Rhoda Chaima's Three Years in Secondary School

Rhoda Chaima's Three Years in Secondary School

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Henry Mhango

“Please Henry don’t talk to me in vernacular, I don’t want to be punished once my colleagues and teachers hear me talking our vernacular while in the campus.”

Rhoda Chaima

These were Rhoda Chaima’s first words when I recently visited her at Santhe secondary school in Malawi. Rhoda was referring to a policy by the school that requires every student to speak English as one way of improving their fluency.

Perhaps Rhoda was right, but the policy has remained a joke among the students and teachers themselves. No one has ever been punished. What impressed me was the way she confidently warned me, an indication that she is not the Rhoda I met some three years ago. She is growing and can confidently voice how she wants the rules and procedures to be followed. “I have been at Santhe secondary since 2010 and like everyone else my journey has both good and bad memories,” said Rhoda when asked to describe her three years at Santhe secondary school. “I remember my days when I was in form one, we would always be the last to receive our food after the form fours, threes and twos have theirs.” (Forms 1-4 are the equivalent of grades 9-12 in the United States.)

“We would always be teased and bullied with all sorts of mockery behaviors especially at the hostels. We were at one point told to remove our shoes when entering the hostel - a thing I didn’t like,” adds the ever smiling Rhoda, who has one more year remaining to finish her secondary school. Even though Rhoda recalls her bad moments at the school, she says she will live to remember Santhe for many new experiences, like the trip to Mzuzu University that was organized by Join My Village. Join My Village supports CARE programs in India and Malawi, thanks to the generosity of our partners, Merck and General Mills.

“I will not forget throughout my life the trip to the university. I have never dreamed of visiting such beautiful places and meet inspiring women, who encouraged us to work hard in our education.” Then she said, with a shy look on her face, “It also surprised me to see a woman lecture, a thing I couldn’t believe.” Most of us have changed friends while in schools and so it didn’t surprise me when Rhoda said she dumped her first best friend, who she came to realize was a bad influence, while in form two. It is pleasing to learn from Rhoda that while in form two, she discovered why school is important and what one has to do to achieve what one wants.

Rhoda referring to her past experience and what she would tell to another girl like her, she says, “If given a chance to talk to the Rhoda of three years ago, my words would be: Focus and determination sees no class, but the choice of what one makes as a student determines the ambition and realization of the dreams that one has.”  “So I would say to those that are in form one now that this is the best time to start preparing for their long journey in secondary school,” she continues. “They will only make it if they are determined and keep saying to themselves that they can.”   I certainly noticed a great change in Rhoda, both inside and out, with one of the more obvious being that of speaking English throughout our discussions. Rhoda has clearly evolved into a senior.

“When I saw my records for the last term while in form one, I knew I had bad company, a company that could not discuss the importance of reading while at school, I had no choice but to change friends and so I opted for Lucy Dolola.” Rhoda is now in a senior class and boasts of enjoying every benefit that a student in senior class enjoys; she now doesn’t need to stand in a line when receiving her food at the kitchen and no fellow student can now tease or bully her.

It’s clear that Rhoda has transformed from a timid form one student to a confident senior. While she has made some tough decisions along the way, she is on track to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse.