Miriam Mhango: 'I want all girls to have the opportunities that I have'

From a speech by a Malawian schoolgirl at the launch of Action Aid's Eight Ways to Change the World photographic exhibition, at the Oxo Tower in London

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In Malawi, secondary education is not free. My mother had a stroke in 2003 and is now unable to work. This means that I wouldn't be able to find the money to pay my school fees. But luckily I won a scholarship because I got good grades at the end of my primary education.

In my village, I know of some girls who I was with in primary school who are now married. The only way they could manage to meet their basic needs was to have an early marriage. They have little to hope for the future, apart from living their lives as subsistence farmers. And some have even been forced into prostitution through poverty. That's a very hard life to live.

Despite my family's problems, I consider myself lucky. At school we have good facilities. We have a library, well-constructed classes, and helpful and encouraging teachers. I love biology and mathematics. I'm good at them. I'm doing well because my teachers are so supportive. But it's not the same for most girls of my age in Malawi or even around the world. Over 100 million children have never set foot in a classroom, and two thirds of them are girls.

I want all girls to have the opportunities that I have. Malawi is a poverty-stricken country. Even if children do get the opportunity to go to school, they often don't have the classrooms. Instead they may have to learn under a tree. If it rains or if it's cold, they have to stay at home.

I believe the eradication of poverty, promotion of gender equality and empowering women and girls of my age is only possible if girls get an education. There is a need for more donors to support the education of African girls. I want all girls to go to school. Not just to 12, the end of primary education. And not just to 17, the end of secondary school. They should also be able to go to university.

Next week, the world's leaders are going to meet in New York to discuss poverty. They mustn't forget girls' education in Africa.

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