Blantyre, malawi


In Malawi, only 6 percent of girls will go on to graduate high school, and just 2.9 percent will continue post-secondary education studies, according to the United Nations.

The main reason for this is poverty. With more than 85 percent of Malawi’s population living in poverty in rural areas, parents don’t have the money to send their daughters to school and often keep them at home to help with household chores or marry them off at an early age. 

The poor East African country has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with one in two girls being married before they turn 18. 

Another factor for girls not being in school is distance. Schools in rural parts of Malawi are often far away, and it can be dangerous for girls walking the long distances between them and their villages.

One girl who has had such an experience is Promise Diana Mandala. Diana grew up in a village in Thyolo. Both her parents are farmers. 

During her primary school years, Diana would have to wake up and leave before sunrise to walk 15 miles barefoot to school. She would then only get home after sunset.

“I used to walk with my friend as it was not safe to walk that long distance alone. And there were not many people around on my route,” Diana recalls. “I had already experienced harassment from boys who would block our way, wanting to beat me because I refused to be their girlfriend.” 

And if that wasn’t enough, Diana often had to walk through rain or cross seasonal rivers during the wet season, leaving her uniform wet and making her late for school. 

“My school would punish me for being late, making me either go back home, or dig pits for latrines, or sweep and clean classrooms,” she says. “Sometimes I would get sick from sitting in my wet uniform all day on the cement floor.” 

Rural schools in Malawi often don’t have desks, toilets or running water. They also have few female teachers.

 “There was only one female teacher at my school,” Diana says. And of the male teachers, Diana tells of how some teachers used to sexualize their teacher-student relationship and discourage girls from staying in school. 

“In class he shouted at girls looking at him, saying they were being seductive and that he had a beautiful wife at home.” 

When Diana was close to finishing primary school, she was enrolled at a secondary school over 12 miles away that didn’t offer boarding facilities. At this point Diana decided to take admittance tests in the hope of being selected by another school. 

In 2010, Diana was selected to go to St. Mary’s Girls Secondary School in Zomba. She was the only one in her year to be selected to go to this prestigious school. She recalls the day she found out when she checked the notice board outside the principal's office and saw she was had been selected for St. Mary's, saying when she saw her name, she screamed and danced with excitement.

The school had dormitories, which meant Diana didn't have walk far anymore. But due to the costs of the boarding, food and school supplies, Diana was on the brink of dropping out altogether, as her father said he wouldn't support her. 

Luckily, a teacher prevented this from happening by nominating Diana for a scholarship based on her situation and good marks. AGE Africa provided Diana with a four-year scholarship.

“I was one of the fortunate students who were supported by Advancing Girls Education in Africa. They paid for my school fees and provided me with school supplies.”

Advancing Girls Education in Africa (AGE Africa) is a nonprofit organization that works to advance girls’ education in Malawi by providing adolescent girls with resources and information needed to complete their secondary education. 

Diana graduated from St. Mary’s with excellent marks, getting her a financial bursary from AGE Africa to study pharmacy at the College of Medicine in Blantyre. She is the first in her family and her entire village to go to university. 

Now Diana has completed her fourth year and is on track to graduate in 2021. 

“If it weren’t for my AGE Africa scholarship, I would be at home farming with my parents,” she says, adding: “Education is a way to a better life.”

Client: Obama Foundation
Partner: AGE Africa
Subject: Promise Diana Mandala
Location: Blantyre & Zomba, Malawi

Director: Morgana Wingard
 Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Photographer: Morgana Wingard / Jaco Bester
Project Manager: Lisa Stewart
Composer: Aled Roberts
Sound Design: Matt James

Narrators: Promise Diana Mandala
 Sandra Khowa
Diana’s Friend: Shackira Mussah




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