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Away from the comfort zone

It started with the death of his father. That was when Comfort was just a little boy aged nine years and still in primary school. Comfort’s father had battled a long illness and when he passed on, Comfort’s world came crashing down. In the few days following the burial of his father, Comfort, her mother and siblings went through what he describes as a traumatic experience. Without remorse and with no regards to the fact that Comfort’s family was still devastated by the death, some of the relatives of Comfort’s father descended on the grieving family and grabbed literally everything the family possessed. According to Comfort, his father owned some plots and a lot of other property.

“Everything was taken away from us. His relatives did not care that we were still mourning my father.” Comfort explained, “They sold the land that my father owned and drove us out of the house that he built.” Left with nothing and helplessly watching as the merciless people plundered the property that she and her husband painfully built, Comfort’s mother was forced to retreat to her home village. Comfort recalled that the ordeal left her mother in such a state of distress that it took a long time before she could psychologically settle down.

“It was horrible. My father was the breadwinner of the house and with him now gone, my mother was in dilemma. I watched her struggle to raise us a single parent and it was terrible. I really wish I could do something but there was nothing I could do.” Comfort said. The ordeal would later inspire Comfort to study a course that specifically dealt with gender inequality and women empowerment.

Shocking as this may appear, what Comfort’s family went through is not a strange sight in most cultures in Malawi. Property grabbing is a common sight in many of Malawi’s rural communities where women have no control over the property once the husband dies. In fact, although it is a felony, the practice is so common that people consider it a norm. The years that followed were the hardest for Comfort’s mother. She was jobless and that just made everything rough. She had no one to help her too, so to fend for her kids and put them through school, she worked in random households as a domestic worker.

“She performed laundry, cleaned houses, cut grass and just about any other small pitiful job she could find and use the money she earned to buy food for the house.” Comfort explained. However, working as a maid earned Comfort’s mother just enough to survive for a few days in a month. Her financial struggles affected Comfort’s education from primary to secondary school. Amidst the struggles, Comfort made it to secondary school but when he passed his final examinations, he was yet again faced with another stumbling block. He had passed the examination with excellent grades but after two failed attempts to secure a place at a public college, Comfort realized that his ambitions were rapidly moving to a crushing stop. Studying at a public university was the only option he had on the table since it meant he had the chance to apply for a student loan for his studies. Considering the financial crisis that his mother was experiencing, he could not even dare to try his luck at a private college.

“I gave up and decided to stop trying. I made up my mind to try something that would help me support my mother. I began looking for employment.” Comfort recalled. However, equipped with just an equivalent of a high school diploma, the only job that Comfort managed to get was as a machine operator in one of the factories in the city. It was not a pleasant job and he received one thousand Kwacha (USD1) per day as his wages which were very insufficient considering that he was living in a city where life was expensive. Worse still, Comfort worked with old squeaky machines which frequently broke down, causing him to do most of his job manually. Barely two months into the job, Comfort quit and returned home feeling, in his words, broken and defeated.

Three years later things were about to change. Upon the advice of a close friend of his mother, Comfort attempted a third effort to apply for a place at a public university and this time he made it. The best part was that he had been selected to study a course that he was inspired to pursue after the unfortunate events his mother had gone through when his father died, a course called Gender and Development.

“My mother passed through a distressful experience when our property was seized by my father’s relatives. Unfortunately, my mother solely relied on my father and had no means of supporting herself when father died.” Comfort explained, adding that if her mother had been economically empowered, she would not have struggled as she did, following the demise of her husband. According to Comfort, that turn of events motivated him to study a course that would let him help vulnerable women to become economically dependent while at the same time helping to end power imbalances existing in most households in rural communities.

“You know, the problem in the villages is that women have no control of financial resources in the house because of the belief that the man is the head of the family.” Comfort observed, “This gives the man a leeway to misuse the money and it is the woman who ends up suffering the most.”

Although Comfort had lined up a brilliant vision, he still had no idea if he would fully achieve it. He was very excited that he had finally secured a place at college but his joy was partially darkened with uncertainty. When he secured a place at college, he had found a sponsor who pledged to support his college tuition but only for the first year. That meant that Comfort’s hopes of completing the remaining 3 years to get his degree were still hanging in the void.

“I’ve seen many of my fellow students withdrawing or kicked out of school because of failure to settle their balances in their tuition fees. My worry was that I would soon find myself in that circumstance.” Comfort said. It felt like he was taking two steps slowly forward and 5 steps quickly backwards.

In 2017, just as he was about to lose hope, Comfort was made aware of our university scholarship programme and he was one of the applicants. His uncertainty turned to optimism when he was among the students who were awarded scholarships for that year. His worst fears have now subdued and the doubt that clouded his aspirations has vanished. Comfort is now guaranteed that with the scholarship, he will be able to finish his studies without interruptions. The vision that he holds to rescue vulnerable women from falling into the same miserable situation his mother faced is on course.

“This scholarship is of great value to me,” he said, “My vision was just a mere dream because I did not have the possibility to achieve that dream. There is Hope opened the doorway for me and gave me that possibility to finally turn that dream into reality. It is what I have been waiting for.”