Little voices alter Neno’s narratives – The Times Group

webnexttech | Little voices alter Neno’s narratives – The Times Group

At 16 years old, Timothy Kaitano of Chiomba Village, Traditional Authority Dambe, in Neno District should already have been in secondary school.But he is not, due to circumstances beyond his control.
It is bad weather and the absence of a bridge which have delayed Timothy’s quest for education.
He is now in Standard 8 at Nkamoto Primary School in the southern border district.
“I failed to sit final examinations in Standard 5 sometime back due to floods, which made it difficult for us to go to school, which is on the other side of a river in our village,” Timothy recounts.
Unlike Timothy, who had to repeat the same class only once, 15-year-old Hope Chikumba was not as lucky.
Like many primary school girls in her area, Hope especially found it difficult to go to school when the river swelled at Nkamoto.
As tough as it was to cross the river, boys and men would at least make the journey to the other side.
“But for us girls, it meant we had to fold the hems of our dresses or even remove them to cross the river in the absence of the bridge.
This discouraged many of us from making the long journey to school and, as a result, we opted to stay home the whole duration of the rainy season,” Hope said recently.
This is how the Standard 7 girl and others of her age have been delayed in their education.
Most of the girls her age are now married while others are mothers due to long stays at home.
But Hope and Timothy are now able to go to school and are looking forward to a bright future.
Through a children’s parliament initiative, children in the district have since 2016 been able to advocate for improvements in their welfare.
As a result, things are changing for the better.
Through the parliament, a number of new school blocks have been constructed across the district.
In addition to that, the children’s parliament has managed to advocate for the construction of bridges, change rooms and toilets where they are needed.
It is through the same initiative that a bridge has been constructed across a river near Nkamoto Primary School.
“We are now able to cross the river to school where we are now making progress in our education,” Hope says, a hopeful beam flitting across her face.
Head teacher for Nkamoto Primary School Alick Petro says the absence of the bridge has contributed significantly to high dropout rates among learners.
“Between 2018 and 2020, before the bridge was constructed, the dropout rate was at about 29 percent.
Most learners, especially girls, simply stayed home during the rainy season,” Petro says.
He says some learners who dropped out of school have now returned following the construction of the bridge and that the dropout rate has significantly declined.
“Apart from improvements in class attendance, we have also noticed improvements in the pass rate since the bridge was constructed,” Petro sums up.
The gains that the bridge brings have also spread to the community.
Village Head Kankhwani, in whose area Nkamoto School is, says communities are now able to safely cross the bridge to access various social services at the town centre such as hospitals and markets.
“But most importantly, this bridge is saving lives.
Before the bridge was constructed, people used to die while attempting to cross the river.
“Most recently, we nearly lost a man and his wife on this river, so this structure is important not only to our learners but to the community as a whole,” the local ruler says.
It has been years since Save the Children Malawi started supporting the concept of child parliaments in some districts in Malawi.
The concept has fast gained recognition as a powerful tool for empowering children and fostering their active participation in decision-making processes.
In Neno, the initiative is fostering infrastructure development and classroom attendance among children by providing them with a platform to discuss issues relevant to their lives.
Deputy speaker for Neno District Child Parliament Promise Macheso says if not for this platform, children would still be facing several challenges.
“Since we started meeting as children, we have seen roads, school blocks and bridges being constructed as a result of the advocacy that we are doing through the children’s parliament,” Promise says.
His sentiments are echoed by Editor Taibu, Neno District Education Management Information Systems Officer.
He says change rooms for girls approaching puberty and toilets have also been constructed following resolutions from the children’s parliament.
“We have also reduced the student-toilet ratio from 115-1 to 76-1, a feat we attribute to the advocacy work that the children’s parliament is doing,” Taibu says.

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