by Ndapile Bwanausi Kabuye
It was Michelle Obama who said, “When girls are educated their countries become stronger and more prosperous’’. Yvonne Kamanga, an animal scientist by profession aims to do just that: Making Malawian communities stronger by empowering girls in education. She is the founder and director of Fund a Girl Malawi, a charitable initiative that supports underprivileged girls in their quest for education by linking them with sponsors for fees and school supplies. This is a well welcomed initiative considering that school dropout rate for girls in Malawi is higher than boys. Recent research by the world bank has shown that increased investment in girls could potentially increase gross domestic product. This into consideration, Yvonne’s efforts could be deemed quite necessary for community development in Malawi.
This idea came about because from a young age Yvonne has always had a passion to help others in need with the little that she could. When she contested in the miss Malawi beauty pageant in 2017, and emerged a runner up, her newfound position created a platform that she could use to advance her passion. The main activity under the initiative is to support underprivileged girls by connecting them to sponsors or well-wishers who aid in providing necessary tools for their education. This initiative provides not only financial assistance but also mentor-ship. Through their mentor-ship programme, mentors provide guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modelling for the girls. This gives the girls someone to look up to as well as talk to.
In addition to the mentor-ship programme the initiative also holds sexual and reproductive health sessions to help girls become more aware of their sexuality. This is necessary because unwanted pregnancies are one of the main reasons for school dropouts in Malawi. During these sessions the issue of menstrual hygiene is also tackled taking into consideration that it has been the main causative for school absenteeism.
So far, the main challenge faced has been finding people willing to commit to funding someone over a period. Most recently, Fund a Girl had a situation in which a sponsor could no longer continue to pay fees for one girl leaving them stranded. This and similar instances have been the main challenges of the initiative. But this has not stopped them from funding 13 girls in 4 different schools within Lilongwe city. The next step is to increase the number to 20 girls. In the long run though, they would like to be able to fund 500 girls in 5 years.
Achieving this very important goal could potentially help empower entire communities. As the old African proverb says, “educate a man you educate an individual but if you educate a woman you educate the whole village’’. But we all must start somewhere, as Yvonne tells us in her own words: “Look around you, you'll see people needing help every time, start by helping those. It does not take a grand gesture to make a difference." In addition to showing us that we must start where we are, Yvonne's story is one of gradually and persistently bringing your dreams to reality. The dream has always been there, winning the pageant just acted as a steppingstone towards changes she dreamed of making. And like every step taken towards change challenges are always present. But if Yvonne did not have the dream and passion, she wouldn't be doing what she is doing right now. Highlighting to us all that dreams acted on are a source of change.