Born the youngest of 10 in Lilongwe, Malawi, Beatrice Chitimbe was under pressure to live up to her siblings’ reputation.
“They told me, ‘If you fail this grade, you will be the first one of us to fail,’” Beatrice says. “I had to work hard to convince them that I was gifted too.”
Beatrice, who went on to study at the University of Malawi, found over the years that she didn’t have the encouragement and the mentorship that she needed to succeed.
“I often wanted to drop out of school,” Beatrice says. “I didn’t know I could reach another level.”
Beatrice’s experience is not uncommon. In Malawi’s rural areas, Beatrice explains, marriage takes precedence over schooling for many young women.
“I’ve met so many girls in rural areas who are in school waiting to get married,” Beatrice says. “As a result, they don’t work as hard as they can.”
To counter this, Beatrice launched One Girl and Village, an organization based in the Salima District and aimed at empowering girls in primary schools across Malawi. Beatrice and her colleagues visit primary schools, give career talks, and invite young women to plan for the future.
“We like to include choir and drama activities too, to keep our participants engaged,” Beatrice says of her workshops.
“I needed to reach these young women,” Beatrice says. “I needed to tell them that there is more that they can do, more that they can achieve.”
For Beatrice, the root of the issue is a lack of strong role models, especially in the country’s rural areas.
“These girls need to see someone from their own village who went to secondary school,” Beatrice says. “They need to see that it’s possible.”
On one of her visits to a school in the Salima District, Beatrice met a girl in seventh grade who wanted to drop out of school.
“I asked her, ‘What are you going to do? Just stay home?’”
“She replied, ‘I will just get married. School is a waste of time.’”
After chatting with the girl, Beatrice convinced her to not only stay in school but to work diligently in her classes.
“She’s now in eighth grade,” Beatrice says. “And she is performing better than anyone else in our sessions.”
When asked what she told the young woman, Beatrice underlined the importance of financial independence for young women in Malawi.
“‘Do you want to make your own decisions? To be financially stable? You will need a proper education.’”
Beatrice attributes her success in launching her organization and in running her sessions to not waiting on others to make a necessary change.
“You can’t wait for people to tell you how to help,” Beatrice says. At times she’s even personally delivered invitations to her events. “You have to just do it.”
Interested in Beatrice’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.