TA (Traditional Authority) Kabudula is a rural village on the far outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi’s sprawling capital of around 1 million people - around half of whom are living on less than £1 per day.
Kabudula means ‘Short Trousers’, somehow a fitting name for Progressio’s ICS programme that involves young volunteers sharing skills with young Malawian farmers. Our young people are our future in every society of course, but especially in Malawi where over 60% of the population is under 25.
(For those who did not share the shorts-wearing custom of my 1970s Yorkshire childhood, I should explain that short trousers were symbolic of youth, because schoolboys only graduated to long trousers as we grew older…)
The young people I met are actively taking responsibility for the sustainable future of their livelihoods and their local environment. They included about 130 young people from the village (roughly half girls and half boys), plus the 8 young adult volunteers with Progressio ICS – 4 Malawians and 4 Brits.
“My wish is to take the skills I have learnt across to my family’s small farm plot so we can get more produce for the whole family in future,” said one young farmer.
Empowerment in action
The approach is 'empowerment' in action: the community identifying their own priorities, drawing up their own action plan and then implementing it. Progressio support the local Malawian organisation Arise and Shine International (ASI) in sharing knowledge and skills with the communities as the projects evolve.
“We are working with the local young villagers to show them how to diversify beyond the staple crop, maize, by growing a new higher value crop, paprika (peppers), in an organically sustainable way," Patrick, who works for Malawian ASI explained. The crops are grown on 16 mini-plots with varying levels of fertiliser and manure - a scientific test bed so the young farmers can learn which combination maximises crop yields. “Not only can the learning spread round the village but also be taken to other communities too,” said Patrick.
Watch a short interview with ‘TK’ who works for ASI in Malawi and two of the young farmers he is supporting:
The young volunteer team is also developing other activities in response to priorities identified by the local young farmers; these include HIV and AIDS prevention, Early Childhood Development and family planning to address key health issues. The custom of young marriages leading to many girls having to leave school early, has also been identified as an issue needing to be addressed. By marrying at an early age girls risk missing out on opportunities to break out of poverty.
Effective local communication methods include drama, poetry, and dance, whereby the local young people become ‘trainers’, themselves taking the message to others in the village. The young people take the knowledge back to their families.
The ‘TA’ in the village name stands for Traditional Authority and, importantly, the youth programme has the backing of the local TA elders including the TA Chief who kindly donated the land and some of the seeds for the young farmers' training plot. He has also donated more land for building a youth resource centre to consolidate the learning and act as a hub for information and training on sustainable farming and livelihoods, income generating practices, HIV and AIDS, Early Childhood Development and family planning too.
The obstacles and challenges are huge but these young people and their elder TA Chief were full of smiles when talking about their hopes for the future. Something long-lasting is coming out of Short Trousers.
Mark Lister, Progressio's Executive Director, travelled to Malawi and Zimbabwe in January 2013. (Photo:TK at Kabudula project © Mark Lister)