24 August 2023
Long shafts of light stretch across the road as vendors set up their stalls. Shoppers begin bartering, buying fresh fruit and veg for the day ahead. Local artisans continue with their latest product, heads down in concentration.
In southern Malawi, it’s the start of another busy market day.
Among the throng of activity is 26-year-old carpenter Swema, who co-owns a carpentry shop near the town of Balaka. This morning, she’s carving intricate designs into a long piece of wood, sanding as she goes.
For her, crafting beautiful doors and woodwork is the culmination of all her dreams. But life has not always been so good for Swema.
Trapped in poverty
“I stopped school early” Swema explains. “To make money, I’d do casual labour in farms or carry water for moulding bricks.” But this back-breaking work left her unable to provide for her six-year-old daughter who she is raising on her own.
“I struggled to find money. I never knew what to do to find money – to even just buy soap for my child. Food was short and I also struggled with budgeting the little that I earned.
“It was painful. I always wished someone had helped me to learn a trade. Whenever I saw my friends building – especially boys – I always wished it was me.”
Learning a new skill
Thanks to SCIAF’s EU-funded project ‘Hope for Youth’, Swema enrolled in a training course aimed at young people who had struggled to complete their education.
SCIAF’s local partner Caritas Malawi led the college-style programme which specialised in teaching vocational skills such as electrical engineering, metalwork and carpentry, and which organised business classes to make more than 700 fledgling careers a success.
“I went to register and started learning. I can now produce a wooden door without any challenges.
I also produce door frames and windows that people are proud of – they even tell me that my work is better than the boys’!”
On graduation, Swema and her classmates were supported in setting up small businesses, allowing them to grow their independence and earn an income.
“I own this carpentry shop with my friend. At first, we had to borrow tools, but then we slowly saved up to buy our own.”
“I’m very happy and proud because people thought I wouldn’t excel in this trade as a woman. But now they know: women can be breadwinners!”
A brighter future
In addition to meeting her basic needs, Swema’s new skills and flourishing career have boosted her self-confidence, improved her mental wellbeing, and shown her the importance of fighting for gender equality.
“My message to women is that they should never look down on themselves. Women have the potential to do anything. Every woman is capable of doing any vocational work. There’s no specific work for men or women. Anyone can earn an income. Women can build houses and be carpenters.
“As a woman you might be worried about earning an income. But this is not the time for crying. Face forward and work without any self-doubt.”
Thanks to you – and the support of the EU – we've helped more than 1,400 young people in Malawi learn new vocational skills, so they can build brighter futures. We wanted to bring you Swema's shining success story!