UKANI MALAWI SHAPING FUTURE LEADERS
“Educate a girl, empower a nation…” is the new slogan across the globe that is translating into action on the ground, especially in Malawi. Education equips us with a strong foundation of knowledge with which we use to navigate the world around us. The experiences garnered from experimenting with and applying what we have learnt can increase our skill sets in areas we are most passionate about and further adds to our wealth of knowledge. The 21st century has ushered in the need to remedy the effects of neglecting the education of the girl child because of belief systems that foster gender inequalities through tradition and culture.
Temwa R Chirembo is a Project Manager, a mentor at Forum for AIDS Counselling and Training (FACT) and the co-founder of Ukani Malawi, founded in 2016, a non-profit organization that focuses on girl empowerment and gender equality. Their mission is to groom future leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs by taking a holistic approach that supports the overall development of the girl child, covering health, safety, education and sanitation needs.
Currently, they are implementing “The Young Mother’s Project” which is aimed at integrating teen mothers who have dropped out of school back into the education system through financial support and mentorship. They are also working on another project called, “The Breaking Red Project” which focuses on training young girls in menstrual health management and distributing reusable pads; providing start up capital to young women as seed grant initiatives; offering mentorship programs; cervical cancer prevention programs; entrepreneurship and leadership training. They strive to ensure these needs are met for girls and women as a way of creating opportunities for those that would otherwise be marginalized for lack of access to such resources and platforms.
With these experiences under her belt, Temwa is now currently a Mandela Washington fellow and has participated in the YALI RLCSA program where she connected with other young people in the women’s empowerment space.As a YALI alumni, her experience on the program helped her grow in knowledge and experience as she learnt how to develop programs and implement them, how to find resources and how to network in order to further the agendas of different initiatives. Connecting with other women who are working in the non-profit spaces, especially those in the SADC region (specifically South Africa, Zambia and Namibia) has created collaborative works and helped fund some of Temwa’s projects. Some of the professionals who train YALI participants are YALI alumni, who help in continuously adding value to the program by empowering participants to be more effective in executing projects. Temwa says Ukani Malawi has been able to make a bigger impact as a result of the YALI experience providing opportunities to access grants that assist in reaching more girls and magnifying the work they do.
When she first started working in the non-profit organization sector aged 19, she was no expert. With no background in social work or public health or development, she only had her Business Administration degree coupled with passion and research to explore the possibilities of social development. Her co-founder, Modester, was 17 years old at the time they started Ukani Malawi. Their family and friends played a big role in mentoring and supporting the initiative financially and have been the source of their support in the past couple of years.
It is not enough to send girls off to school when the factors that hinder them from getting an education are not dealt with, Temwa says. Ukani Malawi was inspired by not seeing enough female leaders and representation across different industries in our society. She knew a holistic approach to support girls was necessary to ensure they become well-equipped to be catalysts of change in their communities and qualified leaders. With 160 volunteers in 4 districts, Blantrye, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mzimba, their passion for the work they do comes from knowing that when girls and women are empowered it will have a positive impact in the efforts towards achieving sustainable development goals. They receive positive feedback from some of the girls they work with and still have to deal with the challenge of other girls who decide to drop out of school regardless of assistance and available opportunities.
Along with working at Ukani, Temwa works part-time with FACT in their project in Thyolo that seeks to reduce child marriages. Her work with both organizations requires her to split her time between Blantyre and Lilongwe as she has to travel often. She tries to get as much rest as she can whenever she has some free time before she slips back into her busy routine.
Temwa believes in the value of connecting with people working in the women empowerment space regardless of their gender and whether they are specifically dealing with young mothers. There are always learning opportunities in those interactions especially when the common goal is to empower women and communities. In addition, she encourages collaborations between organizations and amongst individuals as a way of achieving more as a team than separately. After gaining experience, knowledge and skills from other organizations and projects, Temwa says Ukani Malawi is more than happy to help others who need assistance in heading the same direction she has of working to build better communities through gender equality and empowering women and youth.