“I never thought this would be my life. I saw myself as a doctor or a police woman, someone who would help people.”
Unfortunately, her vision was interrupted, and she remembers how gradual it had all been. She would find herself constantly sent out of class due to unpaid fees; back at home she would see how her mother struggled to provide for her and seven siblings. Eventually, there was no money at all to be spared for school fees. She dropped out of school and assisted her mother with menial labour around the village but still this was not enough, they were barely surviving.
This was when she met her husband. A 21-year-old local vendor, who approached her with promises of a better life.
“When he was courting me, he was the kindest man. I did see my future with him but not as quickly as it had happened once I fell pregnant.”
Another mouth to feed was a reality Carolyn’s mother refused to accept. Carolyn was told she would have to get married and leave her mother’s household.
Carolyn’s story is one echoed by many girls in the southern region of Malawi where around 32% of young women become mothers before the age of 19 . This has increased the vulnerability of both the young women and their children to poverty, HIV and AIDS as well as other health and socio-economic problems.
Carolyn however has challenged the odds and decided to be a part of a different demography- one filled with hope and opportunity. Carolyn is among 18,517 determined, resilient, empowered, aids free, motivated and safe girls from Zomba and Machinga districts, enrolled in One Community’s Go! Girl Clubs.
From the Club, Carolyn, has met others girls who share a common background and together they are able to discuss their problems and gain new skills. She has learned how she can protect herself from HIV, other sexually transmitted infections and gender based violence. She has also been taught about her potential as a young woman and the many positive roles she can take up in her community to help elevate herself and contribute to her household and community.
“I left my husband as I came to realize the great risk I was putting my son and I in. I am now living with my mother and as a new mother, learning parenting skills and hearing experiences from other young single mothers has been really helpful.” shared an enthusiastic Carolyn.
The clubs are also equipping the girls with financial literacy skills so as to enable them to economically sustain themselves and where possible, the girls have been encouraged to go back to school.
After such discussions with other girls in her club Carolyn has been able to generate several business ideas. She has taken the first entrepreneurial step by selling tomatoes at a nearby trading centre and she hopes to eventually diversify into other vegetables and fruits. In the meantime, with the profits made, she has been able to partially pay for her classes and assist her mother with some of the responsibilities in the household.
Carolyn’s days are not easy, she wakes up at 3 a.m. to draw water, wash and make porridge. she leaves for school at 6:30 a.m. and returns at 2 p.m., she checks on her son, then goes to draw more water to wash and cook some more. By 9 pm she revises what she has learned from school until 11pm. Once a week she attends her Go! Girl Club sessions and returns to her business on weekends.
“Some days I get really tired but I keep on trying because being young and pregnant was a bad experience. For a while I felt like the vision I had for my future was permanently disturbed but my decision to re-enrol in school makes me feel like my life is on the right track again, so I will keep on doing my best.’’ shared Carolyn.
Since the beginning of the Go Girls Clubs. 29 girls have gone back to school and it is the hope of the project that more girls attain enough skills to enable them to be self-reliant and achieve their life’s aspirations.