Addressing healthy settings in Malawi
My Life, My Choice (Moyo Wanga, Chisankho Changa) was a 2-day event held in July 2014 to empower youth in the Scotland Chikwawa Health Initiative area. Funded by the University of Strathclyde to celebrate the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the event brought together University of Malawi (Polytechnic) students to mentor students from Mfera secondary school (Mfera CDSS) in Chikwawa district through netball, football, drama, dance and peer conversation, addressing life issues including career options, further education, and sexual health education.
The first event was held at Mfera CDSS, the day began with school students presenting an original drama production ‘My life, My choice’ about the challenges affecting their lives including initiation ceremonies, peer pressure, early marriages and parental influences on continuing their education.
The students explored how peer pressure and initiation ceremonies influence their decisions on health and education. Through the eyes of the lead character, played by form 3 student Edna, the play illustrated how her character’s new sexual confidence after her initiation ceremony combined with the need to earn money led to risky sexual behavior and taking the wrong advice from her peers. The play ended with Edna getting pregnant at a young age and her parents struggling to take care of her.
Polytechnic students followed up with a play exploring similar themes. Prince Muta (playing James) and Ellen Thawani (playing Elube), final year Journalism and Business Administration students, took the lead parts. Lead character Elube ignores her mother’s advice to drop out of school, however follows her close friends into prostitution admiring the money they earned. Elube contracts STDs and falls pregnant only to be ridiculed by the same peers. Meanwhile James once a hard working boy at school drops out and succumbs to drug and alcohol abuse and is then caught stealing in the village.
After the plays, the school students and their mentors from the Polytechnic discussed the issues raised in the plays in small groups and together they developed solutions to some of the challenges raised which were presented to the audience who included parents, community members and special dignitaries from the Ministry of Health Mr. Humphreys Masuku (The Deputy Director of Preventive Health), Dr. Rabson Kachale (Director of Sector Wide Approach) and chiefs from local villages.
Finally, the students from both institutions played netball and football matches in mixed teams, ending with a penalty shootout challenge with special guest Peter Mponda, a Malawian national football star, who is now Technical advisor at Surestream football academy in Blantyre.
20 lucky students from Mfera took part in a reciprocal visit to urban Blantyre (1 hour away from Mfera) to visit the University campus, for many of the students it was their first time in the city. In addition to a tour the Principal and Vice Principal and several other academics from the university gave presentations on the benefits of further education and life options available.
“I can see a future now…I think I can make it, I can go further with my education,” said Edna, one of the school student actors after the event at the Polytechnic.
“We have seen how college life is like and it has inspired me to work hard to reach college. I have also been inspired seeing girls going further with education. This has motivated me that I myself can make it to any university,” said Linly, a form 3 student at Mfera CDSS.
Patience Silungwe, a final year Business Communication student at the Polytechnic added, “This was an enlightening experience for us students. We were able to appreciate the need for motivation to rural secondary school students…it was also a chance for students of different faculties to meet and work together…”
“Previous discussions with young people in Mfera identified that as a group they are disconnected, lack social bonding, have no sense of belonging and fail to see opportunities in their future. Through the My Life, My Choice events, we aim to begin to address some of these issues by developing a sense of bonding through drama and sport. The programme also addresses the disconnect between urban and rural opportunities by having peer mentoring with university students and facilitating Mfera students to visit the University of Malawi campus. Improving the social capital of the community and opportunities for youth will have a direct impact on the sustainability of future generations,” says Dr Tracy Morse, SCHI Project Manager in Malawi.
The SCHI team filmed and photographed interviews and activities with students at the events. The footage will be used for a 5 minute film which will be shown at the school to remind the students what was learned during the My Life, My Choice days and motivate them and other young people in Mfera to continue with their education. The film will also be presented at an event in Scotland in September ‘Explorathon’ which aims to engage young people in Scotland in science, engineering and research.
The event is part of a wider project run by University of Strathclyde’s Scotland Chikwawa Health Initiative (SCHI) with funding from Scottish Government. The 3-year ‘Healthy Settings’ community-led health project is addressing some of the social, economic and environmental challenges facing 18 communities in one of the most challenging districts in Malawi.
For further information about Scotland Chikwawa Health Initiative please visit: http://www.strath.ac.uk/malawi/projects/chikwawaproject/