Fifteen-year-old mother, Christina Assima, dreams of being a nurse.But there is a long tortuous journey ahead of her, especially as a student with a two year-old son living virtually by herself.
Christina is a beneficiary of the AWDF funded project that was implemented by Girls Empowerment Network (GENET) in Malawi. GENET was funded to support young women develop their business skills and build their leadership capacities. As part of the project, GENET sets up girls and young women’s networks in project communities. It was through the girls’ network that Christina came into contract with the project.
But the story begins after Christina’s parents broke up and her mum and four siblings relocated to the Saenda village in the Chitela Traditional Authority. This is an area with high levels of child marriages and child mothers. Not long afterward, her mother eloped with a man, leaving Christina and her three siblings by themselves. Christina, at twelve-years-old, automatically became mother to the lot – the oldest of whom was about seven and the youngest less than two years. After a heavy rainfall pushed down their family house, Christina and her siblings were left withn nowhere to sleep. A relative offered them a dilapidated room. It was a harsh lifestyle. Christina had to do menial jobs to cater for herself and her family. Then her peers and older friends started pressuring her to enter into a relationship. At thirteen she found herself pregnant, alone and caring for three younger siblings with no source of income.
But relief came through a group of her former school mates who invited her to join the Girls Network, an offshoot of the GENET project. Christina started attending their weekly Sunday meetings where she learned about family planning, her right to education and good health. She quickly grew more confident and resolute. The group members specifically singled Christina out to be supported to go back to school.
With the help of GENET, Social Welfare and family members went out in search of Christina’s mother and persuaded her to come for Christina’s siblings, thus freeing Christina to pursue her dream.
GENET negotiated with a family member to help look after the baby and Christina was re-enrolled in school. The family member cares for the baby while Christina is in school and she takes over when she returns, studying while her baby sleeps. The project alsom provided her with school materials and food items.
GENET also sourced support from Kids Right, a funder, to build a house for Christina.
“The project has helped to build my self-confidence and I have learned a lot of things and am better able to avoid the temptations of life, ” she said.
Christina has already been in school for one academic year with GENET support, and she will proceed to Secondary form 2 in the upcoming academic year.
Christina says, “My dream is to become a nurse and look after my son and to help my community to learn and understand the importance of education and the ills of encouraging children into early marriage.”
As a result of the work being done by GENET and other civil society organisations, the Chitera traditional authority, which commonly had marriages of people under fifteen-years-old, has banned marriages of females less than 21 years.