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Fighting crime with vocational skills

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There was a time when incidents of crime disrupted lives of people of Thyolo Thava Constituency, so much that the area’s legislator used to spend sleepless night seeking a solution.

Incidents of muggings, burglaries and murders in the area happened almost on a daily basis, resulting in locals living in fear and failing to go about their everyday lives.

“We sat down and decided to do a research to find out the cause of the criminal acts,” says Mary Navicha, the constituency’s Member of Parliament (MP).

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Navicha says their research findings showed that youths were behind most criminal acts, adding “that was because most of them were staying idle as they was nothing to keep them busy in a useful way”.

Then unexpectedly and as luck would have it, a solution came her way while attending a session of Parliament in Lilongwe in early 2015.

One day while in Parliament, Navicha got hold of a copy of TEVET Times, a quarterly newsletter published by the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) Authority.

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It was the newsletter that gave her an idea how to bring to a halt the seemingly endless criminal activities that were mostly perpetrated by the youth in her constituency.

In almost every issue of the TEVET Times, there are stories of how vocational skills have transformed some youths in the country, youths who previously led idle lives and were uncertain about their future.

The newsletter’s success stories prompted Navicha to visit Tevet offices in Blantyre where she expressed her wish to emulate what communities in other parts of the country were doing.

“When I read the newsletter,” Navicha told this writer, “I decided to set up a centre as other communities had done elsewhere to provide vocational skills to people in my constituency.”

“At Tevet offices, I was advised what to do to bring my plan to fruition, most importantly to involve communities. I convened a meeting for chiefs and briefed them about my plan. They were very happy.”

Not long after she read the TEVET Times and visited Tevet Southern Regional offices, followed by Tevet officials’ visits to her area, Ntambanyama Community Skills Development Centre (CSDC) was born.

Navicha says she could not have thought of a better way to deal with her constituency’s delinquent youths, judging from the enthusiasm the centre is generating among the locals.

The MP says she may have initiated the centre’s establishment but it belongs to all communities in her constituency and that it is there to offer what her constituents want to improve their livelihoods.

“It’s demand-driven,” a proud Navicha says of the centre, which currently offers short courses in carpentry and joinery, welding and fabrication, tailoring and design, and bricklaying.

The CSDC is in its infancy and may not boast appropriate structures and equipment that other technical institutions in the country have but it is helping a lot to correct the behaviour of errant youths.

Since it opened its doors on March 18 2015, the centre has graduated tens of young men and women mostly from within the constituency, most of whom led idle lives before they enrolled for the courses.

“We have so far graduated 165 students in two semesters,” says Tobias Dodoro, the centre’s principal. “Half of the graduates are working in [tea] companies around the area.”

The number of graduates, says the principal, is likely to go up given the high demand for enrolment and once the third cohort of 96 students finishes.

“Some former students are in cities such as Blantyre where they are self-employed. Others are in various technical colleges,” says Dodoro.

And thanks to the centre, located about 12 kilometres from Thyolo Boma on the Makwasa Road, gone are the days when youths in the constituency used to wander aimlessly and indulged in immoral activities.

“I didn’t know how to build a house before I came here,” says Christopher Luka, 22, a student on a bricklaying course. “I plan to build a house for my mother when I finish the course.”

Luka says it is unfortunate that some youths look down on the centre and instead prefer to continue leading unproductive lives.

“This place can change one’s life for the better. I will not be the same person once I leave the centre. No one should belittle it,” he says.

Navicha says much as it is government’s wish to provide job skills to the nation, it cannot do so alone, hence the need for communities to initiate projects aimed at empowering people economically.

“As community leaders, we have an obligation to help government in its task of providing youths with skills that will mould them into productive citizens,” she says.

She says she owes Teveta a debt of gratitude for the assistance rendered to her right from the beginning, saying without the organisation, it would not have been easy to realise her dream.

Teveta refurbishes existing skills development structures in communities, provides training equipment and facilitation of salaries for trainers, among other things.

“CSDCs are owned and run by communities in liaison with district assemblies for customised training meant to address skills gaps in communities,” says Elliot Mulanje, Tevet Southern Region Manager.

Mulanje says the centres mainly target unemployed and out-of-school youths, those who are vulnerable, and trainers that are used by Teveta to impart knowledge and skills to trainees.

In the 2015-16 financial year, more than 982 people – 673 males and 309 females – across the country benefited from the trainings offered by the 37 CSDCs, against a target of 1,600.

“CSDCs aim to provide Tevet at a local informal institution focusing on training that is relevant to the locality with a view to promoting self-employment and economic empowerment of the local masses,” Mulanje says.

He adds: “The centres remain operational for as long as communities find them relevant in as far as imparting of skills is concerned to their community.”

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