TEVETA transforms livelihoods: story of a vegetable vendor

Lizzie Thondoya Mithi’s journey to becoming a Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) Environmental Officer is an incredible story of perseverance, hard work and transformative power of education. 

Born and growing up in Mzimba in a family of four children, the 41-year old Mithi faced numerous obstacles in her pursuit of education.

Her family struggled to make ends meet, and many of her peers dropped out of school due to poverty.

She lost her mother while in Standard five and father when she was in Standard six.

College principal for Miracle Technical Institute in Karonga, Wanagwa Sichone

Without a stable source of income, her grandfather looked after 15 orphaned grandchildren, including Mithi and her siblings. 

He subsequently failed to provide school fees for Lizzie when she was selected for secondary school.

As a result, she enrolled for night classes at Mzimba Secondary School. Well-wishers provided her school fees and other forms of support till she sat for Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2001.

She was married soon after sitting for her examinations.

“The worsening of poverty back home prompted me to get married soon after I sat for my last paper,” she says.

The newly wedded couple settled in Mzuzu City where she started selling vegetables to supplement a hawker business run by her husband. 

Food production class at Miracle Technical College, pic by Zenak Matekeya – Mana..

However, she says chronic shortage of food remained a major challenge for the household. The hawker business was closed a year later.

As her vegetable business failed to meet all of her family’s needs, her mind was now open to any opportunity that would make a difference.

Someday, she indeed found it through the Technical, Entrepreneurial, and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA).

“This day I was selling vegetables in Zolozolo and met a plumber who busied himself with his work. 

Solar energy practicals at Solary Energy and Ecology Insitute – pic by Zenak Matekenya, Mana

“I got interested, and asked him how I could learn plumbing. He advised me I could contact TEVETA for sponsorship or learn it from any plumber,” she narrates.

This conversation marked the turning point for Mithi’s livelihood. When she contacted TEVETA, she was sponsored to learn at Golden Gift Technical College in Mzuzu. She was enrolled under an informal programme in 2006.

Through the sponsorship programme, TEVETA subsidizes school fees for underprivileged learners in different technical colleges in the country.

“I did Grade 3 up to 1 in Trade Test and was attached to Mzuzu University where they later employed me on a temporary basis due to my outstanding performance,” she says.

Luckily, Mithi secured a job with NRWB in 2009 as a plumber after a successful interview.

TEVETA sponsorship learner Grace Chawinga, at Solar Energy and Ecology Institute, Nkhata Bay – Zenak Matekenya – Mana

She explains that as a plumber, she visited Lesotho, Japan and other parts of the world as a result of her good performance at work. 

Not satisfied with the newly attained status, she upgraded her studies with City and Guilds in 2012.

Not still satisfied, Mithi rewrote MSCE whose results opened the door wider for her when she was selected to pursue a Bachelors Degree course in Water Resources Management and Development at Mzuni. 

This did not stop her plying her plumbing trade, which has made Mithi what she is today.

“As a family, we have a plumbing business with nine employees and also have market across the country. 

“We generate at least 50 per cent of our income through the business. We have assets, including 14 houses, and we rent out 13 of them,” she says, sounding proud.

Her achievements she accrued through plumbing complement the views of college principal for Miracle Technical Institute in Karonga, Wanagwa Sichone

Sichone believes technical skills are critical to the realisation of Malawi 2063, which aims at transforming Malawi into an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant industrialized upper- middle-income country by 2063.

She says technical skills, including plumbing and electrical installation, are critical and marketable towards industrialising Malawi, a developing country with numerous construction works.

While many university graduates with degrees are looking for people to employ them, Sichone says those with technical skills from technical colleges create opportunities for themselves and others.

“It is unfortunate that though there is market for carpentry and joinery, bricklaying, fabrication, and welding, some youths have no interest in enrolling.

“However, these are courses that would give them fast jobs and help them reach greater heights,” she says.

Her sentiments collaborate well with statistics made public in February, 2023 by the Chief Labour Officer in the ministry, George Chiliongo.

According to the statistics, only 30 000 jobs are created against the 300 000 graduates the country produces every year.

He believes universities should begin teaching students about job creation so that graduates can create jobs rather than seek jobs.

The TEVETA sponsorship programme has also strengthened the capacity of a number of technical institutions to offer best services and diversify their programmes.

As Sichome observes, the TEVETA programme had helped Miracle Technical Institute become part of the development agenda in Malawi through capacity building.

“Before TEVETA started sending us children on sponsorship, they challenged us to bring more trades on the table. 

“They built our instructors’ capacity; helped us develop curriculums and connected us to stakeholders in the technical sector. All these are part of the development agenda in Malawi,” she adds.

A level 2 Food Production course learner at the college, Veronica Nkhana from Zomba, hails TEVETA’s sponsorship initiative for complementing her grandmother’s efforts to educate her.

She says her grandmother supports her studies by selling goats which she acquired through Malawi Government’s Social Cash Transfer Programme.

“My grandmother had acquired goats through Social Cash Transfer Programme. Every semester she sells one goat to supplement the sponsorship,” Nkhana says.

Her uncle and her sister pay for her examinations; provide groceries and arrange for her transport from Zomba to Karonga and back after school.

“I will own a restaurant, use the proceeds to upgrade my studies and support my siblings’ education,” Veronica reveals her plans.

TEVETA Public Relations Officer, Carol Magreta, explains that many graduates under the programme are able to provide food, school supplies and other basic needs for their households through welding, carpentry and bricklaying among other skills gained in college.

To ensure the skills are directed towards socio-economic transformation for households and communities, TEVETA signed an agreement with FINCA Malawi and National Economic Empowerment Fund (NEEF) in September, 2021 to provide loans to certified graduates.

“The requirement is a minimum of three graduates and their certificates as sureties. They can access up to K4 million per group depending on their business proposal,” says Magreta.

For Veronica Thondoya Mithi, her new post as NRWB Environmental Officer upon graduating with a Bachelors Degree is a welcome development.

However, she cherishes the plumbing trade that is foundation of everything she is today and what largely puts food for her and her family on the table.

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