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The Dzaleka Community Secondary School Math Club. From left to right, Shadrick Lakudzula, advisor; Yese Mambe; Leah Edward; Ndizihiwe Ranthom. (Greg St. Arnold/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Dzaleka, 15 February 2017 - Three students from the JRS-run Dzaleka Community Secondary School made school history by being the school's first-ever participants in Malawi's nationwide Math Olympiad, a week-long math competition held at Mzuzu University in January. 

The competition brought together 187 students from all over the country, with some students making journeys as long as twelve hours. The Dzaleka team, led by teacher and Math Club advisor Shadrick Lakudzala, set out early Sunday morning to make the six hour drive and arrived in time to relax and prepare for the preliminary round on Monday. 

Representing Dzaleka Community Secondary were Form 4 students Leah Edward, Ndizihiwe Ranthom, and Yese Mambe. The three were selected to compete based on their strong math performance over the past two years of school, with Mr. Lakudzala encouraging them along the way. He had already taught all three students in Form 3 and knew they would make strong competitors.  

Monday's preliminary exam narrowed the field of students considerably: only 70 of the original 187 moved to round two, the semifinals. Among those who advanced were Leah and Yese. Although he didn't pass, Ndizihiwe stayed to cheer on his teammates and still relished the opportunity. "It was great to represent the school. Because it was our first time, I wasn't familiar with some of the questions, but now we have the experience, we're prepared for next time."

On Tuesday, Leah and Yese sat for the semifinals exam. According to Yese, "It was difficult. Some of the things on there, we never covered. I was having some pains just trying to get through it. None of us passed the semis. But the results weren't announced until 4 pm, so we stayed the night, had dinner, relaxed a little." 

The trip to Mzuzu was the first university visit for the three students. "We met people from all over the country – central, south, east," Ndizihiwe recalls. "At first we were all strange to one another, but we got to know one another." 

After three days away, the Form 4 students returned to preparing for the upcoming secondary exams in June, when they will have the opportunity to earn their secondary certificates. All three have their sights set much higher, however. Leah's goal is to become a doctor. Ndizihiwe, who loves to build things, wants to become an engineer. And Yese is interested in studying computer science and engineering. On this point, the usually quiet Yese feels empowered to speak for his teammates. "All of us are planning to continue in school. We all just want to continue our education." 

In Malawi, higher education options for the students are limited. Refugees are charged tuition as international students, which proves too costly for most unless they can secure private support. To address this, since 2010 JRS has collaborated with Jesuit Worldwide Learning to offer online courses through the Jesuit Commons network of universities. The program, called Higher Education at the Margins, provides about 80 students per year the opportunity to access higher education within Dzaleka and earn a Diploma of Liberal Studies from Regis University, Denver, CO, USA. Learn more about JRS' Higher Education efforts in collaboration with JWL: http://www.jwl.org/dzaleka-malawi-2/ 

- Greg St. Arnold, Regional Education Coordinator for JRS Eastern/Southern Africa