A few days ago, fellow jhr intern Amy and I were sitting comfortably in our office at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) when a student named Charles Chaswa knocked politely on the door before letting himself in.
He passed us a piece of paper and spoke softly to us, saying that he had to leave MIJ because his sponsor had died and he could no longer afford the school fees.
Chaswa, a student at MIJ in the yearlong Certificate program, is required to pay K 210,000 ($1,500 CAD) per semester before exam time. And fees rise for senior-level Diploma students, as they pay K 315,000 ($2,250 CAD) per semester in the program that lasts one and a half years.
In addition to these prices, the students are asked (but often not expected) to supply their own cameras and recorders but many cannot afford to purchase such equipment either.
Chaswa’s letter explains that his mother passed away while he was in primary school and soon after, his father passed away while he was in secondary school. He writes with hope, “I try to pray that God turns my darkness into light.”
Because the government only pays for public primary school, Chaswa could only pray for his secondary school fees. He and two other children received a plot of land as an inheritance from his father, they split the money and with his share, Chaswa was able to complete secondary school. To his dismay, Chaswa only had K 60,000 ($428 CAD) remaining as he entered the journalism course at MIJ.
But Chaswa’s passion made him fight harder for his education. He explains in his letter that he requested sponsorship from his church, banks, radio stations and the Bingu Silva Foundation. But his requests went unanswered.
Among the 150 certificate students and 100 diploma students at MIJ, Chaswa is not alone in his plight.
Dalitson Nkunda, Course Manager at MIJ, explained that 10 to 15 percent of students drop out due to lack of funds to support their education. “Many students attend all of their classes and are not able to write the exams at the end of the semester,” she says, clarifying that the students often search in vein for sponsors throughout the school year.
As a Rights Media Educational Officer, I have little power to assist the students in this way. My role with Journalists for Human Rights (jhr) requires me to adhere to their core principles. The final clause states, “jhr is an organization that does not provide monetary support to media houses.” And I certainly don’t have the personal funds to support even one student.
I think back to my time at university and although the debt from student loans is looming over my bank account, I am grateful that I had the relatively easy opportunity to acquire funds for my tuition.
Chaswa’s story is both compelling and heartbreaking. And I feel nearly helpless. The only way I know how to assist students in this situation is to bring awareness to the issues that many Malawians face. Frankly, Chaswa exceeded beyond many others, in that he found a way to complete his secondary school despite the death of both of his parents.
The eager student closes his letter by wondering, “Who will fight better for me? I struggle to find peace, freedom and love in order to have strength of mind.” Realizing that his dreams of journalism have been dashed, he asks, “Where can I go to find help?”