How can we help young people reach their full potential? So many of us grow up with hopes and dreams for the future, but few of us reach everything we aspire toward. Many people grow up in communities, and sometimes even families, that prevent us from achieving these aspirations. What can be done about it? Are there any stories from those who have overcome just such obstacles to help others achieve a better future?
SDG 4 focuses on education and aims to tackle just such an issue- by providing the resources for young people to reach their full potential. This is no simple task and will require support from organisations and communities across the world. Luckily, there are amazing stories from across the world about people beating the odds for a better and more sustainable future.
We speak to an organisation working on SDG 4 in Malawi to find out more.
In January 2007, then a 14-year-old boy, I was selected to start my secondary school education at Msalura Community Day Secondary School, a public school in Salima, one of Malawi’s lakeshore districts. Born in a family of seven, at that time two of my elder brothers were already in secondary school, this birthed the struggle of my young life. My single mother was paying fees for the two elder brothers who were in their final year of school, and I was asked to hold off my journey to secondary school for a year until my brothers finish school.
Fortunately, an NGO helped till I completed secondary school in 2010. Though I passed my final exams with good grades, I had no idea of what’s next for my life.
Due to lack of exposure and knowledge on career paths, I stayed home for a year until 2012 volunteered with a local NGO. It was the team I had worked with at this NGO that, after noting my interest in writing and literature, they offered to pay for my tertiary education where I studied for a Journalism diploma. On the completion of my
studies, I returned to my home district, Salima.
Upon my return to my home, I noted that the same challenge I faced in accessing education was still rampant. I met several students who were on the verge of dropping out of school due to a lack of tuition fees. Using part of the money earned from my part-time job, I started paying fees for three students.
Quickly, the number of students in need of help increased, and utilizing my writing skills and the connecting power of digital media, I wrote an article on my blog and
shared it on Facebook, appealing to well-wishers to bail out the needy students. Days later more people showed interest to pay fees for the students, and that gave
birth to the coordinating team, the Youth Empowerment and Support Initiative. This is helping to achieve SDG in Malawi.
My story is not unique to me, it is the common story shared by thousands of young Malawians who have dreams of a brighter future, but lack of resources and mentorship hampers their aspirations.
To help combat this, our team of young graduates and students volunteer their time to raise resources to pay tuition for needy students and mentor students in secondary schools in Salima. Since our inception in 2017, the team has helped pay tuition for over 40 students in secondary schools, sending about 4 of them to college.
Making a Difference
Aside from paying tuition fees, we realized that paying fees for the students is not enough, most of them are failing in their education due to a lack of motivation. To be a solution to this challenge, we started recruiting college students who are based in Salima district, we have assembled a team of over 50 college students and graduates who visit secondary schools and mentor the youths. As a team, we have managed to reach over 16 secondary schools and inspired about 6,000 students. This is the best way to achieve SDG 4 in Malawi.
Through the team, our mentorship sessions in secondary schools’ address topics among them: Academic excellence, Time Management skills, resisting negative peer pressure, Setting SMART goals, and the importance of volunteering in one’s community.
Our approach leverages the availability of young people from Salima, who are in colleges, and as a way of giving back to their communities, they volunteer their time and skills to better the lives of fellow youths. As a return on their investment, the college students who volunteer as mentors are equipped with soft skills among them:
public speaking, effective communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills which have helped open doors for their academic and professional success.
The Root of the Problem
In a conversation with a headteacher from one of the schools, Mrs. Mwenda, complained:
“The challenge is that the chiefs and parents in this area never went to school, and the community has no role model who has benefited from education. All the teachers at our school are from other parts of the district, and usually, commute from town to work, the village has no one to point out who has reaped the fruits of education. Fewer people believe in the actual value of education,”.
As a team that operates using monthly contributions from members, most of them are still in school, we still believe we can make a difference with the little we have.
Despite our challenge as a team, the bigger picture is to eradicate hindrances faced by our youths. Our team believes we can ably contribute to quality education and sharpening of the future of Malawian youths through mentoring young people who will in turn inspire a thousand youths for the next generation. We want to inspire people to tackle SDG 4 in Malawi and across the world.