Editorial note: From December 8-14, the United Nations Foundation led a global health journalist reporting trip in Malawi. Below are stories and photos from the trip. Follow the journalists on Twitter to learn more about their experiences in Malawi.
As we arrived at a Mangochi district secondary school, after driving for what seemed like hours down a dusty, bumpy red clay road in one of the most rural and beautiful parts of eastern Malawi, a group of about 40 girls greeted us enthusiastically and repeatedly sang “well-a-come, well-a-come, you are most well-a-come.”
We listened as the headmistress spoke with passion about the school’s purpose and challenges. While some of the challenges were obvious – new roofing, more classroom materials, additional bicycles, and room and board facilities for some of the girls who travel more than 30 miles a day to get an education – others weren’t as visible.
I walked away feeling that, despite the best of efforts, it is extremely difficult for a girl in Malawi to attend and stay in school and graduate from a high school or university.
Many girls are more vulnerable than their male counterparts because they are lack access to jobs, health care, and education. While primary schools are free, secondary schools cost money and tend to be too far to walk or bike – 19 percent of girls dropped out of secondary school in 2012.
Despite these challenges, the girls we met across Malawi desperately want an education, and their energy and optimism is infectious.
Luckily, adolescent girls themselves, their parents, the Government of Malawi, the United Nations (including agencies such as UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO), and local and international NGOs are trying to change this problem. The Joint United Nations Programme on Adolescent Girls (JPAG) was started in 2010 with funding support from the UN Foundation and Norway to advance the rights of adolescent girls by providing a holistic package of interventions in districts where the need was greatest.
Irrespective of the challenges in Malawi, the girls we listened to and spoke with offer a promising future for the next generation.