Turning marginalised Malawians into passionate community leaders
In honour of International Women’s Day on 8th March, we are showcasing one of our 2021 Kofi Annan Changemakers, Chmba Ellen Chilemba, and her outstanding work for women and girls in Malawi.
Chmba is a 27-year-old Malawian DJ, musician, producer and education activist. She founded her organisation “Tiwale” (meaning “let us shine/let us glow” in Chichewa, the most widely spoken language in Malawi) in 2012, at the age of 17.
In 2015 she was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.
Now supported by a team of 11, Chmba and her organisation Tiwale provide education and entrepreneurship opportunities for marginalised people and groups in Malawi.
From girls and young women to other minority identities (including sexual minorities), Chmba aims to reduce the inequalities that affect the most vulnerable in Malawi.
“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
– Kofi Annan
Breaking the cycle of poverty
Tiwale’s goal is to help people from minority groups develop and expand their skills to earn income and break the cycle of poverty. In Malawi, most families cannot afford the cost of education for their children. Girls often drop out of school at the secondary level and can be pushed into child marriage.
What started as a summer project – prompted by the fact that child marriage was still legal in 2012- has become a community-based organisation helping hundreds of young girls and women between 13 and 30 years of age.
Tiwale now has learning spaces in Mtsiliza and Lifuwu, two communities in Malawi. With the support of The Headley Trust, the Frida Fund, Global Changemakers and the Shawn Foundation, the organisation runs programmes including primary and secondary classes to courses on digital literacy and STEM, music technology, sewing and fashion design, entrepreneurship, and specialised activities such as sanitary pad-making classes and mental health gatherings.
Each programme lasts around 12 months. Upon completion, students can access micro-loans or scholarships to use their newly acquired skills.
Supporting those most at risk
The majority of schools in Malawi do not have access to necessary learning infrastructures such as desks or blackboards, with students learning under trees in some cases. Libraries and laboratories are often a luxury
COVID-19 has increased inequalities further. While most students in high-income countries were able to switch to online learning as the pandemic halted physical teaching, in the Global South, many schools were forced to close completely. This left young girls and minority individuals even more at risk. At Tiwale, five members under the age of 19 dropped out of school or became pregnant.
Chmba and her team were quick to react, expanding Tiwale’s offering to include digital literacy courses to prevent these vulnerable groups from leaving education.
Next step: closing the digital gap
COVID-19 has shown how crucial digital tools are for the future of learning and education. Last year, Tiwale launched weekly digital literacy and STEM programmes to demystify technology. Participants get access to one of 20 learning tablets equipped with essential applications (such as Google, WhatsApp, Youtube, Microsoft Word) and animated lessons.
The tablets rotate between the community centres and have successfully built the students’ tech skills, with an average 97% pass rate for these classes.
Tiwale now wants to increase its offering by providing computer lessons classes such as coding, web and digital design.
With the help of the Kofi Annan Foundation (Chmba received a seed grant as part of the Kofi Annan Changemakers programme – learn more about the programme here), Tiwale will purchase laptops to develop its programme capacity further. Chmba and her team are also improving their infrastructure by providing electricity in their community centre with solar panels.
Making an impact
Since its creation, Tiwale has helped 467 women, girls and minority identities, enabling them to graduate or set up a business. Forty microloan programme participants now have thriving businesses, and Tiwale’s first scholar was just accepted into Chancellor College at the University in Malawi.
Three scholars were offered scholarships through the Ntha Foundation and World Bank, and the young women who took the music production and DJ skills programme now have residencies with festivals across Malawi where they are generating income.
Tiwale has also partnered with the Ministry of Health in Malawi to issue facemasks, teach workshops on sexual reproductive health and rights and distribute sanitary products to schoolgirls in need.
Join us as we celebrate Chmba’s achievements and all those around the world working to empower women and girls!
How you can help
- Follow and support Tiwale’s work: www.tiwale.org
- Learn more about Chmba and her work here and her journey with music here.
Please help us help changemakers like Chmba, who are positively impacting the world by donating to the Kofi Annan Changemakers programme.