Empowering Malawian youth through blogging and social media

Joyce Chisale works on her Facebook page at the blogger and social media training 
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi

The first week of August 2017 was a spectacular week for some children and young people from Mangochi and Lilongwe. UNICEF hosted a bloggers training workshop in Mangochi to train youth on blogging, social media and child rights. A former news presenter from Germany, Sandra Thier, led the workshop. The skill levels of the two groups were very different, but the training was stimulating and exciting as youth from different walks life all learnt something new about digital media.

By the end of the week, young boys and girls from Mangochi could proudly say that they know how to use Facebook and can teach their peers how to create Facebook and Gmail accounts. “Through this blogger training, I’ve learnt how to use Facebook and I think I can teach others how to use it too”, said Princess Mkonde.

The youth from the capital city Lilongwe, were selected by the innovation and entrepreneurship hub M-Hub and were already tech savvy. However for them, the training helped them understand the essentials of blogging. Those who already had blogs, including three journalists from Blantyre who were also part of the training, had often not updated their blogs in months. They were inspired to get their blogs up and running again, with a new focus on child rights.

Adolescent girls attend a class on literacy and knowledge of nutrition
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

The most exciting part of the training was the field visit to a Girls Literacy Project in Nkumba, Mangochi where the bloggers observed a literacy lesson for out of school adolescent girls. This project is being undertaken by Adolescent Girls Literacy (AGLIT) with funding from UNICEF. During this visit, the participants were able to conduct interviews for human interest stories about the young girls who had dropped out of school but returned to enrol in literacy classes in order to brush up their basic skills, either to help in their work or as a stepping stone to returning to formal school.

Amina, 19, with her baby boy at the UNICEF-supported literacy class 
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

One of the adolescents, 19-year-old Amina James, shared her story with the class. Her mother died when she was 14 and she dropped out of school to help her grandmother on the family farm. She now has a baby boy and attends the literacy class regularly. “I am so happy that I can now read and write,” she said. “My life has changed. I can go into town on my own and read the shop signs. I would like to be a nurse.”

Another girl, 14-year-old girl Aisha Byson demonstrated her spelling skills on the blackboard. She dropped out of school while in standard 3 at the age of 10 because of the long distance she had to travel to school. This greatly affected her class attendance and concentration. Now that she has enrolled in these classes her ability to read and write in her mother tongue Chichewa, as well as English has improved drastically.

Aisha demonstrating her spelling skills on the board during the literacy lesson 
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

After the lesson, the young bloggers split up into groups and interviewed the girls individually. One girl, Catherine Lemson told the bloggers she had benefitted greatly from the literacy classes as she can now read and write without much difficulty. Catherine left school in 2014 when her mother moved to another town and left her to stay with her aunt, who struggled to financially support her education. Now she wants to re-enrol in primary school as a full time student.

Catherine tells her story to one of the young bloggers 
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

Another young girl, Anisha, talked to Sandra about how she dropped out of school due to financial constraints but now finds herself attending the literacy classes, sometimes even with her 9-month-old baby by her side. Anisha is determined to return to school and hopes to become a nurse when she gets older.

Anisha explains her desire to further her studies to Sandra Thier 
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara

Following the field visit, the participants blogged their stories, which all described the challenges that many young girls in completing their education. The opportunity to listen to these girls stories, not only gave the youth participants a platform to practise their blogging skills, but also allowed the young girls taking part in the literacy class to tell their story and inspire other girls on the importance of education.

Following the training, the bloggers established a lively WhatsApp group and started posting and sharing their stories with each other. Together, they are helping to take stories of children’s rights to a wider audience.

The bloggers and out of school adolescents celebrate at the end of the project visit
 © UNICEF/Malawi/2017/Chagara
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