Rute Fumulani is 16 years old and lives in the village of Kachaso, Nsanje district, Malawi. She lost both her parents in catastrophic flooding that hit the area in 2015. She married husband Fumulani in the same year at the age of 14: the couple have a son, Thokozani, aged one year and two months. They live in a two room hut with her husband’s nine year old brother, Eliya, and five year old sister, Amines. They earn a maximum of MWK 500 (about 50p) on days they can find work and eat only on three days a week.
“My name is Rute Fumulani. I am 16 years old. Before I got married, I used to go to school. But the 2015 floods changed everything. The floods took away both my parents.
“The flooding happened at night. When the waters were rising they shouted in the village, to wake up people and make them aware of the flooding.
“When I came out of my sleep, I didn’t know exactly what was happening. But I managed to get hold of some elders who were around and they helped to move us away from the flooding area to the Matundu primary school, where there was a camp set up for the flooding victims.
“During that night, my parents managed to wake up. But they were busy trying to look after the livestock and rescue some food.
“I don’t know what happened to them, I don’t have any information about where they are now. So I just concluded that both of them passed away during the floods.
“Staying in the camp was difficult because I was alone. I didn’t have any biological relatives, only people from the place we used to live. But as for a father, a mother, a brother or a sister, there was no one in the camp.
“For me to have some food, other people were giving me leftovers from their meals. I didn’t even have anything to eat with, like a cup, a plate or a spoon. Life was very difficult.
“I met my husband after four days. He was able to do some piece works and managed to find some money and buy some food.
“I was having problems, he was having problems also. So we decided to come together to help each other.
“I was all by myself and that’s what prompted me to accept when he came to ask my hand in marriage.
Inside the family home
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“The first night of our marriage we didn’t sleep together, but he wanted to. For three days he kept asking. And because a man is man, he overpowered me and I didn’t have a choice but just to accept. So it happened. But it was very painful.
“I managed to cope with that after some time, because that struggle with my husband didn’t only happen after three days. It happened for a longer period because I was not ready to continue sleeping with him. But he was more powerful and it kept on happening up until I said it’s OK.
“After that we got closer, we sat down and talked about what happened previously. I was still a kid and I didn’t know what happens in a marriage, so that is why there was a struggle. So we talked and forgave each other.
“Most girls get married as young as 14, 15, 16 years old due to various reasons. Some get married at a young age because of peer pressure. Others are getting married at a young age because parents want to get something out of the marriage. But other are getting married at that young age because of problems. In some households, parents cannot support their children to go to school, because they have literally nothing and they also have problems with food.
“Parents are struggling to support the children due to extreme weather conditions. Some parents are trying hard to make it, but because of dry spells they are not harvesting enough for the households. And also because of other weather related problems which are causing the harvest to not be enough, there is also poverty.
“In the past years, the rains for planting were expected in October. But that has changed lately because now the rains come usually in December. And even when the rains start coming, in the first weeks, there is excessive rain. Then a dry spell follows. The dry spells make the plants unable to survive and that is also what is preventing the households harvesting enough.
“I blame no one for the changes in the climate but myself. The climate change has come because of us as people, rampant cutting down of trees has contributed much to climate change, also carbon emission has affected climate change. So I blame and point a finger at myself and the people for the rampant cutting down of trees.
“I used to dream about going to school and after finishing school, I wanted to go to a nursing school and become a nurse.
“My dream was to get married at the age of 27. I would have been through with my education, maybe I would have also started working because I would have finished nursing education. I was also hoping that by then I would have developed fully physically, to do all the household chores.
“But now my husband cannot support me to go back to school because he does not have the resources to support me.
“Life is difficult because even the piece work which is available now requires somebody who went school. But my husband and me, we did not go to school. And that has made life difficult. In order to manage to find food, we go up to the hills to cut some grass. And after cutting it, we come to the village and sell it and that is when we are able to buy some food.
“Climate change is our fault. I contribute to that because when I go to the hills to cut the grass, sometimes I also cut some trees to sell as firewood. And during those days, when we cut the grass or the trees, then we eat. So in a week, we go up on the hill for three days. We eat for those three days.
“But I dream big for my son. I want him to go to school. I had a dream of going further with high education, but it didn’t happen. So my prayer is that if there is a chance to manage to find a job somewhere or if the weather allows us to harvest enough, then I would wish to see my child going to school and proceeding with high education because as I grow older I want my son to be able to help me.”