With the help of the United Reformed Church, Christian Aid’s 2014 Christmas fundraising appeal raised £3.6m to provide better maternal healthcare overseas. Tomilola Ajayi reports on the difference that money is making in Malawi
Violet Muthali looks like any ordinary teenager. Dressed in blue school uniform, she appears young and carefree, chatting away to friends in the schoolyard in Karonga District, northern Malawi. Until, that is, the 18-year-old begins to share her story: ‘After I finished primary school, I passed my leaving certificate exams and was selected to go to secondary school. But welfare at home became a problem. My father is mentally unwell. My parents couldn’t pay the fees for secondary school.
‘This problem of school fees haunted me, so local women kept encouraging me to get married. I got married. At that point I was 15. I didn’t realise the guy that I married had a problem. He was taking drugs – hemp. He used to beat me.’
Violet fell pregnant soon after marrying, giving birth at 16. Stuck in an abusive relationship, she sought help from local women activists from a group called Start, Awareness, Support and Action – known as SASAs – based in Karonga’s Mwangolera region. With their help, Violet and her son escaped the marriage and returned home. ‘I went to the SASAs for help,’ she says. ‘They held a meeting with counselling sessions and a talk by a woman who went through similar circumstances. This inspired me. I started secondary school in September 2016 and I’m now in Form 1 [Year 7]. I’m happy to be back at school.’
SASAs are a group of visible, outspoken women who visit local communities advocating for the rights, health and protection of young girls. They are passionate about warning families and traditional leaders about the social and health risks posed by certain customs, such as early marriage and home births using traditional assistants with no medical training. They also lobby school authorities to keep safe places open for pregnant girls. …
This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2017 edition of Reform