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The 3 wise chiefs from Chitipa

Group Village Head (GVH) Zambwe, GVH Mwenechendo and GVH Nyami. They are the three wise men not from the east but from Chitipa.

The three can best be described as a unique trio of traditional leaders, arguably unheard of in Malawi who have bonded together to serve their people.

Few traditional leaders in the country can rival the group village heads from Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwaulambya when it comes to mobilising their subjects in development work.

And it is because of such rare enthusiasm for development work that government has seen it fit to give the chiefs and their subjects something in appreciation – a community technical college.

The government is building the community technical college at Kasama in T/A Mwaulambya through the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta).

Conceptor Kachoka, a Teveta official, observes that people of Kasama led by the three group village heads deserve the college project because of their unique interest in development work.

“I have interacted with a lot of people in my work but I have never seen people with such zeal for development work,” Kachoka, Teveta Northern Region Manager, says of the people of Kasama.

When locals heard of plans to set up a skills development centre around Kasama using structures that belonged to a training scheme for tobacco production, they were overjoyed and with good reason.

Like other areas of Chitipa, Kasama has a fair share of youths who are idle. As a result, some youths resort to taking alcohol or doing drugs due to lack of jobs and training opportunities, according to local leaders.

The leaders say unemployment rate in the district is so high that only seven percent of the district’s population works in offices.

Some of the unemployed youths opt to marry at a tender age while others who are very desperate to earn a living on their own migrate to neighbouring countries in search of jobs.

And the scarcity of employment opportunities leaves young men and women vulnerable to human trafficking. They are promised attractive jobs abroad but only to be exploited when they start work.

There is a story of eight local boys who were trafficked to a neighbouring country to work in estates. But the environment under which they worked was so bad that they sent messages of distress back home.

That was the reason the three group village heads teamed up and mobilised their subjects when they heard that Kasama Pilot Tobacco Scheme would be turned into a skills development centre.

Within no time, each village contributed what was needed on a self-help basis for rehabilitation of the former tobacco scheme’s structures.

Kasama Community Skills Development Centre (CSDC) opened in April 2017 under the Tevet Improvement Programme (Tip) with K3.8 billion funding from the World Bank.

There are currently 12 CSDCs across the country, four in the region.

Tip aims at supporting government in its efforts of improving provision of quality and relevant technical education as well as increasing equitable access to technical education and vocational training.

One thing worth noting about Kasama CSDC is that it is the bricklaying, carpentry and joinery students who rehabilitated the buildings gratis because of the three chiefs’ desire to see the project materialise.

“Carpentry and bricklaying students demarcated the shed into classrooms free of charge as part of their practical lessons,” Flyson Nyondo, Principal of the centre, told me. “And they did a good job.”

Since opening on 10 April, the centre has been flooded with applications from jobless youths in Chitipa, underscoring its importance to the district as a whole and, in particular, to people around Kasama.

To this day, Nyondo receives an average of 10 phone calls a day from youths in the district making enquiries about the next training intake.

“I get calls even in the dead of night,” says Nyondo. “I feel happy when I get the calls even during odd hours as it’s a sign that communities are seeing the big impact the centre is having.”

However, sometime in 2016 at a time when people of Kasama were brimming over with excitement as finally they possessed something they could be proud of, came news that devastated everyone.

Word came from Lilongwe to the effect that government had made a U-turn and decided to relocate refugees at Dzaleka Camp in Dowa to Kasama CSDC, meaning that the CSDC would cease to exist.

The news shocked to the core not only people of Kasama but the whole district. Locals wondered what wrong they had done that had made authorities decide to turn the centre into a refugee camp.

The news galvanised people of Chitipa into action. They convened a district council meeting at which they expressed their displeasure about the development and asked government to rescind its decision.

The government listened to the people’s pleas and abandoned its plan to convert the skills development centre into a camp for refugees. Naturally, locals were delighted.

“We were very happy when government heard our concerns,” says Nyondo. “If it had gone ahead with its plan, we would be back to square one. We would have youths without skills wandering aimlessly.”

Teveta Board also expressed joy when government rescinded its decision, according to Kachoka, and visited Kasama to see how the skills development centre was functioning.

What members of the board saw during their visit more than pleased them, especially the locals’ zeal for development work and the fact that students rehabilitated buildings as part of their practical lessons.

This prompted the board to direct that Kasama CSDC should be turned into a community technical college, instantly releasing K130 million for the building of the college’s structures.

Construction work for Kasama Community Technical College is currently in progress.

Chitipa district commissioner’s office initially asked the Ministry of Agriculture for some land at Kasama Tobacco Scheme to be used for setting up a skills development centre, according to records.

The ministry responded positively and offered the district commissioner 10 hectares, including the scheme’s infrastructure which comprised an office block, warehouse and a shed.

“We were supposed to get a skills development centre but noting the locals’ enthusiasm for work, government has given us a community technical college,” says Grace Chirwa, District Commissioner.

Chirwa says, as a district, they are grateful to government for giving them what she calls a national college which “will improve lives of people in Chitipa and from other parts of the country”.

“What is pleasing [about the project] is that we have not imported workers from elsewhere to build the college,” she enthuses. “Students who are from the surrounding areas are the ones doing the work.”

News of the upgrading of Kasama CSDC to a community technical college thrilled the three group village heads, without whose collaboration it would not have come about.

“When we heard that we would have a college, the news sounded too good to be true. We used to spend a lot of money sending children to distant places to acquire vocational skills,” says GVH Zambwe.

Zambwe says with Kasama Community Technical College in the making, not many children in the area will think of going to neighbouring countries to work under harrowing conditions.

GVH Mwenechendo observes that poverty in the three villages will be alleviated with the coming of the college as, he says, it will give people skills that will enable them to provide for themselves.

Thanking government for the college project, Mwenechendo says he and the other two group village heads have shown that when people unite for a common cause, nothing is impossible to achieve.

“We would have just been dreaming about having a college were it not for the unity among the three of us and our people,” Mwenechendo told me.

GHV Nyami says that considering what youths in the area used to go through, the government could not have given them a better development project than the college.

“For instance, many girls here marry early because of the lack of vocational trainings,” says Nyami. “The college project will definitely put a stop to that.”

Kasama CTC is scheduled to open its doors next January if all goes according to plan and, as has been the practice during inauguration of such colleges, the Head of State is expected to preside over the function.

On such occasions, it is common to see people, especially politicians, clamouring for the President’s attention and seeking his handshake.

More than anyone else, the three wise group village heads will deserve a handshake from the country’s First Citizen during the college’s official opening.

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