It’s a hard life being a schoolgirl in Malawi

This blog is written by RIPPLE Africa Project & Volunteer Coordinator, Nikki Luxford

“It’s still dark outside but time to get up and do the chores before school. The list of chores is quite extensive: washing plates, sweeping the front yard and house, going to the garden to collect vegetables to make relish for dinner, bathing and if time, light the fire to make breakfast. This list of chores has to be complete by 4.45am so I can begin the three hour walk to school.”

This isn’t an elaborate story but the reality for Esnat Phiri and Susan Mwale, 15-year-old cousins from the rural village of Chisasila. These two teenage girls have been selected to attend Kapanda secondary school.

It’s an amazing opportunity but one that is made difficult not only because of the responsibility on their young shoulders but because of where they live too.

 The family home located in the remote village of Chisasila The family home located in the remote village of Chisasila

Both girls regularly turn up late for school and are keen to leave early as they are not only tired from the chores and their long walk, but also feel a responsibility to help their elderly grandmother look after their other siblings and cousins.

Esnat’s and Susan’s parents have passed away. Sadly they’ve also lost all of their aunts and uncles except one and their elderly grandmother is left to care for all of her grandchildren.

It is this reality that sees so many girls drop out of school as they have to help at home but fortunately Esnat and Susan have been given another lifeline to succeed at school in the shape of a bed each at the recently opened girl’s dormitory at their school.

Spending the afternoon with the two girls, the trek up to their house was a clear indication as to why they’ve been late so often, and tired too.

 Esnat and Susan with their grandmother, remaining aunt and cousins Esnat and Susan with their grandmother, remaining aunt and cousins

Their grandmother is extremely grateful that two of her granddaughters are being given the opportunity to attend school and be sponsored to live at the girls’ dormitory, which will give them the chance to spend the time that they would normally spend on chores and travelling to school studying for their exams and securing a better education for themselves.

She said, “Thank you. You have relieved a massive burden from all of our shoulders. I hope both Esnat and Susan make their sponsors proud.”

The girls are currently finishing their first year at secondary school, with a remainder of three years to go. Both girls have great aspirations for when they finish with Esnat hoping to become a nurse and Susan an accountant.

Sadly though, these girls are not the only ones experiencing such challenges.

RIPPLE Africa also met 17-year-old Gertrude Nkhoma and her 15-year-old brother Moses. Both siblings are in Form 2 and are fortunate to still have their mother and an elderly grandmother but despite their best efforts to earn an income, they couldn’t afford the boarding fees for Gertrude to stay at the girls’ dormitory.

Gertrude and Moses had to walk 12km each way to and from school. It was only when one of the teachers from their school, Bright Banda was visiting his grandmother in the same village that he noticed two of his students walking to school.

Bright said “They were walking for three hours each way to school and I remember that when I was young and was faced with the same situation, I began to dislike going to school. I didn’t want these two students to feel the same way, and to potentially drop out so I spoke to their mother and offered both students a room in my house. Gertrude now has a sponsor to enable her to stay at the girls’ dormitory while Moses continues to live with me allowing them both more time to study and have the same chance of a successful future as their fellow students.”

 Gertrude and Moses Gertrude and Moses

Bright is in many ways an exceptional teacher as he was the one who alerted RIPPLE Africa to the plight of all of the students mentioned above.

Bright said, “One of my roles at the school is to make sure that students arrive on time. I noticed that Esnat and Susan were late time and again. Normally when students are given detention they learn their lesson but these two girls were consistently late and tired. They told me it was because of the distance they had to walk to school. I didn’t believe them so I decided to check out their story, and that was when I realised how remote the family home is.”

 Bright and volunteer Alyson working with some of the other girls living at the dormitory Bright and volunteer Alyson working with some of the other girls living at the dormitory

All four of these students are attending Kapanda Secondary School because they were selected after gaining high grades in their end of primary school exams. The three girls are lucky to be being sponsored but there are many other students in the scholarship scheme who also need to be supported.

Just £10 per month supports a student in our scholarship programme.

Find out more about our scholarship programme. For more information email

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