It does not rain but pours for the Karonga girl the late president Bingu wa Mutharika reportedly abandoned after promising to fund her education all the way to university.
As she tried to pick up the shattered pieces, she claims hardship led her to a relationship and today she has an unplanned child with a boyfriend whom she says helped to fill the financial void.
According to the girl (Marietta Mhango), the young man who was responsible for the pregnancy has since rejected both the baby and the young mother, leaving her in despair.
The girl’s family now blames the presidential thrust to the limelight, saying if she were left in Karonga, she could not have faced her double tragedy: dropping out of school due to lack of appropriate support and having a ‘fatherless’ child.
Marietta, now 15, from Mawelera Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kyungu in Karonga, now wonders what her future holds.
She argues Mutharika gave her a glimmer of hope, something close to instant celebrity status, only to dash it by failing to keep his promise.
In 2004, Mutharika was opening the Karonga Museum. Among the activities lined up for the inauguration programme were poems. And among those that recited the poems was Marietta, then an eight-year-old pupil in Standard Four at a local primary school, Malungo.
The girl impressed the president and his entourage by narrating the 22-king lineage of the Ngonde Empire by heart in the poem, prompting Mutharika to promise he would set up a trust for her education from primary school to university.
In an interview last January, Marietta claimed the MP for the area at the time, Bazuka Mhango, told her in 2008 that Mutharika had stopped paying the fees.
According to Marietta, the MP did not give reasons. She claimed the MP told her that the only time Mutharika paid the school fees was when she was at Bishop Mackenzie International School in Lilongwe from 2004 to 2005.
After the girl left Bishop Mackenzie, the MP took over as her sponsor, according to Marietta. From Bishop Mackenzie, she says she went to ABC Academy in the capital city before she was transferred to Kaseye Secondary School in Chitipa.
When The Nation on Thursday called Bishop Mackenzie Primary School to clarify why Marietta left the institution, the head teacher, through a secretary, refused to grant an interview, claiming she was not around at the time Marietta attended the school.
Said the secretary: “It will be difficult for the headmistress to talk to you because she was not around when Marietta was here. Why do you want that information anyway? Have you got consent from Marietta to publish her story? I am sorry I cannot help you.” The Nation could not access the other school, ABC Academy.
Meanwhile, when Marietta moved to Kaseye, she claims Mhango had stopped paying her fees.
Her mother, Miriam Kamzawe Gondwe, after struggling to pay the fees at Kaseye, withdrew the girl in 2009 because she could not afford the K11 500 fees per term.
Gondwe, who runs a small salon business in Karonga, said she then enrolled Marietta at a private school where she was initially paying K2 000 before the fees rose to K5 000. This, too, proved steep for the mother.
In a fresh interview with The Nation recently, Marietta said difficult learning circumstances, after tasting good education at the international schools in Lilongwe, forced her into the arms of the young Karonga man who she claims later impregnated and abandoned her.
Said Marietta: “Although I was at school, things were financially difficult and I ended up having a boyfriend. He was not learning at the school, but came from a well-to-do family.”
She said her financial problems temporarily eased, thanks to the boyfriend. But the help came at a price. She found herself pregnant and delivered a baby boy on May 19 2011. She had no choice but to reveal everything to her mother.
Marietta’s mother said when she learnt about the pregnancy, she was devastated.
“She was my only hope for a bright future. That is why after the president promised to pay for her education then later abandoned her, I went ahead to enrol her at a school I could afford,” said Gondwe.
She said they took Marietta to the boyfriend, but he denied responsibility for the pregnancy.
“I thought that was not the end of the world and I took my child home. I told her not to make any funny decisions, but allow the baby to be born,” said Gondwe.
On the behaviour of the girl, the mother said she has had no problem with her and was surprised with the pregnancy.
Marietta chipped in: “The father is not helping him [the son] in any way. There is nothing we can do, but live within the means that we can afford.”
‘I want to go back to school’
But she said she wants to return to school, an issue that was echoed by the mother.
Sad Marietta: “My ambition to return to school is still there and I pray that the current President, who is a woman, would be more than happy to see me at school again.”
Marietta, who left school while in Form Two, but did not sit for examinations, said given another chance, she would work hard.
“I want to be a medical doctor. I have not lost hope although having a baby is a cultural setback here,” she said.
Marietta’s uncle, Francis Gondwe, argues her niece could have done well in life had the late president not made her a promise he could not keep.
Said Gondwe: “The Kyungu chieftaincy is not a small thing. By reciting all the chiefs since the Kyungu chieftaincy started, you can judge for yourself how bright she is.
“[Afterwards] she was…confused. When you looked at her, you could see that my niece had been disturbed.”
Gondwe, who is a local church pastor, also asked the current administration to help Marietta secure a place at a government secondary school.
“Private schools are expensive and above our reach. We ask the President, who is a champion of education for girls, to assist her. That will be the best thing to happen to us,” he said.
According to Marietta’s mother, the uncle could not afford to pay for the niece’s fees as he also has his obligations with his little income.
No answers as to what happened
On their role and involvement in the Marietta saga and claims, Mhango and State House declined to be interviewed for the Weekend Nation story in January. We also tried to get Mhango’s comment this week, but to no avail. He said if the newspaper feels it is important to talk to him about the issue, it should visit him in Karonga.
But in the Weekend Nation story, Mhango said he needed time to explain what happened for the girl to find herself in her situation. And when a Weekend Nation crew visited him at his Sumuka Inn in Karonga, Mhango said he was busy.
The then presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba told Weekend Nation he was not aware of Marietta’s issue.
Said Ntaba: “The president has important matters to attend to and the issue you are talking about is administrative. Maybe State Residences can comment on that.”
The then chief of State residences Edward Sawerengera said: “I cannot answer that.”
Meanwhile, current Minister of Education, Science and Technology Eunice Kazembe has said her office, if approached, can study the case and decide whether the administration can help.