Thandiwe, like many of her peers, carries water daily for her family.

Loyola Jesuit Secondary School is specifically designed to be co-educational because we Jesuits believe that gender-equity is essential for a sustainable future for Malawi.  More young women must be offered the opportunity for a good secondary school education if family life, health care and all-around development are to be possible.

The story of “Thandiwe” is a fictional, but true to life account based on what a typical girl in Kasungu might experience.  This is a story that is repeated  across Malawi today.

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Fourteen-year-old Thandiwe lives in a small village near to the rural town of Kasungu in Malawi.  Her country is beautiful and peaceful, with many natural resources.  But it is also a very poor country, with 75% of its citizens, including most in Kasungu, living below the poverty line.

This year, Thandiwe will graduate from Standard Eight (8th grade) from a government primary school.  And it is anticipated that she will finish with very high marks.  She has always liked school.  Her teacher says Thandiwe is “very bright and works very hard,” so it’s no surprise she has consistently been at the top of her class.

Thandiwe wants very much to go on to a good secondary school next year and someday to become a nurse, maybe even a doctor.  But she worries because most people she knows, especially women, never completed secondary school.

The closest government secondary school near to Thandiwe’s village home is 8 kilometres (5 miles) – a 90-minute walk each way.  Like most government schools in the Kasungu district, it has no electricity, library, science lab, or even running water.  60% of the school’s students generally drop out, and close to half of those who remain fail the final exams.

Young Malawian girl - potential Loyola student? - singing and dancing at church celebration in Kasungu

It’s particularly hard for girls to succeed.  That’s because they are required to cook, clean the house, work in the fields, and care for their younger siblings in addition to or in place of their studies.  Girls are often sexually assaulted on the way to school, and many drop out due to early pregnancies.  A private, well-equipped boarding school could help address many of these problems.  But Thandiwe’s family simply could not begin to afford the fees at such a private school.

Given this reality, as bright, hard working and ambitious as Thandiwe is, it’s likely her education will stop soon after the end of her Standard Eight grade in primary school.  What will it take to give her an opportunity for a good education and the chance to contribute to the development of her country?

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Thandiwe’s story is typical of the challenge that the Jesuits of the Zambia-Malawi Province want to make an effort to deal with, in establishing Loyola Jesuit Secondary School.  It really is a matter of social justice!



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