21 September 2018
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Nkhokoma Youth Group – setting the pace in youth employment

Written by  Sam Majamanda
Harvest Day: Members of Nkhokoma Youth Group work with a fishing net on harvest day - Pic by Sam Majamanda Harvest Day: Members of Nkhokoma Youth Group work with a fishing net on harvest day - Pic by Sam Majamanda

Phalombe, August 16, 2018: In Malawi the youth can be described using various undesirable stereotypes, such as violent, unreliable, reckless and many other demeaning words that can come to one’s mind at any particular moment.

This is as a result of the irresponsible manner in which young people sometimes conduct themselves in society as measured by that particular society’s way of life and values.

However, a fact that cannot be ignored is that the youth in Malawi are facing various barriers to development, ranging from poor access to education and jobs to being abused in many ways such as being used to perpetrate violence during political campaign rallies, especially in the run up to an election.

It is partly due to this fact, that currently youth unemployment rate remains as high as 40 percent despite the young generation making up the biggest chunk of Malawi’s population – comprising about 73 percent.

While this is maybe the case, the youth in some corners of Malawi are standing out to prove that given the necessary attention, opportunities and support, young people can be a direct opposite of society’s common perception by becoming agents of development and change among themselves.

This is the case with a Nkhata Bay based Nkhokoma Youth Group which has taken a totally new approach to issues that affected the youth by concentrating on soil, water and locally available natural resources to mitigate effects of youth unemployment in their area.

“We realized that most young people in our area were not able to land jobs despite attaining education at various levels. So, we came up with an idea of starting irrigation farming so that we could make a business out of it and be able to provide for ourselves,” says Catherine Mkandawire, leader and godmother of the grouping.

Initiated in 2014 with a quarter-acre piece of land, three bee hives and a semi-formed idea of having fish ponds, the group established itself in the area of Group Village Chamawoya in the area of Traditional Authority Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay district.

Fast forward to 2018, their efforts are benefitting not only the 42 group members, but also 150 other young people from their communities who conduct fish, honey and farm produce businesses bought in bulk from the group.

Mkandawire says as opposed to common expectations among most Malawian youths, the group did not seek support from any non-governmental organization or government sector considering that members of the group realized that salvation begins with the one seeking it.

“After a year of our own operations, one organization named Find Your Feet assisted us with fish stocks (fingerlings) and skills on management of fish ponds. Apart from that, we did not receive any assistance from anyone,” Mkandawire recollects.

“However, we have managed to make all the progress through contributions from members and some small fundraising activities,” Mkandawire points out, adding that she believes every youth group can do it as long as they put all their effort on one thing.

Apart from cultivating crops such as vegetables and tomatoes through irrigation, presently the group produces at least 140 kilogrammes of honey monthly from 12 beehives under their management and sells fish from a pond that started with 1 800 fingerlings.

The exploits of the group has attracted the attention of some key members of the society.

Group Village Head Chamawoya is one such contented figure in the area who says the young people’s initiative has helped in improving his subjects’ health and nutrition since they buy fish and honey at fair prices from their own ‘children.’

The local leader says in the village where not everyone can afford meat for proteins, the fish has become a primary source of proteins and the honey is deemed a very precious commodity for the health of the people.

“As you may appreciate, most people cannot afford to buy meat as a result they opt for fish as an alternative source of protein while the honey is used in various ways including its medicinal values as a cough syrup and for treating wounds,” Group Village Head Chamawoya observes.

Ever since its establishment, the group’s golden rule has always been that every member should gain knowledge and establish a personal farm in an attempt to foster individual economic development and self sustenance as well as graduation from the group, effectively to create room for the next generation of the youth in the area to have a similar experience.

One of the most successful members of Nkhokoma Youth Group, Bright Kaunda who owns six beehives and a 20 by 10 metres sized fish pond, says he has gained the economic independence that he never expected from the two types of farming and he is ready for graduation.

Kaunda harvests at least 60 Kilogrammes of honey in every two months and sells fish both in bulk and on retail, a development that shifted him from a hopeless person to prosperity.

“Our dream is to later on turn this into a youth cooperative where youths that have attained independence through these activities can interact and do business together to reach bigger markets where real profits can be realized,” Kaunda says.

Meanwhile, there are at least 42 young people that have put down their pens and paper and have completely abandoned the task of seeking employment from the job market to concentrate on fish farming, bee-keeping and irrigation and yet 150 others are benefiting economically indirectly, thanks to ideas from young people of Nkhokoma Youth Group, who at first were perceived to be out of their minds.

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