The deep blue-coloured building with two doors facing the dusty road, Ntambanyama in Njovu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Khwethemule, is the hustle and bustle of activities with men and women seen entering, leaving or going all around it.
Resembling a rural grocery store structure, the building is unkempt. Debris is evident on the verandah and entire premises. The common site being saw dust, metal and pieces of cloth at the front while the back mainly has broken bricks and cement remains.
Situated 12 kilometres from Thoylo Boma, this building houses Ntambanyama Community Skills Development Centre, home to people from all walks of life within Thyolo who have an interest in honing skills that will enable them to develop themselves and their families.
Arthur Mmeto from Nkumba Village is one of those who enrolled for bricklaying at the centre.
His story is unique and compelling because he treks for about 36 kilometres to and from the centre every week-day and will do so for the entire duration of the six-month course.
“For me, the walk means much more than leaving my house very early in the morning and returning past 7pm exhausted. It is progress towards a brighter future filled with the hope of an income,” says Mmeto.
Classes at the Skills Development Centre finish at 3pm, and it takes Mmeto about four hours to walk back home. He leaves home at 5am.
Mmeto envies classmate Grey Hamitoni from Mwakwasa, who says his distance to the centre is shorter—about 16 kilometres to and from.
However, the Nkumba resident believes the distance cannot be a barrier to attaining his goals, and, indeed for anybody who seeks knowledge.
For Hamitoni, his sentiments echo Mmeto’s when he says: “It is not easy, but one has to be committed. There are benefits later on that should overrule the struggle of walking such a distance.”
The enthusiasm of the two youngsters in brick-laying may also partly be derived from the centre’s principal Tobias Dodoro’s assertions that the trade is the most marketable in Ntambanyama area.
Operating under the auspices of the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority of Malawi (Teveta), Dodoro said in an interview that because many people are building, brick-laying is on high demand.
He noted that most students cover long distances between 10 and 20 kilometres to the centre in pursuit of certificates in various trades.
“Of course, some cycle, but most of them walk all the way here. And because of the long distances, some students opted to reside nearby by renting houses for the duration of the course,” he said.
Launched on September 18 2015, Mtambanyama Community Skills Development Centre offers courses in carpentry and joinery; tailoring and design; fabrication and welding, and brick-laying.
Dodoro said Teveta bankrolled the centre by providing materials, tools, stationery and other training needs, including salaries for the centre’s eight turors.
He observed that the designing and tailoring course, which enrolls 40 students at a time, is the most popular. Dodoro added that the rest of the courses enroll just 25 students per session.
According to Watson Suluma, personal assistant to Member of Parliament for Thoylo Thava, Mary Navitcha, courses being pursued here were selected by the community members, according to their needs and environment.
He said so far, two cohorts have graduated—with 101 and 72 for the first and second cohorts—while the third cohort started in February this year.
“Popularity of the courses is evident by the overall positive responses to enrolment. Of course, we have had challenges of hunger and lack of fees. But the enthusiasm is there among students in all courses,” he said.
According to Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training (Tevet) regional service centre manager for the South, Elliot Mulanje, Teveta’s support also comes in form of refurbishment of mostly already existing structures in the communities, providing training equipment such as sewing machines, carpentry tools, welding and fabrication, and facilitating salaries for trainers.
He said apart from Mtambanyama, Teveta also has Didi Community Skills Development Centre in Thyolo.
“The programme aims at improving standards of technical and entrepreneurial skills of people living and working in the informal sector through provision of various initiatives that are implemented under the informal sector skills development programme (ISSDP).
“Community Skills Development Centres (CSDC) are Tevet providers that are owned and run by communities in liaison with the district council for customised training meant to address skills gaps in the community. It focuses on training that is relevant to the locality with a view to promote self-employment and economic empowerment of the local masses,” Mulanje said.
He added that Teveta’s informal sector skills development programmes are also spread across the districts and mostly categorised according to different approaches.
Said Mulanje: “Community skills development centres are owned by communities themselves. So, centres remain operational for as long as the communities find them relevant in as far as imparting of skills is concerned in the communities.”
MP Navitcha is said to have been instrumental in the inception of Ntambanyama centre, according to Suluma.
Mulanje adds that individuals, organisations and small business groups in both rural and urban areas are encouraged to demand training opportunities from the Teveta through its service centres or district Tevet desk officers.
The Southern Region manager said there are 37 community skills development centres (CSDCs) which Teveta is supporting.
Among challenges Teveta faces, Mulanje cited a great demand for skills, especially among the youth, limited financial resources and unavailability of already existing structures in some communities that deserve/need skills.
On the positive side, Mulanje observes that great strides have been made in the 2015-16 financial year where over 982 people (673 male, 309 females) benefitted through these trainings, against a target of 1 600. There are 37 skills development centres across the country which have been established in line with President Peter Mutharika’s campaign promise of developing the country by empowering the youth through community colleges.