “my mother really struggled with money and she could not even afford our school fees.” The circumstance resulted in Alinafe’s sisters dropping out of school. The first to drop out was her elder sister who was forced into early marriage to escape the predicament. Alinafe’s sister was 18 then. Alinafe resides in a rural community of Dowa district where it is not unusual to hear stories about girls dropping out of school due to lack of school fees and high poverty levels. She also lives in a country where only 34 percent of girls continue to secondary school.

Although Alinafe herself did not drop out of school, her primary school education was marred by frequent and prolonged absenteeism. The situation was made worse when her mother remarried two years later. At first, Alinafe thought her mother’s new husband would save the family from the Grand Canyon of financial problems they had fallen in and support her education.

She was wrong.

Alinafe and her siblings were never supported in any way. Worse still, her mother’s new marriage was characterized by frequent, and at times violent, domestic disputes. Her mother’s new husband never really took interest in Alinafe’s education and he was reluctant to put her through school.  Alinafe, who was aged 5 then, was so psychologically affected that when she could not take it any longer, she left and moved in with her aunt. That was not, however, the end of her stress with education. Just like her mother, Alinafe’s aunt did not have any source of income and though she took Alinafe under her care, Alinafe’s aunt could not take care of her schooling.

For the many years she stayed with her aunt, Alinafe’s struggles persisted. Her education suffered the most. Her class attendance was erratic and her academic performance rapidly dwindled. On multiple occasions, Alinafe thought of quitting school because it was becoming miserable.

“My aunt was poor and I understood that. It was a hassle for her to buy school materials for me.” Alinafe disclosed “I was still a child then but I had to act. I had to find a solution.” She had to find a solution to raise tuition fees and raise money for essential school materials. So, Alinafe started searching for ways of raising money. 90 percent of the communities Alinafe comes from rely on subsistence farming, which means that the types of odd jobs that were readily available to her were based on farms. Since she had no alternative, Alinafe together with her aunt was forced to take on such jobs.

For a child, the jobs were hectic, tiring, and usually dangerous to her health. She explained that she had to endure long hours of work, often lasting from morning until late in the evening, working in maize fields as a labourer. And raising the sum of money Alinafe and her aunt required was not easy. The two had to work in a minimum of three maize fields a week to earn the necessary amount of money. This affected her studies even further since sometimes it meant skipping school to focus on the task at hand. In spite of this, Alinafe worked very hard and managed to put herself through school, even managing to pay for her primary school examination fees.

When she was selected to secondary school, Alinafe was faced with yet another dilemma because the tuition was a lot higher than in primary school. She also realized that secondary school demanded a lot of materials that were very expensive to purchase. Alinafe and her aunt could only manage to source tuition for just the first term when things went sideways again. She was on the verge of dropping out.

“I was tired of working in maize farms and I decided to just quit school. The never-ending struggle with my school fees was taking a toll on me and my aunt and we could not take it anymore,” Alinafe disclosed; saying she was just tired of constantly looking for means of earning money to square the balance for her tuition. But things were about to take a positive turn.

In mid-2018, Alinafe was introduced to our secondary school scholarship programme during one of the career talks that we conducted at the school she studies at. Some months later when she applied for a scholarship opportunity, she was among the 37 students we awarded bursaries for 2018. For the first time since primary school, Alinafe’s challenges with school fees disappeared. She explained that it was like a heavy rock had been shifted from her shoulders. Suddenly, she no longer had to worry about working long hours ploughing maize fields to pay school fees.

“Now I can fully focus on my studies because I don’t have to think about how I am going to raise money for tuition,” Alinafe said. Most importantly, she also sees herself smoothly gliding towards her vision of pursuing a nursing career. Alinafe is a resolute young woman who has a passion for helping the sick and the wounded and now she is confident that she will at last reach that goal.

That is not all.

“I want to be a role model to fellow girls in my community. Many girls in my village end up dropping out of school and getting married because there is no one they can look up to as a role model. I want to be the first person to motivate them,” Alinafe revealed. She bears witness to the experience because two of her friends left school when they were still in primary school. They are now married with kids. Furthermore, in her entire village only 3 girls, including herself, continued to secondary school.

“I refuse to be in a similar scenario.” Alinafe observed “I am still young and I don’t want to rush into marriage. Not before I fulfil my dream.” It is a dream that is slowly but surely starting to take form. It is a dream that has been a long time coming and now that it is here…

“I have seized it and will firmly hold it at all costs.” Alinafe closed.