On Friday, when the Queen’s Baton arrived in Malawi, it carried special significance for one young Malawian. Monica Dzonzi was lucky enough to be the first to receive the Baton at the start of its journey, and even got to meet Queen Elizabeth II.
This young, bright and determined lady has come a long way since her early years. This was a far cry from Monica’s early years. After losing her father at a young age, she was sent to live with her aunt in Zimbabwe, but sadly with so many nieces and nephews around, money for Monica’s education could not be raised. With no alternative, Monica started working—gathering and selling firewood, digging for minerals and selling vegetables. She was determined not to give up her dream of education, and by the time she turned 15, she had enough money to return to Malawi and go to school.
It was often a struggle, with the family living day to day, but Monica passed her school certificate exams with flying colours. She was desperate to go to college and become an accountant but she had to lock that dream up for the time. When she heard about Bangwe Youth Centre offering free ICT and livelihood courses for young people, she jumped at the chance. She has demonstrated a quickness to learn, and a skill for inspiring young people, and she is now running the centre.
The once in a lifetime opportunity came about through a connection with Unicef who had supported youth NGO Ayise and in particular the Bangwe Youth Centre. When the request came from Unicef for a young person who could inspire others, Monica was an obvious choice, and just so happened to be in the UK at the time, taking a short course in youth development. Everything came together and before she knew it, Monica found herself in front of Buckingham Palace shaking hands with the Queen.
“It was so exciting for me. I never dreamt that someone from my background, from Malawi, would meet the Queen. Today my dream has come true,” Monica said shortly after the historic meeting.
For Malawi, the Baton is more than a symbolic lead-up to the Commonwealth Games. Through Unicef’s partnership with Glasgow City Council and the Games, the Queen’s Baton Relay is linking up with young people all over the Commonwealth, to shed light on issues and challenges affecting their lives.
For example, in Tanzania recently, the country used the opportunity of the Baton to highlight the issue of violence against children. And here in Malawi, the country will use the arrival, to highlight the situation of children with disabilities and how sports can be a way to build their confidence and skills.
Sport can play a critical role in child and youth development. At Bangwe, for example, there are active football, basketball and netball teams of both boys and girls, and through participation and training, young people can find their way back into education and even employment.
Malawi is benefiting more directly from the games, and is one of six countries worldwide that has received funds for the development of a youth and sports centre in Thyolo with the aim of reducing youth unemployment and HIV infections among young people. In addition, the funds will see the introduction of both traditional and modern music and dance at the youth centres, as a tool for engaging and equipping young people with employable skills. Unicef is also keen to build capacity in youth development across the country, so there will be strengthening of guidance for managing youth centres as well as sports coaching manuals with an emphasis on youth development as opposed to competition.
It is for all these reasons that Malawians should celebrate and cheer on the Queen’s Baton visit to Malawi on the 24th. And one young lady, cheered extra loud.
—Travis is Unicef chief of communication and Chisi is executive director of Ayise