Malawi: Bullying at school and violence at home
Text: Katharina Nickoleit, Photos: Christian Nusch
Blaze was ten when her parents separated and her mother Mewis moved in with a new man. In the meantime, Blaze has now two stepsiblings. There was a lot of arguing with her stepfather from the beginning; he called her a failure and beat her regularly. When Blaze turned 13, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She talked back and skipped school, which led to more fights and beatings. At school rumours spread that she was a witch and possessed by evil spirits. In fact, it was simply puberty combined with a difficult situation at home.
Eventually, Blaze ran away from home. The police picked her up. Because she refused to go home, the authorities called in the Tikondane project, which is supported by Kindernothilfe. She stayed there for a few weeks at the shelter for street children, first to calm down and think about what to do next. The social worker in charge, Yohane Chidzala, visited the parents to get an idea of the situation. He wanted to see what options were available to reunite Blaze with her family. That included extensive parenting advice. "I was advised to spend more time with my daughter, to listen to her, not to force her to do anything or judge her, but to work with her to find solutions," Mother Mewis recalls. "And I understood that I had to talk openly with my husband, that it couldn't go on like this. He has to accept the children from my first marriage."
After the social worker's visit, the situation between Blaze and her family eased considerably. Still, she couldn't go back to her old school. She had been labelled a witch, and there were just too many rumours and prejudices about her supposedly difficult character. That's why Tikondane helped her find and pay the tuition for a boarding school where no one knew about her past and Blaze could make a fresh start.
"Since I've been at Tikondane, a lot has changed!" she says. "When I'm home on weekends or vacations, I feel welcomed and accepted. And I do much better in school now because there are no more problems at home and I can concentrate fully on learning."
Her mother is also relieved and grateful. "Tikondane has changed my daughter. I wouldn't have dared to dream that she would one day become such a cooperative and studious girl." Blaze, meanwhile, has firm plans for the future. "I've realized that I'm not a failure, I'm smart and I can achieve something in life. I want to graduate from high school and become a nurse!"