Shabby dressing, foul language, beer drinking and smoking are attributes of most young men that carry people’s luggage and goods from one point to another in bus depots and trading centres to make ends meet.
Such was the life of 31-year-old Okocha Mwafulirwa of Mchekacheka Village in Senior Chief Mwilang’ombe’s area in Karonga District.
Okocha’s dream to become a teacher got shuttered following the death of his father. His mother could not afford K28, 000 fees at Nyungwe Community Day Secondary School.
This situation made him drop out of school in 2009, a year before seating for Malawi School Certificate of Education.
Just like many other school dropouts in the area, Okocha found himself obsessed with liquor. Eventually, he became alcoholic and could not afford to spend a day without a sip.
As a way of sustaining himself and remaining relevant to the drinking business, he started doing piece works at a nearby trading centre.
“Ngara is a busy trading centre. I thought of doing piecework such as loading tomato baskets in trucks,” he says.
Weeks turned into months and months into years, Okocha was satisfied that he had found his destiny.
His daily piecework was punctuated by sips of liquor and cigarette puffs. He lived such a lousy life for close to six years.
“On top of my food, the little I could earn was spent on liquor and tobacco cigarettes,” Okocha says.
The only property he could boast of was a grass thatched house, put together by burnt bricks which remained from a relation’s house project.
However, the coming in of World Vision’s Action for Adolescents Project (A4A) in the area redefined Okocha’s destiny.
“I was approached by Village Development Committee (VDC) members that I should join Hope Youth Ready Club.
“They approached me because they were concerned with my behavior. I used to drink and insult women a lot,” he says.
Implemented by World Vision, with funding from UNICEF, A4A aims to empower the youth in various ways including to explore business opportunities in their respective communities, through Youth Ready Clubs.
The project introduced village savings and loans (VSL) concept to the clubs to enable members save money and access loans which they would later reinvest.
After joining Hope Youth Ready Club, Okocha started monthly savings through the VSL. Members of the club were also required to cultivate a crop of their choice and he chose tomatoes.
“Through VSL, every member was mandated to get a loan and start a small-scale business. I chose to open up a pork butcher,” he says.
Okocha started his business with the money realized from tomato sales and a loan from VSL.
He accumulated K71, 000 with which he bought two pigs and made a profit of K31 000.
“I make an average profit of K28 000 a week. There are four other people at the trading center doing the same business; so we give each other turns in a week,” he says.
Today, Okocha is a proud man. The proceeds from the business have translated into a four bed roomed decent house.
“I never imagined my life could transform like this. I’m grateful to the people behind this initiative,” he says.
Okocha no longer drinks like a fish and insult women.
He has become a responsible citizen who, together with members of the club, produces learning materials for Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in the area among other responsibilities.
His brilliant contributions toward activities of the group had prompted other members to make him chairperson.
Besides VSL and other activities, the club owns a one-acre groundnuts field and 30 local chickens which will be distributed among members after they multiply.
Okocha says he is happy that livelihoods of all the 20 members of Hope Youth Ready Club are transforming for the better.
“Own their own, members are producing crops such as tomatoes, rice, groundnuts and maize following the requirement for every member to venture into agriculture,” he says.
“It is pleasing to note that other youths in this area are copying the skills from club members hence the project’s impact extending to many people,” he adds.
He attributes the club’s success to team work.
“As a team, we are able to share ideas. We properly guide one another and this is what has pushed us this far,” Okocha says.
Karonga District has a population of 359, 080 out of which 60 percent is the youth.
The district’s youth officer Jessie Mwansambo says the district’s high school dropout rate results in alcohol and substance abuse plus early marriages.
“Unemployment remains a major challenge for the youth in Karonga.
“There is need for capacity building in different fields. The youth lack career guidance,” she says.
Mwansambo commends A4A project for playing a role in transforming Okocha and many other youths in the district but said there are still more that need similar support.
“Action for Adolescents Project has been a vibrant project. However, the challenge is that only four clubs have been directly reached; two in Mwilang’ombe and two in Kilipula. We have 149 youth clubs and four youth NGOs,” she says.
According to the Ministry of Youth Sports and Manpower Development, young people in the country, who constitute 70 percent of the population, continue to face challenges on the labour market.
The ministry’s principal secretary Joseph Mwandidya said last year that youth unemployment in the country was at 23 percent while national unemployment was at 21 percent.
World Vision Malawi Technical Programmes Manager for Education Florence Pwele says the project, which ran between 2016 and 2017, aimed to empower adolescents, especially those who dropped out of school, to become self-reliant.
“This project was an eye-opener to youths like Okocha to realise their vision of becoming productive citizens,” Mwansambo says.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :