A tobacco plantation isn’t a safe or healthy place to work for a child, but it was the only way my family could survive. My parents are poor farmers and barely able to support a family of eight on MK20,000. This is about US$ 50 per year. I had nothing. My parents are tobacco tenants and we all had to work together as a family. I’ve been working in tobacco since I was five. Attending school was never an option for me.
I woke up every day at 4 in the morning to go to work on a tobacco farm in Malawi’s Kasungu District. During the harvest, I was sick all of the time because of the thick dust and chemicals. I was given one small lunch per day and expected to work long days in the fields. It was difficult for me because at the time I was a small child. The rods that we were expected to carry were quite heavy and I would see so many children get injured.
The turning point for me was when officers from Malawi’s Ministry of Labour visited the Kasungu District to try to remove children from the farms. The Ministry has been working hand in hand with the ILO through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) Country Programme to combat child labour in Malawi. It identifies child labourers in the district and gives them access to education. As a result, my parents told me that I would be able to go to school. I was 12-years-old. I felt extremely lucky.
In 2007, I was removed from child labour and sent to a public school nearby and supplied with uniforms, books and learning materials. At first, I was hesitant because I was away from my parents and wasn’t used to being in school. It was definitely a wake-up call. I was lagging behind and realized that if I wanted to have a life in school, I would need to study even harder. And, I did.
A year later, I was selected to attend the Kamuzu Academy, the most prestigious school in Malawi, located near the village of Mtunthama. The Government selects one girl and one boy from each district with the best results from the Primary School Leaving Certificate, to receive a full scholarship to the Academy.
Over the last six years, I’ve been able to study Latin, foreign languages, history, religious studies, science, English, and economics. To earn extra money during the school holidays, I teach at a primary school. At the age of 18, I’ve completed my A-levels and will be graduating this year from Kamuzu Academy. If I can get financial assistance, my dream is to go to the University of Malawi or any university outside the country to study Marketing or Finance and Administration. I’m also interested in studying Agricultural Economics at Lilongwe University of Agricultural and Natural Resources (LUANAR).
When I was given the chance to go to Kamuzu Academy, I realized what it really meant to work hard and achieve something. I saw the difference between life on the farm and life in school. I knew I had a bright future. It was just up to me to create the life that I wanted for myself.