On August 10th-11th, mHub, with support from students from Mzuzu University, the Foundation for Children’s Rights (FCR) and the M....

There has been an increasing number of issues arising amongst the youth in Mzimba district that remain unresolved such as early pregnancies, early marriage, migration, high unemployment rates, drug and substance abuse. On August 10th-11th, mHub, with support from students from Mzuzu University, the Foundation for Children’s Rights (FCR) and the Malawi Human Right Resource Center (MHRRC), facilitated the first ever youth conference at this year’s Umthetho Cultural Festival. Led by Paramount Chief M’Mbelwa V, this year’s festival was preceded by focus group discussions on Ending Child Marriages and Reducing School Dropouts in Mzimba.

 The UMTHETHO cultural event is held annually in order for the Ngoni people in Mzimba district and beyond to interact and share their cultural Values. The youth conference targeted 150 youth from all 10 Traditional Authority areas in Mzimba district and had a turn up of 142 youths, 69 girls and 73 boys from various areas in Mzimba district.

In view of the challenges met by young people in the district, this year’s UMTHETHO cultural event incorporated an activity through which the youth would interact and discuss the challenges that they face and opportunities that exist, introduce the youth to the concept of entrepreneurship and develop new norms to do away with harmful cultural practices.

The main objective of the conference was to promote awareness amongst the youth on overcoming challenges and grasping opportunities that exist within their communities, enhance the development of new norms amongst the youth with support from their elders to do away with practices that lead to early pregnancies and marriages, introduce the youth to the essentials of entrepreneurship, and provide role models to motivate the youth to focus on achieving their goals.

The youth were engaged to share what they think are the causes of early pregnancies and marriages in their respective communities, the effects and how they believe the increase in the number of early pregnancies and marriages can be eliminated. They named peer pressure, poverty, and cultural practices as some of the causes of early messages.

The points raised were classified based on the Traditional Authority from which each youth was coming from so that efforts expected from their Traditional Leaders would be responsive to the specific problems existing in their respective communities. The youth also got to hear testimonies from youth who were raised in the Mzimba district that successfully achieved their goals despite the challenges they faced. mHub’s Founder Rachel Sibande also spoke to the youth to motivate them to stay focused and to achieve their dreams like their fellow youth.

The youth were then introduced to the concept of entrepreneurship with a focus on encouraging them to always look out for business opportunities in their respective communities. The activity aimed to equip the youth with knowledge of developing viable business ideas and a Business Canvas Model for successful implementation of their business plans. The youth were also encouraged to make good use of their skills in carpentry, plumbing and brick laying among others to earn money through provision of services.

Cultural values encourage the youth to respect every decision of their parents hence most girls do not question the decision to force them into early marriage. The Traditional Authority leaders also made a commitment to ensure they would play their role as per recommendations from the conference and ensure other stakeholders in their respective communities do the same.

The conference was a success; 94% of the targeted youth were in attendance, the youth were participative, through partnership with UN women; over 100 men and boys that were at the conference signed the HeforShe commitment that as parents and brothers they would ensure no violence against women and girls.

By Blessings Chavula