To game changers, positivity and preparation are almost everything.
This is the mantra of Francis Chitawo, 21, who has been going places, scaling heights and transforming lives since a successful fight against obesity taught him nothing is impossible.
Self-motivated, dedicated and involved are some of the words that best describe the Lilongwe-based young man.
“As a teenager, I was obese. At 15, I was weighing around 90 kilogrammes [kg] and I didn’t like it. I now weigh 70kg because I pushed hard to shed the extra weight,” he says.
The determination to do something about his “annoying” situation—all the weightlifting, jogging and sit-ups—have shaped the character of the young Malawian who made the country proud overseas.
Out and about
Cultured to overcome hardship as a child and thrust into the spotlight as a teenager, he keeps his cool as he pushes forward.
The weight that turned him into a laughing stock among his peers and schoolmates actually left him “10 to 20 times wiser” than his age, he says.
Chitawo recently flew to Slovakia where he gave an18-minute inspirational talk at TEDx, a global platform for sharing life-changing ideas and innovations.
The young citizen to watch is the first Malawian beneficiary of the year-long Bezos Scholarship Programme and a graduate of the prestigious African Leadership Academy (ALA).
Chitawo and his four siblings did their primary and secondary education at the elite Bishop Mackenzie International in Lilongwe.
But he says not all his upbringing was rosy.
“My parents struggled to raise us,” he says. “My parents were not rich. My father, who works with a tobacco company at Kanengo, only sent us to the prestigious school because he really wanted us to get the best education and we will always remain grateful.”
With age, one thing quickly led to the other.
When ALA came calling, he joined in. He found it a perfect window to take advantage of globalisation, education and innovation to change the world.
ALA offers young African scholars rigorous training in leadership, communication, design-thinking and entrepreneurship at Aspen in Colorado, US.
It challenges students and educators to confront their own preconceptions and beliefs in preference for new and informed way of thinking likely to facilitate positive change in the world.
They had a privilege to meet and learn from the best, including influential thinkers, world leaders and other game changers in arts, science, economics and other fields.
Chitawo was part of this marathon of ideas.
As a Bezos scholar, he spoke with renowned American political and cultural commentator David Brooks and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation chief executive officer Susan Desmond-Hellmann.
As an intern in Slovakia, he inspired his high school students to set up ‘Student Helping Students’ initiative to put together funds in aid of learners from poor background.
The charitable initiative aroused the interest of the Slovakian press.
He says: “At ALA, one is taught that the life next to you matters. Inspiring hope is key. It brings more gratitude in life.”
Chitawo is also a spoken-word poet who has performed and inspired crowds abroad.
A few weeks ago, he performed and gave a motivational talk at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
He believes studying abroad will not transform the country unless Malawians attain entrepreneurial skills and awareness.
Change of mindset
He co-founded Malawi Youth Agents of Change (Myac), a Lilongwe-based organisation which embodies his desired Malawi which provides “the same social and economic opportunities for all” regardless of age, gender, tribe and location.
He reckons entrepreneurship and leadership skills spur the youth to embark on projects and investments likely to change their livelihoods and communities.
Despite his personal feats, Chitawo’s quest to inspire positive change among the youth remains insatiable.
He calls Malawi “a dying country” reeling from a sense of hopelessness.
But he believes a change of mindset can redeem the country from seemingly abyssal depth of despair.
He says: “Being one of the poorest countries on earth does not inspire self-confidence. But it’s not eternal condemnation.
“None, but us, can redeem the nation out of this situation. We just need to be the change we want to see.” n