The Spirit of Volunteerism in Malawi

Lena — By Lena from Malawi

It was a sunny Wednesday morning and I set out with my colleagues to visit some volunteers who are placed to work on a project called Support for the most Marginalised Children Education. This project is implemented by Centre for Youth Empowerment and Education (CYECE) in a rural area called Siya-Siya in Salima.  Having a clue of what these volunteers have been up to in this community, thus encouraging the most marginalised children to get back to school, it never occurred to me that these youth’s passion in helping others has grown so much that they were not only understanding this community better, but also proposing solutions that are sustainable. This made me realise how much youths would like to give to their communities, even though they might lack the platform and resources to do so.

Working for an agency called International Service that manages a Youth Volunteer Programme called International Citizen Service, funded by the UK Government, the programme engages youths between the ages of 18 and 35 from the UK and Malawi to volunteer in development projects. The Programme is aimed at developing the skills of the youth, regardless of their qualification or expertise, mentor youths to become active global citizens, but also expose them to unfamiliar culture and how they can manage in this cross-cultural setting.

The number of Malawian youths that apply to take part in this programme is so overwhelming that I for one felt most apply because jobs are scarce.  The youth and women  unemployment rate in Malawi is estimated at 27% according to While this is the case, among the estimated 17.2 million population (2016 PRB fact sheet) of Malawi, 40% of the total population are youth under the age of 15. This means that if the youth age of 10-35 as provided for in the Malawi youth Policy 2013 is taken into consideration, youths in Malawi make over 50% of the population.

However, to the contrary, getting to Siya-Siya that morning, we were welcomed by the enthusiastic 12 youth Volunteers, 6 Malawians, and 6 Britons. Exposed to unfamiliar environment, one would expect them to complain about the environment they are living in, but they enjoyed being in this environment and took it as an opportunity to learn from the community but also identify issue affecting children’s education then propose solutions to these issues. Talking to each one of them, it was established that they at first took it as an opportunity to get away from home and fill the gap of idling at home, but to their surprise it has been a fruitful as they have had the chance to live a life in the rural communities which has changed their world view. For the Malawian volunteers who were not sure what volunteerism entails, said they would do it again as they will be satisfied that their contribution is helping someone who really needs the help.

Some of the activities these youths are involved in is identifying children that are not going to school, persuade them to go back to school and establish the reasons why they never went to school or dropped out. From what these volunteers established, despite primary school being free in Malawi, children have been sent back from school for not having a school uniform, having to walk very long distances just to access a school facility, some schools only having junior classes which meant if one is transitioning into a senior class, he or she must change schools. Some dropped due to bullying while other due to child labour and early marriages.

The Joy in Working With the Youths

Lena — By Lena from Malawi

Growing up in a middle-class family, I used to think we lacked a lot of things which when I grew up, I realised were luxury. Mid-density area, well-furnished house, both parents having modest jobs and going to modest schools, seemed like a way of life and nothing else really mattered. Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that some lack even the basic needs, let alone school fees, despite how bright and zealous they might be about Education. For someone like me, education was something I had to do because my parents wouldn’t allow me to ditch school and loaf around. Little did I know what others are going through just to attend college.

Working for an organisation that defends the rights of women, youths, children, and people with disability, I am a defender of the rights of these target audiences and in the process realised my dream of empowering the youths. Having thought of helping the youths on some deeper level, of which I haven’t had the opportunity to establish my own organisation or film that is mainly into empowering the youths, I got a job that I enjoy doing.

Having worked for 10 years, I have never felt satisfied on the job like I feel now, and I realise it is because I can finally do what I am passionate about. This feeling of satisfaction made me realise that working should be more than just a pay check.

Within a short time, I’ve realised youths between the ages of 18 and 35 are a bright bunch of youngsters who always have fascinating ideas and positive energy. They are a group of hopeful people who regardless of their backgrounds, lack of basic needs and care, look forward to fulfilling every plan they have envisioned.

Sitting at my desk one morning in June, with a mission to get done with that day’s task which was to finalise reviewing applications for candidates for a youth volunteer programme, I came across an application that caught my attention. From the application, I envisaged a bright boy who made people laugh. Meeting James Samson in a one-on-one interview, I established he was a bright boy who has experienced a tough upbringing but has never given up. Not only did he earn a spot in the volunteer programme, the opportunity opened doors for him to finish his education. Here is what Samson says:

A third born of late Mr. and Mrs. Samson, I was born in Mangochi district, which is in the Southern part of Malawi, in tradition authority Chimwala in Kausi village. My mother is from Mangochi, while my father was from Karonga in the Northern part of Malawi, in the area of tradition authority Kilupula, in Iponga village.

Both of my parents had small businesses. In 2004, my father decided to take the family to his home village where 9 months down the line, he passed away after suffering a minor headache. Way of life made a back flip as my father’s uncle removed us from our house, and took away our family possessions. All this happened because my mother refused to go through a wife inheritance process, which is largely practiced in Karonga.”

A wife inheritance is commonly practiced in Malawi and has been called different names in the different cultures in Malawi:  ‘Kuhara’ ‘Chokolo’ and ‘Kulowa Kufa’ are some of the names used. This practice allows a brother of the deceased to marry the widow. It has of late been a contentious issue in the wake of HIV & AIDS.

“Consequently, in 2007, my mother decided to take us back to Mangochi with the hope of things getting better. Unfortunately, conditions in Mangochi were not friendly either, and we struggled to survive. Amidst such an environment, in 2008, l was selected to Changali Community Day Secondary School, of which I worked extremely hard and scored 13 points in the Malawi School Certificate of Education and was selected to pursue a Bachelors of Education Social Studies at Chancellor College the University of Malawi. I was enrolled under the Government bursary until third year when the school fee was increase by 300% and the Government stopped the support and I couldn’t continue any more and had to temporarily withdraw.

After spending a year at home, things changed dramatically when l was recruited to participate in International Citizen Service Programme on a six-month placement as a team leader. Coincidentally, l was assigned to work in Zomba, a district where chancellor college is located. Through the stipend which l received, coupled with support from one of the lecturers from the college, l had been able to partially resume my studies at chancellor collage and l expect to finish my four-year studies by July 2018. Four years from now, l will be able to fully support my mother and my brothers as well as my community at large.

Life has taught me not to lose hope, as situations that may seem hard and hopeless turn out to be the core sources of next opportunities. Therefore, my message to youths is that they should not lose hope, and they should set more goals, even when everything seems to go against them.”

Nita Ambani says, and I quote, “Education is not a tool for development – individual, community, and the nation. It is the foundation for our future. It is empowerment to make choices and emboldens the youth to chase their dreams.”

Youth empowerment is my passion and am glad to have indirectly contributed to a youth’s success.

The Diary of an Entrepreneur


— By Harvey from Malawi

“How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You might just like it!”

Youth unemployment! Youth unemployment! Youth unemployment! These days, everywhere I turn, it seems that the topic of the day is youth unemployment. I swear, I think one day I had a dream with a theme of youth unemployment. So, as one of the jubilant concerned youths in Malawi, I decided to do something about it. I have done what almost every person is doing these days, and that is to venture into entrepreneurship. Myself and a fellow concerned youth residing in another city have decided to start supplying goods, which are available in some city cities but are scarce in other cities.

It was only the first day of work, but I had already sensed something peculiar. At 10:30 in the morning, I waddled into the local bus station to send my merchandise to one of the cities in Malawi which is in desperate need of such products. To my surprise, I found more people than normal at the station. For a typical, local Malawian bus station which usually has a multitude of people, more than normal basically means a stampede. The place literary resembled a mass exodus of refugees. Later, I found out that there were no buses heading to the popular commercial city of Blantyre, and nobody seemed to know why. This had never happened before in my entire life, and being a superstitious person, I started suspecting that the universe was conspiring against the entrepreneur spirit in me. Instead of using a local bus to ferry my goods, I had to contract with a courier agent, which meant more expenses for my new business.

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These are the sort of challenges that small scale business people are facing on a daily basis in Malawi. Every stakeholder preaches entrepreneurship without ensuring that there is a conducive environment to ensure that entrepreneurship grows to become a viable alternative to growing unemployment concerns. As the sun was setting in Lilongwe, Malawi, I found myself looking forward to more experiences as I undertake this entrepreneurship challenge. Save for the troubling, tattered shape of the bus that was going to ferry my goods, I was almost sure my merchandise will reach its destination. I cannot help but feel optimistic for the future that lies ahead.

My Journey to Begin Charity Work

— By Dorcas from Ghana

While growing up, I had the passion and determination to help the less privileged in the society. This passion gradually grew to become a dream where I had to achieve it even while in school. I had the passion and the interest to provide care and support to people especially to less privileged children and also to make impact in their lives. The challenges and the struggles that I went through, while embarking on a charity work as a journalist makes it more memorable and worth sharing with people.

Knowing very well that there would be no support from anywhere in terms of finances, I started making some little savings from my personal money that my parent gives to me while in school. While doing the savings, I had short discussions with friends to also support me with some old clothes and shoes or items and this is where my dream of providing care and support to orphans started. While in school, I established this organisation called NABA Foundation which had its main aim or mission to provide care and support to orphans, less privileged children as well as widows and promote health and education in rural communities. My vision was also to become the well-known non –governmental organisation in Africa and beyond that stands out to sorely provide Care and Support, Education and promote Health as well as researching to know the needs of Africans especially those in the rural communities.

After establishing, I began fulfilling the first core area that I have chosen that is providing care and support. I invited few friends and used the money I had to purchase some items that we donated to some families who were in deep poverty and residing in a deprived house in the surrounds of Accra. While conducting the donations, I observed that most people are in deep hardship which means they do not have enough financial support to cater for their family and some have travelled from their respective rural communities to the capital city of Ghana, Accra to search for jobs and end up on the street when they do not get any job.

This observation urged me to do more donations to those on the street and people who need either financial support or clothes or food to eat. The need came for me to contact several colleagues to set up a team in this foundation that will mobilize resources to be used for this donation and also support the research. The team was able to raise some funds among ourselves to make other bigger donations at Osu Children’s Home and conducted free health talk and donation at another orphanage in Dodowa, all in Ghana among others. We have been able to also register the foundation and currently have worked extra hard to attract the interest of some bigger musicians and celebrities both in USA and in Ghana to serve as ambassadors to promote our course including Education, health and care and support.

I have a personal principle that states that “There is no situation or action in life that is called challenge. So far as that situation urges you to think, re-think and provide a solution it, then it is no more a challenge but rather an exam”. I believe it is only during examination day that one has to think and re-thing to ensure the answer given is the best and will provide the best grade and so it applies to this principle. I have worked with this principle that I set up for myself for a long time and it has helped me both in academics and life goals. I had some many hard times while starting up this non-governmental organisation alone. Even though the conversations I had with few friends before starting were all emphasising on getting a huge amount of money before I can provide care or donate to the less privileged in the society especially while being in school. But I ignored those comment and started using my little savings to purchase items and share to people living on the street and to those who are in need.

Indeed, I was able to think and re-think to put certain strategies in place to overcome all those difficult times when setting up this organisation to provide support to less privileged children in the community. In view of my great leadership skills and setting up this organisation even while in school with no huge money, I received the Leadership and Excellence award sponsored by Databank Foundation in Ghana and was also announced the Overall Best Student in Journalism in 2014 at the African University College of Communications (AUCC). After the hardship, the foundation had been duly registered in Ghana as NABA LIFE FOUNDATION.

My Good Old Days


— By Lealimo from Lesotho

Growing up in the village of Semphetenyane has always been magical to me, those years even today still colour my mind with happiness.

Semphetenyane is a small village in the outskirts of Maseru city in Lesotho, surrounded by rivers, valleys, meadows, and beautiful mountains. During rainy season one can see the rainbow touch the mountains. 
I have since lived with my father in his early years. He was a very strong hard working man. In his early forties, he always put on his khaki trousers and matching shirts made of very strong material. To complement his attire, he usually put on his black boots and big straw hat to protect himself from the sun while working in the fields. I always thought he looked like an 18th-century kind of man and always wondered why he loved his khaki clothing so much. We had lots of cattle, sheep, and chickens in our yard.

Our source of income was mainly on sheep rearing, selling eggs, and milk. My father had so many rules, but there were two that were most important among them, that he wanted me to abide and live by. I was not allowed to arrive home after the sunset, and most importantly, to never tell a lie. Should I break any of the rules, I knew that he would make me sweep the whole big yard that was dirtied by animals. Even though I only had two rules to follow, to me as a child following only those two rules felt like he was challenging me – it was almost like saying I should fill the jars with honey and not lick my fingers. Though I always knew what my punishment would be should I break any of the rules, to me it felt like it was worth it after all the fun I would have with my friends.

When I arrived late he would say, “Leah, where is the sun? Come inside the house when you can show me the sun.” Then he would make me draw a picture of the sun. I would sit by the door sulking and sad, drawing. Eventually he would let me in, but I would still pay for it.

I remember one Friday afternoon when I was about 16-years-old and on my way back from school, my three friends and I decided to go for a swim in the river. We swam and played until the sunset. On our way back, I told my friends about my father’s rules.

They laughed at me and somehow it made me a bit uneasy, because I wondered if their parents ever set any rules for them. They advised me to lie and say I had gone to see my grandmother in a nearby village, though I didn’t like the idea, I went ahead with it anyways. When I got home, my father was very furious, but before he could ask, I told him about my visit to grandma’s house. He was not so convinced, a bit reluctant to believe me, but he let it go.

I felt a relief seeing that he bought my story.

This became a habit for me to go to the river with my friends for a few Fridays after school, and then I would lie to him. One time, I was not aware that my grandmother was coming to visit us that day for the weekend. As usual, I lied to him, only to wake up in the morning to find my grandmother sitting at our coffee table making breakfast. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I started shaking with fear and shame, remembering what I had just told my father the previous night.

My father was disappointed and I could see it in his eyes. As punishment, he made me sweep our yard and our neighbour’s yard for the next 10 days, because I had lied to him. Even today, he still has pictures that he would make me draw each time I arrived home late.

All these memories built me to be the woman I am today. Though he doesn’t make me draw anymore, whenever I arrive home late, he still reminds me that if I wasn’t an adult, he would make me draw.

A rare image in Sub-Saharan Africa


— By Adan from Somalia

As UNESCO showed in 2009, Somalia is a country where the literacy rate of female adults is 25.8%; cultural issues and some other factors lead to a low level of female education. Mostly, the parents of Somalis, particularly those who live in the rural areas, prefer to get family assistance from girls instead of sending them to education centers. In rural and some urban areas, the girls are busy with the work in the house, including laundry, cooking, etc.

Yusuf Aybakar Shador is a father who was one of the engineering students of Somali National University, before the destruction of the country in 1991. At that time, he was at junior stage (third year) of the university, but unfortunately he was not able to finish the year because of civil wars broke out in the country. It was a surprise that he rejoined the Somali National University when it reopened in 2014. Once he was asked the reason that he didn’t enroll in another university. He answered that the other universities were mostly of lower quality. Now he is a student of the faculty of Law, and he is in his third year of the university.

Not only him, his four other daughters are also attending the same university. Fatima Yusuf is a student in the faculty of Medicine, and she is in her third year. Naima is a student in the faculty of Engineering, and similarly to Fatima, she is in her third year of the university. Muno, who studies Economics, and Iman who studies Education, are in their first year of the university.

Yusuf and his daughters

In the last weeks, in interviews he gave to the international media, including BBC, VOA, and Al-Jazeera, he told about how he is happy to be student of Somali National University with his four daughters. He also gave interviews to other local and international media outlets, and many articles about his interesting story were published.

Following this event, we can learn many things from it, including:

  • Educating girls is something very important.
  • There are in Africa, especially Somalia, fathers who preferr to educate their girls instead of keeping them uneducated.
  • There is no excuse for being uneducated, weather it is age, the need for girls to help at home, etc.

Finally, this is hope for girls around the world.

Iconic Doves Bringing Peace


— By Mcdonald from Malawi

I started feeling internal peace when I joined the international platform for peace building within my field of profession last year in August. When I got selected for the YaLa Young Leaders Citizen Journalism training program for peacebuilding, everything opened up in my soul.

Sometimes, a sprout is not recognized until it grows big to a point when people start picking fruits from it. It takes only the few to pay attention to it, for they know its fruitful destination. It took my passion for peaceful living and hope to participate in the YaLa program. I completed the YaLa program in December 2016 and was awarded a prestigious certificate that soon saw me flying to the headquarters of the Africa continent to represent my country on a peacebuilding mission.

It was early January 2017 when I felt that YaLa Young Leaders gave me the opportunity to go through peacebuilding and citizen journalism training first, before representing Malawi at the 1st African Union Intercontinental – Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDOVE) youth forum at African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Amid surfing on internet, looking for opportunities, I stumbled upon a call for youth participation in the AU Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism youth forum held at AU-Commission. The forum was calling for peace activist youth from Africa and Europe. For I had acquired international skills from YaLa and could not afford to let the opportunity to pass by me. I applied for the forum with reference to YaLa and related activism acquired while working with Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI), a local non-government organisation in Malawi.  

On February 3, 2017 my just sprouting wings for peacebuilding grew stronger when I got an email that said I was selected to participate in the first Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove) Youth Forum organised by the African Union Commission (AUC), Gesellschaft Internationale Zusammenarbelt (GIZ) and Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS). In my disbelief, I repeated reading the email with a silent YaLa song; my heart was filled with joy that many felt.

The email was a dove with an answer to my desire to become an internationally-recognised peace activist. I considered myself privileged that I was among 40 young people selected from a pool of 4,000 applicants from Africa and Europe.  As the young leaders entrusted from the two continents, at the forum we deliberated on issues pertaining to Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) through the soft power of religion. At the forum, we also produced contemporary recommendations and activities on how to prevent Violent Extremism.

More interesting at the forum, we went so far as to develop strategic directions for the iDove project based on principles and methods of interfaith dialogue on preventing extremism and de-radicalisation. We developed suitable concepts and applications for the iDove website, which was launched at the forum. As the champions for peace, we developed concepts and mechanisms to support small-scale, youth-run communications, virtual, and innovative community initiatives to be implemented in Africa and Europe within project objectives. For establishing and sustaining the iDove movement, we designed plans for a monitoring and evaluation system to monitor the implementation of the small-scale projects and for follow up mechanisms.

Back home. everyone was calling me ‘Dove’ because I flew for the first time in my life. The nick-name corresponded to ‘iDover’ – the name every one of us adopted at the forum. Now I am very proud of that name. With the experience I have acquired from YaLa and iDove, I have the confidence and support to advance in working to prevent violent extremism in Malawi and Africa. Currently, I am working to establish YaLa – iDove to peace making organisations and other stakeholders in Malawi such as Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).