Zomba – Youths and women in Malawi have been given a new lease at life after the nation’s government established community colleges which are training them in a range of technical and artisan skills.
Not only are they being equipped with technical skills, but they are also being equipped with entrepreneurship skills and resources to ensure that they are capable of starting their own businesses once they graduate; all this while giving preference to women who have been denied access to a quality education in the past.
The community colleges’ programmes, which are aimed at empowering young people and women in the country, are the brainchild of Malawian President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika.
According to the president’s office, the president launched the programme in 2015 with the objective to empower young people to create jobs and transfer skills to the marketplace.
The current plan is to complete 28 colleges, which will see one college per district. Fifteen of the 28 Colleges have already been completed, and a visit to Aida Chilembwe College has an interesting story to tell.
Named after the country’s struggle icon John Chilembwe’s late wife, Aida Chilembwe College is located in Chiradzulu District in the southern region of Malawi, about 20km east of the commercial city of Blantyre.
Henry Katiko, 49, the principal of the college, explains that as the world moves into the digital and technical age, it was important to equip young people in the country with the necessary skills required to be part of the fast changing global community.
So far, according to Katiko, the college has trained and produced more than 120 graduates who are now plying their trade in the fields of technology, carpentry and electrical engineering.
Although finance and funding are sometimes problematic, Katiko remains optimistic that the college will reach its goals of expanding to other parts of the country, especially since his primary focus is to ensure that more women are enrolled and up-skilled in order to make a greater impact in the country’s economic growth story.
“Currently, the age demographics at our college sit at the ages of between 20 and 30. Out of every 150 students we enrol, about 50 are women which is only 30%. I want to get these numbers up which is why I make sure that every woman who applies is accepted into our programme as long as they meet the minimum requirements. I want to empower as many women as possible. Women in our country have a lot to contribute and they can improve our economic well-being, all while ensuring that our growth and development goals are brought to fruition. Women are the key to ensuring that we realise a future generation that is stable,” explained Katiko.
Another plus factor revealed by Katiko is that the colleges’ graduates are equipped with entrepreneurship skills to complement their qualifications.
“Once our students graduate we provide them with materials to start their own businesses. Some are provided with loans and capital to go at it alone. Once they finish the business skills course we courage them to start their own enterprises and we support them by providing the necessary resources. They have the skills, they have the machines and they have the capital. They do not have to wait to get a job. We encourage them to register and become job creators which makes immense positive contributions in their communities,” said Katiko.
Priscilla Nkandala, 20, an ICT student at Aida Chilembwe College said she decided to pursue her studies in technology because it was a field where most women were denied access.
“I hope to be an ICT instructor one day and teach others how to use computers as the world is moving [in a] more digital [direction]. Women were not allowed to attend courses like this before which is why I am doing and I hope to make a positive impact and inspire more women to take the lead,” she said.
Kumbukani Maganiza, 24 another student at the college said since the world was going digital, it was important Malawians to get the right skills so that they are not left behind.
“The whole world is going into technology. We use computers in our everyday lives and in business. This is a great opportunity for those who cannot afford the more expensive institutions to come in and make a difference,” he said.