Malawi teenager Ellen Chilemba in Commonwealth awards finale

Malawian 18 year-old Ellen Chilemba has every reason to walk tall after being shortlisted as one of the 16 finalists of the Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work.

The 16 finalists will each receive a £1,000 grant to advance their development work and guidance from Commonwealth Youth Program (CYP) on how their work could be further expanded and sustained.

The awards celebrate young people (aged 15-29) in the Commonwealth who are making a positive difference to the lives of others through development initiatives ranging from poverty alleviation to education and protection of the environment.

Young people were nominated from more than 36 countries across the Commonwealth for the awards, which are run by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Youth Affairs Division (YAD).

Ellen Chilemba
Ellen Chilemba

Four of the finalists will also be awarded a further £2,000 as Regional Winners, and a further £2,000 will be awarded to the Pan-Commonwealth Winner, to be announced at an awards ceremony at the Secretariat’s headquarters in London on 12 March, following Commonwealth Day.

This year’s Commonwealth theme is; ‘ Opportunity through Enterprise and unlocking potential with innovation and excellence.’

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa  Masire-Mwamba said: “The nominations we have received for the awards demonstrate that young people are making a wonderful and significant contribution to human development in our member states.

“As partners in development, young people are using creative ideas, new technologies and are bringing tremendous energy to meeting national development goals. All the nominees are remarkable. I am extremely proud of the young people in the Commonwealth, especially this year when we are celebrating 40 years of youth empowerment through the CYP.” he said.

The finalists were selected at the CYP Regional Centres in Guyana, India, Solomon Islands and Zambia.

New York Summit

Meanwhile, Ellen is set to represent Malawi at the Global Teen Leaders (Three Dot Dash Three) Summit in New York next week.

The weeklong summit entitled ‘Just Peace’ is designed to provide the Global Teen Leaders the tools needed to further their work and amplify their messages globally.

Chilemba will be representing Malawi as part of the thirty young people selected from all over the world.

Chilemba and other participants were chosen for their efforts to promote a more peaceful society by addressing issues related to the basic human needs of food, water, health, shelter, safety, education and the environment in their respective countries.

Ellen Chilemba Fact-File

Born and raised in Malawi, Ellen was shocked to meet a teen girl around her age who was married to a much older man, had children and lived in poverty – her life just seemed ‘done.’

Ellen decided it was time to show girls like her that their lives are not over and that they can dream, learn and see the world in a different way. She created “Tiwale”, the Chichewa word for “we should enlighten” or “we should be empowered.”

Tiwale works with 18–25 year old girls, providing them with entrepreneurial skills and self-development programs that focus on maturity, confidence and positivity. The girls are also challenged to come up with business ideas.

Those with the best ideas receive a small amount of interest free capital to translate their concepts into reality. Tiwale provides alternatives to girls who would typically marry early or turn to prostitution because of their desperation and poverty. Instead, they become self-sufficient and empowered young women.


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