Our school is committed to learning, leading and serving. These themes are woven through all aspects of life at SMUS and shape the attitudes and world views of students. These themes also deeply motivate the adults in our community.
When students were inspired by former SMUS science teacher Christie Johnson’s stories of the young women in rural Malawi and their struggles to be educated, it didn’t take long for them to plan Service Days and fundraising initiatives to benefit people living in the African country. For eight years, SMUS has raised money to support the school and students at Atsikana Pa Ulendo (APU), which Christie co-founded with her friend and Malawian teacher Memory Chazeza. Memory visited SMUS in 2008 to speak about the direct connection between HIV/AIDS, early marriage, sexual abuse and power imbalances between men and women, and how providing girls with an education is the most effective way to bring about change to those issues in her country.
So far the academic results at APU have been astounding. Each high school student must write standard exams to graduate, and while the national pass rate is 54%, the young women of APU achieved an average 94% pass rate and drew national attention.
Christie writes, “It is even more remarkable when you take into account the fact that in general, girls in Malawi, particularly those attending rural schools, have a much lower pass rate than boys. APU has a student body composed completely of girls living in rural areas. Most of our students come from a background of extreme poverty and many of them are orphans. They are living proof of the saying ‘Invest in a girl … and she will do the rest.’”
APU started off with an entirely scholarship-based model, but as word has spread of the quality of education, some paid enrollment has led to a more sustainable funding model.
The school has had a profoundly positive effect on the village, as more businesses have been started and the local economy has improved. More young girls are attending school in the hopes of being admitted to APU and we have heard that the women in the village are being consulted by the council. Attitudes about the potential and worth of educating young women has improved as it has become more obvious that there are benefits to everyone.
There are currently 320 girls attending the school in grades 9 to 12. Once the girls graduate from Grade 12, some continue on to university or trade school. Others are orphans and have nowhere to go.
Five years ago, a small group of teachers asked about the next step for these young women’s efforts to be self-sufficient. This group, Women Helping Women, is raising funds to help APU build a Teacher Training College (TTC) so some of these girls can continue to attend APU after Grade 12 and become certified teachers. There is a severe shortage of properly trained primary school teachers in Malawi, and building a college will allow the girls to continue their own education, as well as get trained teachers working at the community schools. It is a major construction project that will cost $205,000. When complete, it will have rooms dedicated to computer studies, a library, health center, micro-credit loans office, administration offices for both the secondary school and the TTC, and learning spaces for the TTC students with an expanded dormitory.
This Sunday, May 31, Women Helping Women will host our 5th annual Garden Party to benefit APU. We have currently raised more than $100,000 in the past four years to support the education of young women in Malawi. We hope to continue to raise money to see the TTC to completion. We all dream of the possibilities that could exist for SMUS and the APU teachers in the future, such as discussing best practice, sharing ideas and collaborating.
For more information about attending the event, please email [email protected].
To learn more about APU and the teachers college, visit malawigirlsonthemove.com.