Empowering Young Women Through Vocational Training: The Transformation of Gertrude Chizumira

Recognizing the urgent need to equip young people like Gertrude with vocational skills, a local organization, ICEED, launched an intensive three-month training program under the ACCEL Africa project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Article | 05 October 2023

In nations grappling with socio-economic challenges, the question of empowering women economically becomes even more pressing. Among the most vulnerable are young girls who lack formal academic qualifications or vocational skills. In many instances, these young women find themselves in precarious situations, exposed to exploitation and abuse. A poignant example can be found in the experience of 18-year-old Gertrude Chizumira from Misuku Hills in Chitipa.

My parents are very poor. They struggled to support me through secondary education. I didn’t want to burden them further with school demands like fees, uniform and other things as such I decided to work in smallholder coffee plantations to make ends meet."

Gertrude Chizumira
Gertrude's educational journey reached an abrupt stop when she failed her form 4 examinations in secondary school. Instead of repeating the grade to improve her academic standing, she sought employment in smallholder coffee plantations. Life on the plantations proved to be a cycle of relentless labour with negligible remuneration, a reality that left her physically and emotionally drained.

Recognizing the urgent need to equip young people like Gertrude with vocational skills, a local organization, ICEED, launched an intensive three-month training program under the ACCEL project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. Gertrude was among the 82 participants, chosen from 12 zones in Misuku Hills, to receive vocational training aimed at transforming their prospects for sustainable employment.

Levi Siyame, the Coffee Development Manager for Misuku Coffee Cooperative, emphasized that the training was strategically aimed at young people from smallholder coffee farming households. The overarching goal was not only to endow them with vocational capabilities but also to discourage child labour in coffee plantations, thereby creating a more ethical and sustainable supply chain.

Today, Gertrude Chizumira has pivoted her life's trajectory dramatically. She is now a proficient tailor, in partnership with Thandizani Mshlane, a 17-year-old who also benefited from the ACCEL project. Operating with sewing machines borrowed from their community, they share a modest monthly expense of K4,000 for the equipment.

This transformation underscores the ripple effects of targeted interventions for youth empowerment. Beyond Gertrude and Thandizani, such programs have the potential to reshape community dynamics, bolster ethical labour practices, and offer a blueprint for broader economic sustainability.

Through these efforts, what was once a narrative of constant challenge has been rewritten into one of hope and empowerment, setting a precedent for what can be achieved through well-crafted, community-driven initiatives.

We charge K2,000 for a dress and K1,500 for a blouse. In a month, each of us makes profits in excess of K20,000 (20 USD). With this money, we buy soap and support our families. This money also helps our parents to hire adult labourers on coffee plantations and not children."

Gertrude Chizumira