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Vocational courses offer youth hope

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When many Malawian youth are doing drugs and drinking beer with reckless abandon, Mulinyani Hara wants to be exemplary so she can be of use to the nation.

For about two years after she sat her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) Exams, Hara stayed idle at her home village and many times resisted the temptation to misbehave.

“During that time, I saw many of my friends prostitute themselves, while others got married for lack of job opportunities,” says Hara. “I also saw many boys behave badly, but I kept out of mischief.”

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To maintain her resolve to be a productive citizen, the 20-year-old from the village of Chiguduli in the area of Traditional Authority Msakambewa in Dowa District, took up plumbing as her profession.

“I made the decision after observing that toilets at the Msakambewa Health Centre which is near my home often get faulty and require a plumber’s services,” says Hara.

“ I thought I could help fix them.”

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And to realize her dream, she is pursuing a two-year plumbing course at the Mponela Community Technical College in Dowa.

Hara is one of countless youth across the country being plucked from idleness to carve out careers in various vocational fields after the introduction of the Community Technical Colleges (CTC) Programme.

One of the biggest social problems Malawi has been grappling with over the years is the ever growing number of jobless youth, the majority of the country’s population estimated at 16 million plus.

Each year, 50, 000 young men and women qualify for MSCE but cannot all access tertiary education. And with limited job training opportunities, thousands of youth feel uncertain about their future.

Successive governments since the country’s independence in 1964 have attempted to tackle the problem of unemployment using social programmes targeting the youth, but with little success.

I t was for this reason the incumbent President Peter Mutharika introduced the CTC Programme when he took office in 2014 to address the problem of joblessness among the youth.

The establishment of community colleges is intended to increase access to Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet).

With just seven national technical colleges, Malawi is said to have the least number of people accessing Tevet in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region.

A community college is a training institution whose educational facilities are available to youth and other members of the community, according to a concept paper on the programme’s establishment.

It can also be an institution established in a community, owned by a community and run by a community to cater for youths and adults who would like to further their career.

A community college also caters for those who did not complete their schooling or never attended school.

The Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development is implementing the CTC Programme with technical support from Tevet Authority (Teveta).

Although certain quarters are scoffing at the programme believing it will fail, the initiative has received overwhelming response, looking at the large numbers of youth scrambling for courses at the colleges.

“After staying idle for two years, I could not believe it when I was accepted here,” Hara told Mana as she fixed a cistern as part of her practical work. “I can tell you every youth wants to be in these colleges.”

A determined Hara says upon completion of her course and barring any obstacle, she plans to set up her own business and employ others to help government tackle the problem of unemployment.

“What makes me not to be scared of my course is that the instructor of our class is a female,” she says of the college’s plumbing instructor, Lizzie Mwepetha, 31. “I see her as my role model.”

Although President Mutharika just launched the programme in March this year, the colleges are already a beehive of activity as students try to make full use of their vocational training opportunities.

When this writer paid unannounced visits to some of the colleges in the central and southern regions, he was greeted by the whirr of workshop machines as students were engrossed in their practical work.

One interesting thing that augurs well for the future of the CTC Programme is that communities have welcomed the colleges and are more than willing to give the programme full support.

“The government could not have come up with a better initiative to deal with juvenile delinquency than this one,” says Group Village Headman Mphako, of TA Kapondo, Mchinji.

Mphako, 56, says it is sad that many youth stay idle after completing secondary education and that empowering them with vocational skills is the best way of tackling their social problems.

“This college will doubtless help a lot of youth,” he says, referring to Chipumi CTC which is located in the area of TA Kapondo. “We can only say thank you to the government.”

There are around 1,000 students taking courses in bricklaying, textile and design, plumbing, carpentry and joinery, and welding and fabrication in the 11 CTC that have been opened so far in all the regions.

However, some CTCs have trades that are unique to their areas and demand-driven. For example, Ngara CTC in Karonga has a motorcycle repair course because of the numerous motorcycles that are there.

The government, in collaboration with Domasi College of Education, has been training CTC instructors to sharpen their skills to ensure the programme’s quality delivery.

Government plans to build one CTC in each of the country’s 28 districts and later roll out to all the 193 constituencies.

“So far so good,” says Simon Mvundula, Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development. “Communities have welcomed the initiative and are very supportive.”

Mvundula says communities are so supportive that some entrepreneurs are providing forums for the students’ practical work.

While the enthusiasm for the colleges among youth is unquestionable, the programme is in its infancy and not surprisingly, it has challenges ranging from a shortage of tools to inadequate workshops.

“We do not have a single workshop which is very important for a technical college,” says Andrew Nogwe, Acting Deputy Principal at Chipumi CTC, where youth used to meet to discuss their issues.

He told Mana: “This is the challenge we have. Students do their practical work in the open air and it becomes difficult to learn when it is raining. We also have a shortage of tools for practical work.”

Mvundula acknowledges that the programme has a few problems, but assures government is keen to address them, so too some development partners.

“It is pleasing to note that the programme has attracted interest from some development partners who have expressed desire to help whenever we have challenges,” Mvundula says.

He says some development partners have even pledged to build totally new colleges, while others are exploring the possibility of supplying all the necessary equipment.

“While we are now focusing on the programme’s next phase targeting the remaining 17 CTCs, we will also be addressing all the challenges we are having in the first phase,” says Mvundula.

Hara has about 20 months to go before she finishes her course. The prospect of qualifying as a plumber in a male-dominated field has excited her and look to the future with renewed hope.

“Idleness can drive you to despair,” says Hara, looking back to the days she loafed about. “I can’t wait to finish the course, be my own boss and also employ jobless youth.” —Mana

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