The subdued smile said it all. The Irish missionary released a weight of pent-up excitement as he watched young computer technology trainees receive their certificates from Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Teveta) board chairperson Rhoda Misomali. A seemingly ceaseless clap showed his relief at turning around futures that mark one of his major concerns during his 37-year stay in Malawi.
“It is a wonderful day,” said Fr John Ryan. “When I arrived in Mzuzu in 1998, many boys and girls were involved in risky lifestyles because they had nothing to do. A year later, I opened a small centre to empower those who did not have ICT skills.”
The ‘small centre’ was christened Lusekero, a Ngonde term for ‘happiness’. True to its name, the facility in Luwinga has become a hive of ICT training and leisure activities that bring joy to the age group with the majority plunging into idleness, drug abuse, alcoholism, premarital sex, crime and other risky practices due to shortage of life-changing alternatives.
With the facility, Fr Ryan and his humanitarian works have become talk of the township. Some tongues are wagging about its mother organisation—Ungweru, Tumbuka equivalent for ‘light’—is uplifting women in poverty, orphans and other vulnerable populations.
The change agent from Holy Cross Village in County Tipperary, Ireland, is also well known for his versatility. Luwinga Township dwellers say he is not your usual priest, but dedicated, humble and learned. At Mzuzu University (Mzuni), where he has risen to become a professor of mathematics, many revere him as one of the influential brains behind the introduction and modernisation of computer studies.
Belonging to St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Fr Ryan arrived in Malawi in 1978; was first posted to St Anne’s Parish in Chilumba, Karonga. He had worked in nearly all districts in northern Malawi when fallen bishop of Mzuzu Diocese, Joseph Mukasa Zuza, appointed him to his advisory council.
Before shifting to Mzuni, Fr Ryan was teaching at St Patrick’s Seminary where he offered the likes of Matthews Mtumbuka, who obtained his PHD from the Oxford University aged under 30, paved pathways to arithmetic, algebra and geometry.
But renewing chances of the youth in life has steered Lusekero to newly won recognition from the authority responsible for Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet).
Recently, Teveta conferred certificates on 148 young Malawians who completed various courses at Tidalirane Youth Group, Golden Gift College and Lusekero. However, Lusekero contributed 46 to the pack, the first-time learners from the centres were being recognised by the State-run authority which regulates and oversees certification in technical education.
At the ceremony, Fr Ryan took Nation on Sunday down the memory lane, recounting the humble beginnings of his impassioned struggle with a prevailing shortage of training opportunities which condemn the youth to risky lifestyles.
He has remained true to his word. On June 2, his students got what they wanted—recognised certificates.
“For years, we have been issuing local certificates. The involvement of Teveta is important. It will give recognition to the work being done at Lusekero,” said the priest.
The in-house certificates were not up to standard and Malawians want Teveta to speed up harmonisation of the curricula and certification of vocation training as required by its legislation and policy.
“The process is at an advanced stage,” says Teveta director of training programmes Wilson Makulumiza-Nkhoma.
According to Fr Ryan, over 1 000 Malawians have passed through Lusekero.
Some of them have taken up careers in computer technology and others are harnessing the skills to enhance their competitive edge in terms of further education and other jobs, they say.
The skilled computer technicians symbolise a yoke off the shoulders of the country which is burdened by a bulging youth population in need of higher education, jobs and business opportunities. The young brood, aged under 30, accounts for nearly 70 in every 100 Malawians.
“We thank organisations that are supporting government agenda to empower the youth with necessary skills because global trends show those with little or no skills are disadvantaged when it comes to unemployment,” said Misomali at the graduation.
According to Minister of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development Henry Mussa, nearly two million young Malawians are “loafing with certificates in their pocket”.
The country has seven technical colleges—Mzuzu, Livingstonia, Nasawa, Soche, Salima, Lilongwe, Namitete and Phwezi—which take up to 20 000 students.
Such is the unmet demand that President Mutharika revealed at the launch of the community technical colleges he promised during his campaign trail that every year, 50 000 learners complete secondary education with no chance of further education or skills development.
According to Deputy Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Vincent Ghambi, 13 000 learners qualified for public universities this year, but only 4 000 got selected.
This is why Lupaso Ward councillor Sam Gondwe, whose ward benefits from Lusekero, waxes lyrical of Lusekero and other informal sector training providers.
“The likes of Fr Ryan are doing a great job to make dreams come true, but it is up to the youth to turn the skills to their benefit.”