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Transforming young women’s lives

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When Linda Mwenda married Duncan Ndhlovu, she was only 14 years.

Today at 29 with four children, she detests marriage considering the horror she underwent.

Having given birth to her first child in 2001, Linda regrets having got married at that tender age.

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She gave in to peer pressure and dropped out of school and started hanging around with older girls, most of whom were into prostitution.

“We got married when we were so young that we could not manage the family, especially children.

“My husband could not take care for us. He could take alcohol for the whole day without considering his own children,” says Linda of Chapongolera Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay.

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She decided to go back to her parents and reposition herself. This was amid worries at the thought of providing for her children as a single parent.

Little did she know that her efforts to explore new means of survival would unlock fortunes and skills she would enjoy for life.

Last year when she learnt from colleagues about Kavuzi Young Women Can Do It (YWCDI) clubs, she did not hesitate to join.

She is now one of many girls being supported by the Network for Youth Development (NfYD) works.

The project focuses on personal and social transformation of young women from different communities.

It also inspires girls to have the voice, ability to speak up and problem-solving skills, be decision makers, create visionary change and realise their full potential within their communities.

Linda is among 2,183 women NfYD initiative has managed to reach out to in its catchment area of Nkhata Bay, Mzuzu and Nkhotakota.

Early marriage was not what she hoped for life.

Being tricked into believing that she would find the much support she was lacking at that time, Linda recalls very well how she got hooked to a group of prostitutes that introduced her to sexual life.

“One of the prostitutes had a brother who I entered into a relationship with under the influence of the other girls. We started sleeping together thinking I was enjoying life and I ended up being pregnant. Unfortunately, the child died during delivery,” Linda says.

She says she met the father of her children when she was in Standard Eight.

It was that first pregnancy that forced her to drop out of school and got married.

“It took the insistence of well-wishers for me to make a film decision to return home,” she says while bragging of a dignified living considering the skills she learned from NfYD programme.

Linda’s colleague Nelia Ncholowa says she does not regret the decision she made three years ago to join the programme.

Nelia, who is based in Mzuzu, joined YWCDI in 2013 along with a group of other girls from the city.

“Our task was to reach out to the various clubs that were set up in and outside schools with the aim of inspiring young women to have a voice, ability and problem-solving capacity,” Nelia says.

Under Mzuzu YWCDI Club, she says girls have been equipped with skills that can sustain their livelihoods.

“In our club, everyone by now knows how to make necklaces and earrings just to mention a few.

“It is easy for us young people to invest our skills in things that can earn something at the end of the day. The skills that we have had from YWCDI will go a long way in sustaining our lives,” Nelia says.

Aimed at increasing the levels of female participation at different levels since 2009, the programme has at present reached out to 3,704.

YWCDI clubs work with Village Development and Area Development committees at community level.

Under the programme, there are trained teachers also in schools who work with students to facilitate election of committees and provide training and linkages with community clubs.

YWCDI, Linda says, has instilled in her entrepreneurial skills she is going to use for a better living.

She says after a year in the programme, she now can engage in income-generating activities such as sandal, necklace and earrings making.

Linda says youths under the programme are also trained in beekeeping, fish farming, piggery, small-scale irrigation, general farming and running hawkers among others.

Agatha Silungwe, NfYD Northern Regional Programmes Coordinator, says by providing the youth with entrepreneurship skills and startup capital for small-scale businesses, the youth can realise their full potential.

“Most youths are unskilled and lack the knowledge on how to run businesses. In addition, it is very difficult for young people to access loan from banks and other lending institutions. If youth are trained in groups and offered group loans with constant follow-up and mentoring, they can be successful,” Silungwe says.

NfYD, she says, is also implementing a Sustainable Agriculture Lead Farmer Programme where youths are equipped with production, value addition, collective marketing and group and individual business skills.

Though Malawi’s 2013 Employment Act spells out and gives life to the constitutional principles on employment, unemployment among the youth remains high.

The unemployment gap has made the youth vulnerable.

Most of the youth are also susceptible to harmful and retrogressive cultural practices such as early marriages that lead to high school dropouts, especially among girls.

Chairperson for Mzimba North Child Protection Committee Evance Mwale says the future for young women rests in skills they acquire.

“The country is experiencing high unemployment among the youth but empowering them with skills could be the way out. Let us as a country not just depend on employment,” Mwale says.

Silungwe says young people need to be encouraged to indulge in more agriculture production and value addition.

She says this can be achieved through turning agriculture into more practical subject at lower school levels considering that not every youth proceeds to college and university in the country.

“Considering that land is Malawi’s main resource, young people could if well managed derive capital from agriculture which could be reinvested back or diversified into other sectors. Mechanisation of agriculture would make it more attractive for young people and increase returns from the sector,” she adds.

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