Ambition, eagerness to learn, resilience, warm smiles. That is what you will discover upon entering a classroom at St. Monica Girls’ Secondary School in Malawi.
St. Monica's is an all-girls boarding school in the Mangochi Region of southern Malawi with 333 students, 26 of whom are presently receiving scholarships through the K.I.N.D. Fund bursary program. Four of their classmates, also scholarship recipients, recently graduated.
With a K.I.N.D. scholarship, a girl can finish high school and chart her own future
Primary school is free in Malawi but to continue to secondary school, students must pay tuition. In Malawi, where half the population lives on less than $2 a day, fewer than half of school-age girls complete primary school and even less go on to high school. Out-of-school girls are more likely to be forced into child marriage, cutting off their chance to make decisions about their own lives and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Twelve years ago, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and UNICEF USA teamed up to create a program to make it easier for ambitious, eager girls to stay in school. The K.I.N.D. Fund identifies girls at risk of dropping out due to extreme poverty and other vulnerability factors and provides them with the opportunity to continue their education. The scholarships cover school fees, uniforms, books and learning supplies for four years of high school. To date, thousands of girls across Malawi have benefitted from K.I.N.D. support.
On a recent visit to Malawi, I had the great privilege of meeting the 26 bright and endearing girls attending St. Monica's thanks to the support of the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship bursary and the countless, dedicated MSNBC viewers who, year after year, continue to show their generosity and “kindness.” I listened to the remarkable stories of students and teachers as they shared the life-changing impact of the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship program.
Meet Faith Namangwiyo
Faith Namangwiyo is a strong and determined 14-year-old student in Form 2. Her father died when she was in the fourth grade; since then, she has lived with her grandparents, who stuggled to pay for her school fees. Faith's story echoes the challenges women across the country of Malawi face on a daily basis, but with help from the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship program, Faith’s future shines brighter than ever before.
She no longer stresses about not having the proper learning materials. Instead, she can focus on her studies and her dream of becoming a lawyer. As Faith put it, “I now find it easier to work hard and change the lives of my family members. I have all of the resources that I need, that UNICEF provides to me, so why should I fail?”
Faith’s story resonated with many of the other learners who are beneficiaries of the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship program. As we all listened, I noticed how the girls sympathized with Faith and felt more compelled to share their own stories of loss and resilience.
Meet Laikah Jumah
Laikah Jumah is a soft-spoken 16-year-old student in Form 4. She was selected to be a K.I.N.D. Fund beneficiary in 2019 after her father passed away and her mother was unable to pay her school fees.
Before she received the K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship, Laikah missed class often and worried constantly about the cost of her education. Now, thanks to the support of UNICEF and the K.I.N.D. Fund, Laikah can concentrate on her studies and her dream of becoming a doctor. “Whenever I see a doctor, I am inspired by them," she says. "That’s why I want to work hard and be like them. I also want to be one of those people who are helping girls.”
Laikah firmly believes that girls across Malawi should receive the support they need to complete high school. “UNICEF and KIND Fund should continue to help other girls and inspire them. And their future should be bright. I can say my future is already brightened by them. May the good lord always bless you.”
Girls' education strengthens economies and reduces inequality
As I reflect on my recent visit to Malawi, it is difficult to capture the countless ways in which the K.I.N.D. Fund is transforming the lives of millions of children across the nation through desks and scholarships and quality education.
It is the look on a learner’s face, embracing his or her new desk for the first time, beaming with pride, taking ownership of that desk, excited to learn and participate in class without the aches and pains of sitting on the floor all day.
It is the sound of joyful students breaking into song as a new shipment of desks is delivered, with the entire village joining in to celebrate such a momentous occasion.
It is seeing a scholarship beneficiary smiling ear-to-ear as she says with certainty that she will become a doctor, lawyer or social worker, now that she no longer has to stress about how her family will afford to pay her school fees.
It is the head teacher tearing up as she describes the evolution of a girl’s confidence and academic performance once the burden of school fees has been lifted.
It is the reassurance of knowing that a factory worker making desks for children across Malawi has a stable job and income and is able to provide for his or her family.
Access to quality education can make a world of difference
Education is the key that unlocks a brighter tomorrow. Malawi, better known as the warm heart of Africa for the kindness of its people, now shines brighter thanks to the K.I.N.D. Fund, and MSNBC and UNICEF’s 12-year partnership.
The K.I.N.D. Fund has raised more than $38 million to support young learners in Malawi. Your donation can help more girls stay in school so they can reach their full potential. Please donate.
Top photo: Isroella, 14, a K.I.N.D. Fund scholarship student at St. Monica Girls' Secondary School in southern Malawi, told Nina Marie Costa, UNICEF USA Deputy Director of Public Relations, she wants to stay in school so she can follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, who work in health care. Her dream is to exceed her family's expectations and empower girls around the world. © Eldson Chagara for UNICEF USA