By Elizabeth Usovicz
Last April, I led a Vocational Training Team (VTT) to Malawi. The global grant project of the Rotary clubs of Limbe (Malawi) and Kansas City-Plaza (Missouri, USA) installed solar lighting in schools and trained primary school teachers in an after-school program designed to empower children, especially girls, to stay in school.
As in many countries, girls in Malawi face several challenge along their path to an education, including early marriage, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. Malawi is called “The Warm Heart of Africa,” and with an average annual income of about $255 per capita, tenacity is more than an admirable trait. It’s a survival skill. Here are some of the traits, conditions and needs affecting the girls of Malawi in their quest for an education.
Multitasking: Village girls learn how to multitask from their mothers, walking barefoot several times a day from the village water pump with 70-pound buckets of potable water on their heads, babies on their backs, and another child or two by the hand. I saw village girls supervising younger siblings while pounding maize, herding goats, and trying to get homework done. These girls exhibited a tenacity that humbled me.
Tradition: According to a United Nations Development Program background paper on Malawi, 47 percent of girls finish standard 8 – the equivalent of the 8th grade. Family influences, the tradition of early marriage and teen pregnancy can easily discourage a girl’s plans for the future. A girl who intends to go to secondary school and then to college or university must have strong, quiet determination, as well as encouragement.
Role Models: I met dozens of girls who told me they aspired to become businesswomen, doctors, nurses or accountants. Most had never had an opportunity to meet women working in those professions. The village girls who succeed in getting an education are the future role models for other village girls.
My VTT experience has given me a global perspective on the value of girls’ education. With tenacity and encouragement, it’s my hope that the girls of Malawi will reach their aspirations.
About the author: Elizabeth Usovicz is a member of the Rotary Club of Kansas City-Plaza, Missouri; a Rotary Public Image Coordinator for Zones 30 and 31 in 2017-20; and a past district governor. She was also a Women of Action honoree at the White House in 2014.