A Turnaround Journey — From School Dropout to Entrepreneur, Chabala Msukwa's Story of Transformation

Today, Chawala Msukwa operates his own carpentry business, earning approximately K60,000 per month — an income he never could have imagined during his days of picking coffee berries.

Article | 12 September 2023
Chawala Msukwa at work

The weight of dropping out of primary school after three unsuccessful attempts at the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) could have permanently sealed Chawala Muskwa’s fate. At 17, he found himself adrift, having shrugged off cautionary advice to continue his education. With no support from his family due to his decision to leave school, Msukwa faced the realities of a life and work within its community, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity.

“I got tired of failure in class. I decided to call it quits. Age was also catching up with me. Some of my peers were in secondary school, with a few others heading for college, I just couldn’t stand it,” he says, insisting that he applied all the tricks in the book about succeeding in school but in vain.

Now 17, Msukwa admits he did not give serious thoughts about the next steps after dropping out of school. Besides, his family hardly embraced his decision to quit school. Knowing fully well that without education his future was going to be difficult.

Though my family struggled to give us a decent life any child can dream of, I realized I was then a priority at home because I was schooling. They made sure I lacked nothing so that I could concentrate on school but I took all that for granted."

In the circumstances, I had to make money on my own and working in coffee plantations was the answer."

Chawala Msukwa
However, an opportunity appeared to join the vocational skills training program conducted by the Impact Centre for Economic Empowerment and Development (ICEED) under the ACCEL Africa project. This initiative, in collaboration with the Malawi Government through the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TEVETA), and the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Union, aimed to equip young people like Msukwa with vocational skills to diversify their income sources and break the shackles of poverty. After a competitive selection process across the coffee farming districts of Chitipa, Mzimba, and Ntchisi, Msukwa was enrolled in a three-month carpentry and joinery course at Bowe Technical College in Kasungu. He was one of the 150 youths selected across three coffee farming districts of Chitipa, Mzimba and Ntchisi.

“I did carpentry because I noted there was an untapped market for carpentry products in my area. The people here normally go to the Boma (town) to get their carpentry needs. I’m now changing that with my workshop stationed right close to their homes” he says.

When asked about how business is fairing, Msukwa boldly says that he is making good progress as he rakes in about K60 000 a month; something “I never envisioned when I was working in the coffee plantations after forsaking school.”

Today, Chawala Msukwa operates his own carpentry business, earning approximately K60,000 per month — an income he never could have imagined during his days of picking coffee berries. This transition has not only instilled in him a newfound confidence but also the objective to produce excellent work. His ambitions now include buying land to expand his workshop and investing in the education of his younger brother. “Most of my customers pay upfront so I have to deliver the products on time. I don’t have to compromise quality and durability. With me, what you order is what you get,” he says with a grin on his face.

I have now taken the responsibility of looking after my young brother. I will do everything in my power to keep him in school. I don’t want him to be like me. I dropped out of school but I’m just lucky to be where I am now. I want him to finish school."

Chawala Muskwa
According to a technical progress report by ICEED, the project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands through the International Labour Organisation, has achieved its objectives. These include capacity-building for the 150 youths, diversifying their income sources, and educating them in governance and financial literacy. This initiative is part of a broader effort to eliminate child labour by tackling its root causes: poverty and a dearth of economic opportunities. Aimed at eliminating child labour in supply chains, the project was modeled to address the root cause of the vice, which is poverty and lack of economic opportunities in the sector.

The success of Chawala Msukwa serves as a testament to the transformative potential of targeted skill development programs. It highlights how community and governmental efforts can synergistically create sustainable pathways for youths at risk. By providing viable alternatives to child labor and enhancing livelihoods, the ACCEL Africa project is not only changing individual lives but is also contributing to the greater economic and social fabric of Malawi.

Such programs align with the global agenda to eradicate child labor and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, thereby laying the foundation for more prosperous and sustainable communities. The story of Chawala Msukwa is but one compelling example, reminding us of the latent potential that can be unlocked through well-orchestrated, multi-stakeholder interventions.