It is around 2pm at Don Bosco Youth Centre in Area 23, Lilongwe as scores of youths from surrounding areas flock to this place for various recreation activities.
It is now a routine for most youths to spend their time in a productive way at the centre. One of them is Praise Mwandira, a young female volleyball player from Area 23.
“Every day in the afternoon after school, I come here with fellow members of a volleyball club. We train new skills in the sport and life skills as youths,” says Mwandira who started patronising the centre in 2005 when she was only 10 years old.
Now 23, Mwandira is still a regular at Don Bosco and says that apart from having fun with friends, the centre has helped her in so many ways including developing skills in networking, self-discipline and teamwork.
“I believe these attributes are fundamental for the youth to achieve their desired goals in life,” she says.
Mwandira is just one of the many youths who are benefiting a lot from the centre.
Established in 1996, Don Bosco Youth Centre has become a symbol of youth empowerment through sporting activities as well as vocation, technical and entrepreneurial skills.
The centre, run by the Catholic Church, was established based on the dream of Don Bosco, the Italian saint who dedicated his life in helping young people physically, spiritually and intellectually, according to Alexio Messi, Coordinator for the youth centre.
He says the mission of the centre is to create a good citizenry out of the youth by nurturing their talents.
“The goal is to ensure the youth develop necessary skills to be self-reliant and responsible citizens,” Messi says.
Don Bosco Youth Centre has good looking facilities for youth development in sporting disciplines. The facilities include a football pitch and courts for basketball, netball and volleyball games among others.
The campus of the youth centre has also a technical college known as ‘Don Bosco Youth Technical Institute’ which has commercial and technical courses such as fashion arts and beauty, accounting, bricklaying, motor vehicle mechanics (MVM), hospitality and information and communications technology (ICT).
Apart from offering different courses, games and sporting activities, the centre also conducts motivational evening talks for spiritual and moral growth among the youth.
The centre also provides leadership trainings to the youth with an aim of equipping them with skills in leading and motivating fellow youths towards positive behaviour and social change in their respective communities.
Brigitte Felfernig from Austria is one of the volunteers working at the centre. She says youths in Malawi have the potential to achieve great things in their lives through youth centres such as Don Bosco.
“We have youths and children of different age brackets starting from five years old taking part in various sporting activities.
“Most of them are so passionate with what they do and are open-minded on what they want to achieve” says Felfernig, adding that what these youths need is support and encouragement, especially from their parents for them to achieve their goals.
Available statistics show that the centre hosts more than 600 youths and children every day and most of them are from surrounding townships of Areas 23, 24, 44, Kawale and Chilinde among others.
Some of the youth believe that the centre has helped to keep them away from immoral behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse.
Yamikani Kasapha, 22, is a member of a dancing club and says his life has transformed for the better since he joined Don Bosco Youth Centre six years ago.
The Area 23 resident says that before coming to the centre, he was usually associated with a bad company of friends.
“Life was all about getting drunk or high with weed. This was threat to my life and personal development as a youth. Joining this centre changed all that by placing me in right tracks,” Kasapha says.
He says the dancing skills acquired at the centre are elevating the status of most club members with some of them acquiring job opportunities as dancing instructors in different institutions where they are paid at least K50,000 per session.
On top of that, the dancing club is sometimes hired to spice up various activities at a fee.
“We earn as much as K180, 000 when hired to perform in corporate functions, public ceremonies like weddings and other activities like shooting music videos,” says Kasapha.
The dancing club, which has 30 members, has also been to big dancing competitions in Malawi such as “Kajive”.
“This is a big achievement to us and we are hopeful that one day we will perform on international stage,” Kasapha says.
He is thankful to the youth centre for drilling young people with different skills and calls on fellow youths to make use of such type of facilities in order to unearth their hidden talents that would help to shape their lives for the better.
But the journey towards achieving its mission and goals is not all that smooth sailing for the youth centre. It is also facing some challenges.
Firstly, being a facility owned by the Catholic Church spawns a misconception that borders on wooing members of other denominations to join the church.
This misinterpretation, according to Messi, derails the centre’s goal of nurturing youth talent irrespective of their faiths.
“We are here to promote coexistence by bring in g together youths of interfaith through various recreational and educational activities,” Messi says.
The second problem is lack of financial resources to maintain equipment and the facilities at the centre. Help from well-wishers abroad, especially from Italy, has been decreasing over the years and there is a call for local well-wishers to come in.
Lastly, female participation in most activities at the centre remains disappointingly very low. In every 10 young people taking part in most activities, one or two are female.
For instance, out of 30 members in the dancing club, only six are females.
The volleyball club has Praise Mwandira as the only female out of the 12 members.
Lack of self-esteem among the girls could be the main reason, according to Mwandira who is also doing a diploma course in ICT at Don Bosco Youth Technical Institute.
“Enrolment of girls is a bit high always but most of them drop out along the way. Many girls underrate themselves in competing with boys in most activities” she says.
But Mwandira seems to be the exception. She is always ready and excited to outwit males and that is why she is ever present at the centre to improve herself in sports and studies.
“I am comfortable here. This place is more of a home than a recreation centre or school for me,” she says.
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