Verepi Madise is a 26-year-old Bachelor of Arts and Humanities graduate from Chancellor College. Apart from her job as a monitoring and evaluation officer at Circle for Integrated Community Development, Madise is also a youth development practitioner. She belongs to different networks of youth development, and has now hatched her own initiative called Malawi for Her (M4H), targeting girls. M4H aims at strengthening community systems that support the girl child, her education, her parents and her brothers. Every Woman learnt more from Madise.
When she was young and in secondary school at Likuni Girls, Verepi joined the drama club which taught her a lot about self-expression. As she evolved into one character after another, she started getting confident that she could be whatever she wanted to be.28
She went on to study Drama at Chancellor College between 2008-2012, joining Nanzikambe Arts Organisation, soon after graduation.
Although she worked in monitoring and evaluation for the past four years, she was never satisfied with the day job despite it being fulfilling as a career. She still felt she needed to reach out to many of her fellows in the public. She went into volunteerism.
“Volunteerism is the basis for leadership because it gets you to be of service. I took part in the Discovering Young Leaders Programme in 2013, which was run by Commonwealth Youth Programme. In my class were people from all over the world that were making an impact at such young ages, and I thought ‘why can’t I also get started and make a difference in my community’?” she said.
With that training, she co-founded the Global Alliance for Youth Leaders (GAYL), an online leadership training platform that empowers young people to take up leadership.
Inequality between genders is still prominent, which calls for deliberate efforts to close the gap by, among other things, encouraging girls to go to school; to stand up for themselves and to explore their talents.
This is everyone’s responsibility and Madise is doing her part. She points out that her interest in working with girls became so strong when she was working at Nanzikambe Arts Organisation, where she conducted human rights and self-esteem training workshops with former prostitutes and young female inmates at Maula Prison in Lilongwe..
“Each time I heard the stories of how they got into those situations, I thought to myself that there must be something I can do to prevent the next generation from this. Change being a lengthy process, I decided to target girls before they became women. I started going to primary and secondary schools in my own time, to run workshops. I also volunteered as a counsellor for Girls Leading Our World Camp, ran by the Peace Corps in 2014.
“In 2015, I joined the Youth to Youth Empowerment Network (YYEN) to grow my skills in mentorship and an additional platform of working with young people in Malawi. Now, when Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali) brought its campaign Africa4Her, I was inspired, I made a pledge to conduct workshops with girls on gender equality,” she explains.
Furthermore, considering that Yali is an American initiative targeting Africa, she recalls wondering why she could not come up with a local, specific to Malawi.
“Together with my friend, Zione Kalumikiza (a lecturer at Luanar-Bunda Campus) we co-founded M4H initiative, which in all sense is Malawi4Her; but Malawi being a protected emblem we decided to go with M4H.
“Our vision for M4H is to build community support systems for girls and women to thrive in education and nutrition-led agro-enterprises through mentorship and capacity building, for increased productivity,” says Madise.
Under M4H, Madise says there are two actions for girls and women. They are promoting girls’ education through mentorship; pairing secondary and college students for mentorship through an initiative called ‘Sister’s Keeper’, which also tries to improve their hygiene through hygiene workshops and sanitary pads donation.
“In future, we will start a fund to sponsor hardworking girls in secondary schools. As for the women, we want to improve their social and economic well being by building their skills in soap-making and food processing. Not only will this serve as an extra source of income, but also contribute to their food and nutrition security.
“We also appreciate that women in good health and financial stability have a multiplier effect on the next generation. We have not cut off boys and men; we want to partner with them in what we call “Men’s Movement 4Her” through young men that are advocates for gender equality,” she adds.
Life is never without ups and downs; things can get worse before they get better. One of such downs for Madise include the negative voices from peers and other people as they wondered why she is concerned about people that she does not know.
“Yes, sometimes it got to me, and I wanted to throw in the towel but I never gave up. In addition, it has not been easy doubling my full-time job and voluntary work; so I had to learn to balance between the two. There have also been battles within myself; so many times I ask myself if am I doing the right thing; but I have learnt that ‘courage is the absence of fear’.
The young woman worked as an intern at Nanzikambe Arts Organisation in the development section upon graduating Chancellor College, monitoring projects in governance and human rights.
From then on she has worked as a monitoring and evaluation officer for Theatre for a Change (TfaC) and Circle for Integrated Community Development (Cicod), where she still is.
It was also through her volunteering that she was chosen as a representative of the Commonwealth Young Entrepreneurs of Southern Africa visioning workshop that took place in Namibia recently.
“The truth is that there are no jobs for all the young people in our countries and we need to move from being job hunters to being job creators. The Commonwealth Young Entrepreneurs Southern Africa will officially launch in South Africa this August,” she says.
Recently, Madise was part of a team that gathered in Kenya for African Community of Practice in Resource Mobilisation.
“I believe that young people are just as concerned on developmental issues as everyone else in Malawi,” she says. n