This week, Memory Mdyetseni, Director of APU Secondary School for Girls in Malawi, spoke to students about the challenges girls face in pursuing education in her country and the action she and others are taking to help more girls become self-sufficient.
Accompanied by former Middle School teacher Christie Johnson, who is the director of the Atsikana Pa Ulendo (Girls on the move) organization, Memory also spoke of her own journey towards a university degree.
Memory was orphaned at a young age, a common experience in Malawi due to a high HIV/AIDS rate. At first Memory was one of few girls whose family (her uncle) would pay for a girl to go to secondary school, where almost all students are male. After her uncle died of AIDS, Memory found that she was unable to move forward with her education, but she refused to give up her dreams.
In the country of Malawi, one of the smallest in Africa, the lives of women are extremely difficult, as women are seldom able to support themselves and orphaned girls are usually pressured into marriage or fall into prostitution to sustain themselves. Even the ones who continue to go to school are pressured for sex from their male teachers and many either drop out or become pregnant.
“I strongly believe that the way out of these problems is education,” says Memory.
She met Christie when she volunteered at a school where Christie was teaching in Malawi, which closed due to lack of funding. Together, they and others began to work towards the APU school, which opened with 80 students, who live on campus. The school is remarkable not only for the opportunities it creates, but also how it operates.
The bricks for the buildings are made from the same donated land the school is built on and there is a fish pond and garden that will eventually make the school able to produce its own food. Supporters can buy textbooks, farm animals, and sponsor a girl for $85 a month through the project’s website.
Though on full scholarship, the girls themselves contribute by working in the community as well as helping construct the school along with their families. The school also hopes to provide vocational training in the near future, since its graduates will still struggle to afford post-secondary education.
Still in its infancy, the school holds a promising future, one that Memory and Christie are building through their trip through Canada, which raised both awareness and funds. Despite all the work still to do, Memory has faith that her accomplishments are going to better her homeland, in part because she’s seen what education has brought to women in Malawi. “They are independent and they have a voice now,” she says.