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Tale of tailoring for survival

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Sandy Nsindo pauses in his work and points at building structures about 200 metres away in front of him, where some youth are engrossed in learning vocational skills.

“If I had not gone to that centre, I would be living a wretched life and perpetually dependent on other people to survive,” says 25-year-old Nsindo, “I wanted to be an entrepreneur and the centre made me one.”

His remarks were in reference to the community skills development centre (CSDC) located at Sakata in the area of Traditional Authority Nkagula in Zomba.

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It was at Sakata CSDC where Nsindo acquired skills to design and tailor clothes, skills that enabled him to set up a tailoring shop at Sakata Trading Centre from which he earns a modest livelihood.

“I am glad I made the decision to enroll at the centre after I wrote my MSCE [Malawi School Certificate of Education] exams,” says Nsindo, a father of one.

He adds as he resumes sewing a girl’s school uniform: “I got 38 points in my MSCE exams. I dread to think what would have become of me were it not for the centre.”

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Nsindo is one of hundreds of youths who are leading independent lives after benefiting from the CSDCs established across the country under the TEVET Improvement Progrmme (TIP).

TEVET (Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training) Authority is implementing the programme with K3.8 billion funding from the World Bank.

Twelve CSDCs have been established across the country under TIP so far. Apart from the 12, there are also other CSDCs whose aim is to provide local informal institution focusing on training.

The training that the CSDCs offer is relevant to the locality with a view of promoting self-employment and economic empowerment to the masses.

During the 2015-16 financial years, more than 982 people–673 males and 309 females–across the country benefited from the trainings offered by CSDCs, against a target of 1600.

Communities own and run the CSDCs in liaison with district assemblies for customized training meant to address skill gaps in communities.

“CSDCs are there to provide vocational skills to youths living far away from cities with no opportunities of accessing national technical colleges,” says Ishmael Ali, TEVET Head of Projects and Development.

Ali says one advantage of the CSDCs is their proximity to communities, pointing out that youths do not have to travel long distances to access them.

“The CSDCs provide for the first level training,” he told this writer. “They also help to decongest and create more room at national technical colleges.”

The Sakata CSDC, which at present has 130 students, traces its beginning to 2010 when the aid organization DAPP (Development Agency from People to People) was running it.

After DAPP left, locals started linking up with TEVET so that the centre could continue to provide vocational skills in an informal way, according to Grey Khonsolo, Sakata CSDC Chairperson.

“Youths were taught tailoring, welding and carpentry skills. Around 2016, TIP came in to run the centre with funding from the World Bank,” Khonsolo says.

The centre started with 27 students and the following year, there were 72. This year, there are about 130 students and from the look of things, the numbers will continue to grow.

“The increase in the number of students is evidence that youths have welcomed the centre and want to be on their own,” says Khonsolo. “The centre is helping to keep youths around here busy.”

But Khonsolo appeals to government to provide tools to youth who graduate from the centre, noting that the majority of students come from poor families and cannot afford them.

“When the youths finish their courses, most of them stay idle as they can’t afford the equipment needed to set up enterprises,” he says.

“Otherwise, we applaud government for establishing the centres. It is the only way to ensure that youths become self-reliant and contribute to the development of the country.”

Before he enrolled at Sakata CSDC, Nsindo had never operated a sewing machine, let alone designed clothes. But his determination to succeed saw him qualifying as a tailor after training for one year.

“I had to learn from scratch,” he says, working his treadle sewing machine like a practised tailor. “I was determined to succeed because I realized it was my only opportunity to be independent.”

Nsindo also attributes his success to his class instructor who he says was very good at his job, saying he was always keen to help students master the art of fashion design and tailoring.

“Before long after I had enrolled, I started operating a sewing machine and my confidence grew. After staying at the centre for six months doing theory work, we were sent for attachments,” he says.

Nsindo went to Liwonde Town where he was attached for three months to a lady who owned a tailoring shop there.

“While on attachment, I perfected my designing and tailoring skills,” he says. “I was able to make dresses, basic shorts, trousers and T-Shirts of any design.”

When he finished the course, Nsindo was awarded a Tailoring and Fashion Design Level 1 Certificate. Later, he briefly teamed up with his elder brother who owned a tailoring shop at Sakata.

“In February this year, I went solo and started my own tailoring business at Sakata Trading Centre where I am still operating,” he says.

Nsindo has become the envy of the youths around Sakata because unlike many of his peers who are still relying on their parents for support with wayward behaviour, he is upright and independent.

“Many youths are envying me because I am doing something that is giving me money,” he says. “As a result, a lot of them are making enquiries about the centre with the aim of enrolling.”

Nsindo says he is not making millions, but the mere fact that he is able to provide for his family the basic needs using the skills he acquired at Sakata CSDC makes him feel happy.

“Not many youths of my age are independent and this makes me feel proud,” he says, adding “and it is thanks to our community skills development centre. We could not have been given a better project.”

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