The Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) has since 2010 engaged its member churches’ leadership in spearheading change in the way Christians should plan the size of their families. Interventions have so far taken place in Dwambazi in Nkhotakota District in central Malawi. Four activities took place, engaging through church leaders and couples, and interfacing with community leaders such as chiefs, traditional family counsellors, and youth leaders in phase 1 under the project name ChurchACT (Church Action) on Population and Development. ChurchACT phase one took place in 2018 for six months.
The Council has since September 2018, embarked on phase two (ChurchACT2) in Traditional Authority Mwakaboko’s area at Iponga in Karonga District in northern Malawi. Both Dwambazi and Iponga are in districts that have prevailing fishing and farming entrepreneurship that have seen more young people shun school and engage in business and fast track into marriages. In both areas, rapid population growth is threatened caused by the unplanned and early marriages, early pregnancies with some as young as 14 years old. School drop out and child bearing health complication rates are also on the rise.
The following have been activities that have taken place at Dwambazi and are being replicated with minor improvements at Iponga. All the activities strive to link faith teachings to issues of population and development, and this has helped the communities to understand that rapid population growth is a cross cut issue on many life’s facets affecting them. Such issues include deforestation and encroachment into protected areas such as game reserves (Nkhotakota), migration and human trafficking across the Lake Malawi and the border with Mozambique and Tanzania, conflicts over land amongst family members, villages, and migrants (business competition), food insecurity due to limited farm land and exhausted soil quality, teacher and health personnel ratios in schools and at health facilities.
Government officials from the Monitoring and Evaluation Units and health centres have also shared with participants and communities at large the alarming figures as to number of people in the two areas, rate of births and deaths amongst under 5 children, cases of fistula and malnutrition, strain on public resources such as medicines and teaching and learning materials, agricultural incentives and provisions, among many others. Journalists were also invited for coverage.
Population and Development Workshop for Church Leaders
Fifty participants designed for 20 males, 20 females and 10 youth leaders were brought to engage through the Faithful Voices guide that was developed by the participating faith mother bodies. These are MCC member church leaders such as reverends, church elders, women guild leaders, and church youth group leaders. Under ChurchACT2 at Iponga, church leaders have met and have been oriented on the linkages, and important issues as affected in their areas, e.g. intermarriages with neighbouring Tanzanians, and young people claiming for their rights and not heeding their responsibilities, leading to immoral and loose behaviour that is fueling rapid population growth in the area, among many issues.
Population and Development Couples and Youth Workshop
Fifty participants have also been targeted with 20 couples drawn from MCC member churches in the catchment area, and a different set of faith youth with a 5:5 gender ratio. The guide was again used and supportive verses engaged. The ChurchACT Churches Action Groups (CAGs), a structural element of working groups in the MCC structure, was elected. It included church leaders, traditional and community leaders and youth Leaders.
Population Weekend Planning Meeting
This activity at Dwambazi targeted mostly those elected into the ChurchACT CAG as a steering committee to the forthcoming Population Weekend. They explored a suitable and doable activity that would not only attract more people, but that would also ensure a perfect platform for sharing of information relative to faith, population and development. A soccer bonanza was arranged between two top and popular teams in the area.
The two teams identified in activity above met at Dwambazi Community School Ground.
Thousands of people from near and far participated, close to 2,500, with the youthful and especially female representation being bigger than expected. A church leader also led a band with messages on the theme.
Strategic speakers included Senior Group Village Head (Snr GVH) Kamphambale, who is also a church leader and member of the elected CAG committee, other key church leaders in the area, and a couple shared their views and experiences. Of value addition, a top league player at national level visiting his home (catchment) area agreed to work as the game commentator and kept the message across at all times, exciting more young people.
Need for ChurchACT Community Centre
Meanwhile, the Dwambazi CAG has agreed and requested that a community centre be opened, where parents and guardians through the churches can engage their youth in many aspects of their life. The first two meetings apparently agreed that it’s imperative that youth remain in school, avoid early marriages and pregnancies, and become responsible with their activities and growing bodies by spending more time in school and after knock off, at the centre.
Activities at the Dwambazi ChurchACT Community Centre would include skills development such as boat and fishing net making and mending, tailoring, bicycle mechanics, music and drama performances, sports and games, library facilities, under five section/ play room/ ground, and a section for the church leaders, parents and guardians to provide and go through counselling. Income generating activities such as masonry and roofing also to be included especially for the youth to make some money for their needs, other than for boys to rely on fishing and girls on transaction sex. A two-roomed building has since been identified by the CAG supported by Snr GVH Kamphambale for the centre at a starting cost of MWK25,000 per month. The community has since offered to pay for water and electricity bills, and foot some small bills once a donor is identified.
Other MCC Updates
Saaye Malawi Chapter contributes voice on SADC’s youth bulge
The Southern African Alliance on Youth Employment (Saaye) Malawi Chapter (SMC) is made up of the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), and the Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) at the national level, reflecting the regional Apex Alliance made up of the Economic Justice Network (EJN) of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (Foccisa) representing the church, the Southern African Trade Union Coordinating Council (Satucc) for the trade unions, and the SADC-Congress of Non-Governmental Organisations (Sadc-Cngo) for the civil society organisations at large. The initiative works in 9 Sadc countries including Malawi. During the just ended Civil Society Forum (CSF) in Windhoek Namibia, on the sides of the Sadc Heads of State and Government, SMC was part and parcel of the regional initiative in coming up with three cardinal asks on youth employment and entrepreneurship that were embraced into the CSF Resolutions, presented to the heads of state for their deep consideration. Population and development issues were part of the underpinning factors in the ASKS, as the African Youth Charter (AYC) and other international and regional instruments, and the national youth policies in the participating countries, need to truly reflect and drive issues of harnessing development from the youth bulge in the region. Malawi just like most African countries and the rest of the world, are currently very youthful, and therefore with the use of the Sadc Youth Employment Policy Promotion Framework (YEPPF), it is envisaged that as one strong mitigating factor, youth population can best be used to develop nations, and at the same time control rapid population growth where young and productive people spend more time in class, or engaged in meaningful and dignified employment. The issue of education system has also been taken into consideration to review towards creating more job creators than is the case today where its designed at creating job seekers. Saaye is mostly engaging with the TEVET/TVET Policy are regional and national chapter levels. Saaye is currently supported by the Commonwealth Foundation.