Youth empowerment is a burning issue and Malawi must open more doors for her young citizens to acquire skills, writes JAMES CHAVULA:
With no public college in sight, thousands of young Malawians in Chitipa cannot afford costly walks to gain relevant skills for their survival and prosperity.
Like Lusekero Mwiba, the youth leaving the district’s 171 primary schools and 17 secondary schools point to Miracle, a vocationally college in the neighbouring Karonga, Livingstonia and Phwezi Women Foundation in Rumphi as well as Mzuzu in Mzimba as the likely destinations for those excluded from public universities.
“Almost 2 000 young Malawians leave secondary schools every year, but there is no college in the district. Consequently, only those who can afford seek further education and skills in private institutions or outside the district,” says the mother-of-one from Misuku.
Having re-sat Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations after scoring 32 points at Ekwendeni Girls Secondary School in 1999, Mwiba puts the silent crisis in context: “Many are disadvantaged. It’s like 1 000 people locked up in a burning factory with only one window open.”
She got 27 points at Misuku Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) two years later—but did not make it to university.
She recalls: “I spent years dejected and idling. I hated myself and contemplated suicide. Life was useless.”
But she personifies the dilemma of many young Malawians. The 2010 Demographic and Health Survey found that 57 in every 100 Malawians are under 18, with 74 percent below 30. The youthful population is growing by almost three percent annually, and the country’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which refers to the total number of children a woman of child-bearing age will have, is at 5.7.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) assistant representative Dorothy Nyasulu fears Malawi could be heading for a disaster if it does not take necessary measures to transform the youth into a powerhouse for the country’s economy.
“If we continue business as usual, the neglected youthful is a recipe for more woes to our fragile economy,” says Nyasulu.
Currently, there are three privately-owned technical and vocational colleges in Chitipa, with a combined enrolment of about 100. These are Paradox Institute for Youth which Lusekero and 70 others joined last year, Khama Tailoring and Training Centre which takes about 10 every year and the on-off Lufita Vocational Training Centre which depends on funding from interest groups.
They are not briefcase colleges. They are largely informal sector training centres.
The Technical, Entrepreneurial, Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta), which regulates manpower development, commends them for empowering the youth with relevant skills for survival away from limited white-collar jobs.
“With high youth unemployment and low access to vocational training, the informal sector has become a life-changing destination for the majority of the youth,” says director of training programmes Wilson Makulumiza-Nkhoma.
Extreme poverty excludes some young Malawians from fee-paying training institutions.
Paradox founder Raphael Mkumbwa echoed this vividly. The college opened in 2013 with free lessons funded by external donors. This year, he introduced a fee of K30 000 because the donation was no longer sustainable.
“So far, only two out of 15 have paid the fees, but what can we do with K60 000?” he revealed.
“What else can we do? Most of the youth have nothing to do after secondary education. Those who could afford private colleges flocked here upon hearing about free instruction. We enrolled 70 out of nearly 300 applicants, but a small fee was necessary for operations.”
When Twaibu Mambo opened Khama in 1999, he wanted to build a cadre of tailors with necessary skills and equipment for self-sufficiency.
“Then, Chitipa had no skilled tailor, so the market was unexploited,” says Mambo.
The mother body of Khama Skills Development Centre has become talk of the town, getting up to 40 applications for 10 places on offer.
To him, the race for tailoring in a population where students were repeating MSCE several times in a desperate attempt to be selected to a public university and later get white-collar jobs could be symptomatic of the broader demand for skills development.
“In Chitipa, skills development is almost unattainable because training institutions are few, far apart and ill equipped,” says Khama.
This is indicative of how shortage of formal technical colleges is hitting Malawi’s youthful population hard.
There is no State-run technical college in the North. Save for Phwezi Foundation’s, Miracle and Mzuzu Technical belong to the Catholic Church just as Livingstonia is to Livingstonia Synod (CCAP).
Yet, Chitipa is among four out of six districts in the North and 17 nationwide which are still waiting for President Peter Mutharika’s promised community technical colleges.
As the study continues, Lusekero spends her holidays installing solar power systems in homes across Misuku.
“The money may be paltry, but it has shown me life is not useless. I just need instruments and a small capital to stand on my own,” she says.
She wishes there was a technical and vocational training college in her hilly hometown, Misuku. But both Mambo and Mkumbwa say the district’s tricky terrain call for more at Wenya and Kameme as well—a gap likely to be eliminated if government honours its promise to ensure all 193 constituencies in the country have a college by 2019.
Young Malawians in Chitipa wait with uncertainty over their futures.