BellTime Magazine BellTime 11-5 - Page 37

BellTIME BellTIME Only 4 out of 100 Girls in rural Malawi complete Secondary school! As you sit in your comfortable classroom today, you might wish you were somewhere else, but I bet you’d never switch places with one of the girls in our Girl Child Student project. Mercy came into the Wells for Zoë office in Mzuzu, Northern Malawi, in tears. She had worked really hard to get good grades in Primary school like her older brother. She had always done the cooking and sweeping outside their three- roomed thatched house with one door and sacks covering the windows and had carried the water on her head from a well over 3km away. She helped with the work on the small farm with Manase, her older brother, and the three younger ones, all Summer. She hadn’t fought too much with them but had discussed how she had qualified for Secondary school, without mentioning that her results were better than her brother’s. Then her mother dropped the bombshell that she would not be going to secondary school, because there was no 72 money left. As is common in Malawi, her father had died in the AIDS pandemic and their financial situation had become even more perilous. Now I’m sure that the idea of not going to school is something that may not bother you from time- to-time(!), but as I sat and listened and watched her cuddle up to her mother, praying for a miracle, I was in tears. I listened and told them how sorry I was but of course my sympathies brought no relief. We at Wells for Zoë had invested our donor funding for the year into enabling the poorest to access clean water, preschools and fruit tree production, and had no funding left. But this was 2012 and how could this be that this girl could not go to school? However, had we already too much on our hands? We are Wells for Zoë, a small Irish voluntary organisation, founded in 2005 and working mainly in Northern Malawi, focused on enabling the rural poor to access clean, safe, drinking water. Working with women’s self-help clusters, a package including preschool, Girl Child Student and adult education, and Climate Smart Agriculture, this bottom-up approach has a sustainable and life changing impact on communities. Mary, my wife of 55 years, and partner in all things “Malawi”, thought I was even crazier than she had realised, but we decided to contact the schools in the area and after serious interviews, we agreed to support 49 girls who had no other possibility of taking the places they had earned in secondary schools. But now after six years of phenomenal success for the 2018-2019 academic year we support 273. We pay the school fees, provide clothes, uniforms, school requisites, and sometimes must support their families as well. Students go to their allotted schools Monday to Friday and then attend extra classes on Saturday, supported by our funding. We have eight excellent teachers and a counsellor to support them, and are gradually introducing practical education on growing food alongside academic course work. We have Holiday- time Camps, which adds a little fun and games, drama and singing to the academic and practical lessons. We always provide food, which will certainly be their best meal of the week. This sounds great, and it truly is for a small voluntary organisation, where 100% of all donations get to our projects. We are making a difference, but the reality is this: Just 4 out of 100 rural girls get to complete Secondary school while boys don’t do much better; but in a family, boys get preference. We need your help. There are so many more like Mercy. If girls don’t find funding, they stay at home, can be married off – or more precisely, sold off – to anyone able to afford to pay a dowry. Secondary education brings many possibilities: like avoiding pregnancy as early as 13, like learning something about their rights, like increasing their self-esteem by being told each day that they matter and can achieve much more. We have no lofty ambitions like University or Third level, just that these young girls do their best > Choose the “Girl Child Student” as your CSPE action project; > Contact companies and look for sponsorship for our project; > Ask if one of the Sunday collections in Church could be given to the project; > It would be fantastic if you could come up with an original fundraising idea. We will give an award to the best idea implemented by a school and feature the the campaign on our website. Fees alone cost about €20 per term and it costs €180 to completely fund a girl for a year. Every class in your school could sponsor one student for the year? Would you really miss €1 every few days – or even each week – to make a REAL difference to a girl’s life? and have four years without pregnancy or marriage. Naturally, we are so delighted when they surprise us: last year three qualified for University and two for Nursing, while Mercy is doing Horticulture. We are delighted to be able to support them financially with the amazing help of our donors from all over the world. Maybe you’re thinking: how can I help? Young people are constantly striving to provide equal opportunities for all and compassion for those less fortunate, and are often angered when people fail to support the poorest of the poor. This is your chance to make a real difference and to get on board! When we are not in Malawi, we are always prepared to visit schools or classes to have a chat. We really hope to hear from you. If you want to get involved and support a student your own age, then here are a few ideas. You and your class could: John and Mary Coyne, Wells for Zoë – the-girl-child/ 73