We’re in Phalombe District, a rural area in the Southern Region of Malawi. Bright sunshine bathes the lush green landscape dotted with mountains, and streams through the windows of the office of Mr. Chilumpha, Headteacher at one of our partner schools – Migowi Primary School, as the children make their way to lessons.
Almost every inch of every wall in Mr. Chilumpha’s office is covered in colourful, meticulously neat charts – showing every detail of his school and its student body of over 3,000 learners. Upper primary schools in Malawi typically accommodate learners aged 9 – 16.
In pride of place on Mr. Chilumpha’s desk sits a gold trophy. He explains with a broad smile that the trophy has recently been awarded to Migowi Primary School by the Theatre for a Change Right To Learn Project team – in recognition of the school’s outstanding participation.
Our small, dedicated team – Yamikani, Gloria and Andrew (pictured below on the left, with Agent of Change Mr. M’ndala, and our Acting Malawi Country Director Fiona) have been based in Phalombe District implementing our Right To Learn Project since 2017 – working in partnership with Concern Worldwide and the Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC).
With our goal of the empowerment of the most vulnerable and marginalised women and girls firmly in mind, our Right To Learn Project aims to make schools into safer environments for children in Phalombe District – particularly girls. The project focuses on reducing child marriage and early pregnancy and getting girls affected by these issues back into school and learning, and on reducing gender-based violence and discrimination in schools and communities.
Champions like Mr. Chilumpha allow the Right To Learn Project to have a profound impact by wholeheartedly supporting and encouraging its activities in their school. Trained teachers called Agents of Change lead workshops for their school’s Girls’ Club and School Council – made up of learners selected for their promising leadership skills. The workshops cover gender-based violence topics, child abuse and rights topics and sexual and reproductive health and rights topics.
Today at Migowi Primary School, the School Council is exploring the issues of child marriage and related early pregnancy, led by their Agents of Change – teachers Mrs. Kamwendo and Mr. Mankhampa. Boys play girls and vice versa without inhibition during their role plays, and the learners openly discuss formerly “taboo” issues such as sex, childbirth and menstruation. The boys pledge to support girls throughout their school with attending classes without shame during menstruation. Below, the group use role play to explore two situations around early pregnancy, and the death of a young girl due to early childbirth.
At Monjo Primary School nearby, we meet the Agents of Change – a mothers’ group member, Mrs. Sadson, and a male teacher, Mr. Kamalizeni – with some of their Girls’ Club participants. All of these girls were out of school, and are now transitioning back into education. One participant was forced to drop out of school seven years ago to marry early, and has since had two children. Our Right To Learn Project has enabled her to return to learning. Agents of Change often visit the families of out of school girls to advocate for their return.
“Girls’ Club has improved my confidence. I now look at the person I’m talking to without fear” – Girls’ Club Participant
Mrs. Sadson shares that the Agent of Change training has given her much more confidence to report child protection cases, including recently intervening to stop a girl in her community from being married early. She is also happy to hear from other parents that her participants are much more confident in their home lives, and are working hard in their lessons at school.
Our final school to visit today is Chingazi Primary School, where the School Council is exploring positive discipline in their workshop. Join the children and their Agents of Change as they sing and dance to warm up for their activities:
As the day draws to a close, we reflect on the commitment and passion of our partner schools’ Agents of Change and Headteachers, our project team, and our organisational partners. Together, we will continue championing the invaluable and life-changing Right To Learn for Phalombe’s children, and look forward to sharing more stories featuring our hard-working and inspirational participants.
A £5 gift could help us to provide a Right To Learn workshop essentials kit to one of the 30 schools we support – containing snacks and drinks for the learners to make sure they have the energy to take part fully, along with a focus ball, colourful marker pens and paper for participatory activities.
A £10 gift could help us to support an out of school girl transitioning back into education and taking part in a Right To Learn Girls’ Club to cover costs such as school uniform, stationery and school fees.
You can become a Right To Learn champion too! Join our Theatre for a Change supporter family – please click here to give a gift to the Right To Learn Project today.
Read more about our Right To Learn Project here.