Oak Bay garden party raises funds for girls in Malawi

Group of Oak Bay teachers aim to help Girls on the Move build a teacher’s training college

Jane Rees

Jane Rees

Imagine growing up as a girl with no choices, no voice in the direction your life takes.

A group of female teachers, known as Women Helping Women, are hosting their second annual invitation-only Garden Party FUNdraiser in Oak Bay this weekend to help young women in Malawi further their education and raise funds for a teacher’s training college through Girls on the Move Malawi Education Foundation.

Last year’s event, which saw about 130 attendees, raised more than $20,000 for a student hostel.

This year the group of women hope to raise even more.

“We work at such a privileged institution and we know the difference education makes and we know the difference that education makes for girls,” said Susan Vachon, a teacher at St. Michaels University School and one of the group.

“We all strongly believe that in order to solve the issues, the issue of poverty and all the associated things with it, in Malawi, we need educated women.”

Vachon and fellow teachers from Women Helping Women, started the group in support of their friend and former colleague Christie Johnson, one of the co-founders of Girls on the Move.

Johnson’s actions to help improve the lives of many young women in rural Africa inspired the women to take part in the cause.

“You meet (Christie), this totally understated person who has literally changed the lives of hundreds of people … with no ego, and you just want to be a part of it,” Vachon said. “I can’t start a school in Africa, but I can definitely support her.”

In 2007, Johnson along with Memory Mdyetseni, who lives in Malawi, established Atsikana Pa Ulendo Secondary School in Malawi to help young women further their education.

“We came up with the idea (of Girls on the Move) and starting fundraising for our own secondary school,” Johnson said. “And in just five years we have 13 buildings and 320 students on full scholarship at this boarding school.”

Johnson, a teacher at Pearson College, and Mdyetseni developed the concept of Girls on the Move in 2006,. Their foundation formed about a year-and-a-half ago.

Atsikana Pa Ulendo, which translates into girls on the move in Chichewa language, was started to give girls a choice, and a voice in their life. By educating these young women, it makes them employable, and therefore, self-sufficient, Johnson said.

“They can make a decision about their life and they have control,” Johnson said. “They’re moving forward and changing their lives, and changing other peoples lives.”

Last June, the school graduated its first class of 73 women.

While the secondary school has been successful, Johnson said it soon became clear that the young women were in need of further education.

“It became really clear very quickly that these girls are not yet independent, they need further training,” Johnson said. “We really don’t want them to finish Form 4 (equivalent to Grade 12) and then go back to the village (where) everything kind of goes backwards again.”

While the idea to build a teacher’s training college is still in its infancy, the goal is to start construction this September, depending on available funds.

Johnson estimates it could take two years to complete the building and will cost more than $200,000.

The teacher’s college, once finished, would start with 60 students each year, with the ability to take in up to 300. The program would be two years long, with one year focusing on course work and one on practicum.

While Girls on the Move can’t provide each girl with her dream education, it can give them something to work towards, Johnson said.

“If they want later on to be a pilot, or they want to go to university, once they have a job … they can save money and they can take charge of wherever they want to go from there.”

Funds raised at this weekend’s garden party will be the start of the learning facility, which includes a library and computer lab.

“It’s a big, big project,” Johnson said, adding that once complete, it could have a huge impact on the country.

“These girls will then go into far flung villages all over the country and they will spread what they know and help other girls,” she said.

For more information about Girls on the Move or to sponsor a student at APU, visit www.malawigirlsonthemove.com.