In January 2007, a 14 year old boy was selected to start his secondary school education at Msalura Community Day Secondary School (CDSS), a local public school in Salima, one of Malawi’s lakeshore districts. Two of his brothers at the time were already in secondary school at the time. His single mother was fighting tooth and nail to pay fees for his two elder brothers who were in Form four considering her financial incapability when she had 5 mouths to feed. This was how challenges for the 14 year old as his mother told him he could not proceed to form 1 unless his brothers finished school, which meant a year-long wait at home. Fortunately, an NGO helped him till he finished secondary school in 2010 and managed to get 19 points after the final examinations.
Though he passed with good grades, he had no idea of what’s next for his life and due to lack of exposure and knowledge on career paths; he stayed home for a year until in 2012 he started volunteering for an NGO called Environment Africa. He worked with a team of young British and Malawian volunteers who were working on Environment Africa projects in Salima district. After volunteering for six months, the team showed interested to help him continue with his education. Then in 2013 he enrolled for Diploma in Journalism at the Malawi Polytechnic where he graduated with a Diploma with Credit.
In May 2016 he started working for a local NGO in Salima where he noted that many students were still dropping out of school, due to lack of tuition, the same challenge that threatened his future years ago. Using part of the money he earned from the part-time job, he started paying fees for three students at Msalura CDSS. Then in 2017, he was accepted to study for a Bachelor’s degree at Chancellor College on a self-sponsored basis. As exciting as this news was, it meant he could not afford to pay fees for the students anymore. With such a scenario, he needed money for his tuition and still, he felt that he was supposed to help the students he was paying fees for. Utilizing the connecting power of social media, he wrote an article on his blog which was shared on Facebook where he appealed to well-wishers to bail out the need students who were to drop out of school. Days later more people showed interest and that gave birth to the coordinating team, the Youth Empowerment and Support Initiative (YESI). That is the story of one of the Initiative’s founders, Samuel.
Samuel’s story is not unique to Samuel, 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. Aside paying tuition, the team realized that many organisations pay tuition for needy students, but they have no follow up on students’ academic progress. Through the college students, the Initiative assigns personal mentors to students to help and guide them in their academic and life challenges. As the task continues, it has proven to be a great tool for filling the gap noted.
The team further holds mentorship sessions in secondary school bordering on academic excellence, time management skills, resisting negative peer pressure, setting SMART goals, importance of volunteering and environmental conservation. We started these mentorship sessions after noting that the greatest obstacle to youths of Malawi, and in Salima in particular, is that they grow up without role models. They grow up with people who have negative feelings about the future and many of the youths believe that for them to excel in life they need to come from rich families. We started YESI in order to change this mindset and we do this by utilizing university students who are based in Salima district.