Every morning, I wake at 5am and pray for the new day. I water my small backyard vegetable garden and flowers, then prepare breakfast for my brother and my niece.
At 7am, I walk to school. I live in a school house 350 metres from Chimwalira Secondary School in Zomba District, Malawi. I have been teaching English and Chichewa here for four years.
Classes begin at 7.15am. There are nine 40-minute periods per day, and a 40-minute lunch break. My students often take advantage of this time to seek my guidance on academic or personal issues. Sometimes, I forego lunch to attend to these wonderful young people.
Here in Malawi, we do not have enough secondary schools. Most of my learners walk as far as 20 kilometres to get to and from school. This makes them tired and some come without food. As a result, they don’t concentrate in class and don’t do well in their examinations. This can lead to them dropping out of school.
Poverty and the cost of school fees make girls particularly vulnerable. Marriage and pregnancy are the biggest reasons for girls dropping out of school.
To change this, we must work to improve girls’ confidence. As well as being a teacher, I am a mentor for the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed). I work with two Camfed Association (CAMA) learner guides who are based at my school. CAMA is a network of young educated women who can be “big sisters” to girls. They help me to instruct girls in life skills, which is a formal curriculum subject in this country. We discuss the importance of being assertive and resisting peer pressure and also explain to girls how their reproductive system works and give counsel on HIV and Aids.
Despite the prevalence of HIV and Aids and the high rate of teenage pregnancy, these matters are not discussed in most homes. By not talking it over with children, parents feel that they are keeping an appropriate social distance. Many parents are also embarrassed or ashamed to speak about it.
In rural areas, there is an informal education system of initiation ceremonies that mark the rites of passage between life stages.
These initiations are considered the best vehicles for sex-related issues, but there are misconceptions within them. The subject of life skills was created partly as a response to cultural barriers.
For most students, the school day ends at 2.20pm. After class, I mark work, supervise study circles or other extracurricular activities and prepare for the next day’s lessons.
After the school day, I spend time running my small business – selling clothes and kitchen utensils – to supplement my income. When I get the chance, I also like to get out into nature. I visit places like the Salima lakeshore, Mount Mulanje or the nature sanctuary in Lilongwe.
In the evenings, I listen to the radio for information to include in my lessons. I want to be sure that I have correct responses for the questions my students fire at me each day. I live for teaching and students remain my main priority in life.
To keep more girls in school and out of child marriage, donate to Camfed at www.camfed.org. From now until 10 January 2017, all donations will be matched by the UK government
Mercy Kansale is an English and Chichewa teacher at Chimwalira Secondary School