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ONE Life, ONE Child and ONE Girl at a Time

In, 2012, the FBI announced that Camden, a city in New Jersey, USA , ranked first in violent crimes per capita of cities with over 50,000 residents in the country. Interestingly enough, this is the same place where her idea was born. During her internship with Urban Promise in Camden she was moved by the difference that the organization made in the city by addressing poverty and injustice (through providing a safe place and an opportunity for kids who the mainstream education system had sidelined). Clad in a blue t-shirt and a pink short ready for jogging, Doreen tells me how working with girls and children in general gave her an idea of how a similar program would help Malawi. And that’s how Magwero Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) Girl’s Empowerment Program was born.

At 26, Doreen runs the program in the villages of Chatata, Magwero and Mchezi in Lilongwe. This has made the community around the area to open up to the point that they even include her in development discussions and decision making meetings of the villages, which has played a major role in empowering girls to stay in school and is slowly killing forced marriages. The chiefs in the area now encourage parents to send girls to school telling them that it is their right to be in school and to decide on when to get married. She is a result- oriented person, very passionate about social justice especially issues concerning women, girls and children; and believes that, “silence about injustice means- you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.

Until you understand the education system in Malawi, you would never appreciate what Doreen is doing. Primary school education in government schools in Malawi is free and is made up of eight years- Standard 1 to Standard 8 and students between 6 and fourteen years. There are 3 school terms a year for primary schools, running from September to July. In standard 8, pupils sit for Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLC) examinations, which they have to pass to graduate from primary school. Secondary schools in Malawi are made up of 4 years: Form 1 to Form 4 with three terms in each year which run from September to July; In Form 2 students sit for Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examinations without which they cannot proceed to Form 3; and in Form 4 students sit for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) of which they have to pass to graduate from secondary school. Unfortunately the government secondary schools are not able to cater for the high enrollment resulting from Free Primary Education.

Community Day Secondary Schools are government mixed schools which are built by the local communities but normally funded by the government. They are basically poorly furnished with very little teaching and learning materials, and in most cases these schools use existing primary school facilities i.e. the primary school operates in the morning while secondary school takes over the rooms in the afternoon. They are normally very basic and mostly found in remote areas, although a few exist in the cities but since the majority of Malawi’s population live in rural areas, there are plenty of CDSS’s among them. Looking at Magwero CDSS where Doreen is focused I see that it is not different from other CDSS’s: it has 4 classroom blocks (a block is a 6m by 7m building), two of which have no doors; the window panes are empty due to glasses being broken and part of the roof appears sagging possibly giving in to heavy rains and the wind in general.

There are more girls dropping out in CDSSs as compared to the government day or boarding secondary schools. Recently at a certain CDSS, six female students failed to sit for this year’s JCE examination because they were pregnant, imagine a Form 2 class in a school having 6 pregnant girls. And barely a month later was it reported that, in the district of Mulanje, twenty- eight secondary school girls got pregnant this year. As such, teenage pregnancy is another issue she is indirectly dealing with.

The program is free and usually sponsors girls in primary and secondary schools; they get sponsors for individual students to help out with essentials like clothes, accommodation and even tuition fees. They also run after school programs which focus on helping students with learning difficulties to get a minimum MSCE. For those awaiting their MSCE results or college sponsor ship they run Job Training programs by employing them to run the after school program and in return the students receive a monthly stipend. Doreen also runs a mentor ship program whereby she gets different high achieving women to talk to the girls and occasionally take them on trips to different companies as an inspiration. Recently, they bought land in one of the villages where they built school blocks to open a secondary school; after realizing that some students walk about an hour to get to school.

The program caters for Standard 8 dropouts and a number of victims of early marriages among others. Since they started five years ago they only have close to ten girls who dropped out of schools due to pregnancies, otherwise the rest successfully finished secondary school to the point that they have sent six girls to various colleges in the country. Even with all that she is doing, the program still fails to fully produce its desired purposes purely because most parents don’t take an active role in the education of their children.

Doreen is optimistic that she can change Malawi one life, one child and one girl at a time, “Small actions make great differences, I want to be part of the solution in my community. I want to leave it much better than I found it and walk with people, especially girls, through their struggles”, she says, with a look that makes me believe she means what she says.


Klaudia Mexico's picture

small changes do contribute

I do admire Doreen's spirit is not easy to keep your hope when the rest of the country do not seem to take. She's right even if she's able to change one life her program is sucessful.
Great role model.
Thanks for sharing

Klaudia González

TinaN's picture

Thank you

Thank you Klaudia,she is really doin a great job

Mukut's picture

Young achiever!

26 ! So young yet doing so much. Wonderful profile. Great to know young people are involved in changing the scenario of Malawi.

Well written ! Keep it up !


Mukut Ray

Greengirl's picture

Hi Tina

Your opening sentence is interesting!

I admire Doreen's leadership in bringing home to her community all that she learnt in the USA. It is the way to go in spreading knowledge and stirring growth and development. of course, her community is better off for it.

I may never have found out about Doreen without your commitment to project her to the world. I enjoyed reading about her and her work!

Best Wishes!

TinaN's picture

Thank you people

Thank you people your comments are so encouraging

Yosra Akasha's picture


silence about injustice means- you have chosen the side of the oppressor” inspiring quote from a role model, thanks TinaN for the great job.

Yosra Akasha, Sudan

TinaN's picture

Thank you Yosra

Thank you Yosra

pelamutunzi's picture


i admire doreen for her role in making sure that girls receive education and im inspired by the fact that only ten girls did not manage to finish their education. they are indeed making a huge impact. thank you for sharing this profile of change and how a vision born in an unlikely place is changing lives.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.

Vweta's picture

Interesting! Captivating! The

Interesting! Captivating! The issue of providing basic eduaction for every child cannot be over-emphasized!

Thank you for highlighting the key role Doreen is playing in making this possible.

Our Voices make the WORLD PULSate...

libudsuroy's picture

safety net

Dear Tina,
The schools that Doreen has established is providing a safety net for the young girls who otherwise could have fallen into the cracks of poverty and adversity. That she replicated a program she knew and appreciated in the US also says a lot about the positive impacts of global connections.
Thanks so much for telling us about Doreen's work and dreams. May there be more Doreens in Malawi!

libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

Victoria Gonin's picture

Inspiring Story

Dear Tina,

You obviously have a good sense of the situation and the great effort going on by Doreen. All awareness for the situation is good, and will hopefully continue to move her effort forward.

Thank you for sharing.


Heidi's picture

Well Done TinaN!

Thank you for sharing Doreen's inspiring work with all of us! I loved her quote at the end, "Small actions make great differences, I want to be part of the solution in my community. I want to leave it much better than I found it and walk with people, especially girls, through their struggles”. However, I would argue that her actions are not at all small.

Iryna's picture


Education opens the doors into life. It gives chances to change not only your life but also life around you. Doreen is a great woman, and I agree with Heidi, she makes a great work!
Very interesting and catching way of writing, Tina!

Maura Bogue's picture

Really good work!

Great work on your first assignment! It was a great read and very interesting.

Next time try to use more quotes. They will add to the credibility and authenticity of your story.

Keep up the great work!


Y's picture

I do wonder if Doreen studied

I do wonder if Doreen studied the statistics on the Camden program's success rates before allowing her passion to proceed to action in her country. Too many of our U.S. programs are "feel good" efforts that produce no long-term changes. Thank you for this article. I wish you and Doreen success in reaching your goals.


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