The struggle for access to higher education is real. If one misses out on government scholarships at the University of Malawi (Unima) they are faced with paying high university fees or looking for other things to do.
The story turned out different for Chisomo Billy of Ntcheu. He is the oldest son in a family of five children—born to a father who is a builder at the district’s council and a mother who does not work.
Chisomo passed his 2010 Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) with 13 points. For two years he was on the waiting list as Unima was running a quota system then.
Despite Chisomo passing with a colourful 13 points, his father could not send him to a paying college or university because he does not earn enough to enable him do so; hence the stay at home for two years.
One day, as Chisomo was passing time with friends at Ntcheu Trading Centre, he asked for a newspaper from a passing gentleman to browse through, and there he saw a United World Challenge (UWC) advertisement for scholarships.
He applied, and for the first time he had to travel outside Ntcheu when he was called to for interviews in Lilongwe. He succeeded and was awarded a scholarship to Costa Rica.
Comprising three trustees, United World Challenge (UWC) National Committee in Malawi is the organisation sourcing college scholarships outside the country, for underprivileged students such as Chisomo. From time to time, they dip into their pockets to ensure the trust is running, so that such students can go for higher learning.
UWC alumnus, Diego Angemi and his family moved to Malawi to work as a government consultant. He was keen on keeping in touch with other UWC alumni to catch-up and set up a national committee (NC) for Malawi; he got in touch with Jayne Munthali, who turned out to be one of the trustees, and UWC Malawi chapter was established in 2010.
Munthali explains: “We believe in Malawi and the future of our country. We noticed a gap in the education system in the country. There are many brilliant young Malawians who can change the future of the country but are unable to reach their full potential because of limited education opportunities.
“If we are to change Malawi for the better, we need to ensure that the next generation of leaders is educated and exposed to new and different ways of thinking and doing things. In the end, we hope that the youth will be empowered and realise that it is possible to change the future of Malawi for the better.”
Another UWCNC trustee, High Court judge Zione Ntaba believes it is best for the privileged, young educated and exposed Malawians to play an active role in society.
“We have been exposed and seen what is out there. We know we can do better as a country. Therefore, we cannot sit in the comfort of our homes and complain about the state of our country without doing something about it. We are playing our part and are optimistic that we will make a positive change,” she says.
Over 18 students who could not make it to the university because of financial constraints have gone through the programme so far.
Previously, selection for Malawian students was done from the UWCNC in Swaziland, which limited Malawians’ chances for getting scholarships, which was another reason for setting up a local committee.
Milika Kalyati is the third Malawin UWCNC trustee. She points out that the first selection was done in 2011, sending students to UWC colleges in Hong Kong, Norway and Italy.
“We had a successful year and we decided to continue helping students find scholarships abroad every year. We applied for the organisation to become a trust in 2013,” adds Kalyati.
The UWC teaches the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme, a high school diploma equivalent to “A” levels. The IB is a vigorous and intense programme, and it fully prepares the students for further studies.
However, all students that have been awarded the scholarships through the Malawi national committee acquired further scholarships and are now at top colleges and universities in the United States of America and Norway.
Chisomo excelled in his studies and passed his IB diploma. He was later awarded a scholarship to study Economics and Mathematics at Wheaton College, a top university in the USA. He now dreams of becoming a development economist and wants to come back to Malawi.