Discover more from The AfricaBrief
Empowering Girls in Malawi: One Woman's Mission to Bridge the Digital Divide
Girls Technology Malawi Initiative is empowering girls in Malawi to fulfill their potential through hard work and dedication, writes Sumeya Issa.
Malawi-It's a warm Saturday morning in February 2023 in Blantyre, Malawi, and Chisomo Kharis Mtonga is preparing to teach her ICT class in the small back room of her family's house in Chilobwe, writes Sumeya Issa.
With a group of nine students ranging from 10 to 17 years old, Chisomo is teaching them how to create tables and diagrams on a computer.
Chisomo is the sixth born in a family of seven children and is currently studying accounts and finance at DMI St. John the Baptist University in Mangochi. She lives with both her parents, who are supportive of her passion for making a difference in her community.
Using the skills and knowledge she attained through her previous university program in information technology, Chisomo challenged herself to take a path she has always been passionate about.
Chisomo's father, an education enthusiast, supports his daughter's dreams and ambitions of imparting ICT skills to the less fortunate in her community.
Every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, Chisomo offers free ICT lessons to women and young girls with limited access to computers and ICT knowledge.
With only her laptop, several lessons pinned to the wall, and her enthusiasm, she teaches older women ranging in age from 35 to 40 on Friday afternoons.
"I knew if I waited for the right time and enough resources, I would never be able to do what I wanted for my community. I came in here and saw a small, functional room. I had a laptop that is also functional, and I knew that was enough for me to start something that would make a difference. I do this with all of my heart," Chisomo narrates.
Chisomo was awakened by the harsh realities of the limited access that girls from underprivileged communities and public schools have to computers and ICT knowledge in Malawi.
She felt that it was time to do something positive and create a platform for underprivileged girls and women to learn ICT skills. Her passion for giving back to the community is evident in her teaching and commitment to making a difference.
Mtonga is on a mission to empower women and girls from local communities to overcome social and economic barriers to technology.
Her training program, which began in July 2022, is currently in its second cohort.
Mtonga is determined to help bridge the digital divide by teaching women and girls valuable technology skills.
Chisomo is dedicated to her cause, and she says the older women and girls who completed the first cohort were greatly impacted by the knowledge she shared with them.
She says the same is true for the students in this present cohort. She calls her initiative, Girls Technology Malawi. Mtonga explains, "The older women I teach are mothers, wives, and businesswomen who chose to be a part of the digital world. Some come not knowing the most basic knowledge of computers, but they always leave my class with new knowledge that I know they will need. It is such a great privilege that I get to create such a big impact on their lives."
During her lessons, Mtonga dives into topics such as web development using HTML and CSS, an introduction to robotics and artificial intelligence, social engineering, and how one can be protected from internet hazards.
For the younger girls, the classes begin with more basic concepts, such as familiarizing themselves with Microsoft Office packages.
Mtonga values the need for knowledge in technology-related subjects because of how the world has become more technologically advanced and dependent on computers.
One of her students, 12-year-old Rachel Makina, is a student under the Girls Technology Initiative.
Rachel says she heard about the free classes during an announcement that was made at their church. She was excited to be a part of the program since her primary school does not teach anything about computers due to a lack of resources.
Rachel says, "I am so happy that I got the opportunity to be enrolled in these computer classes. Most of the girls my age at school know nothing about computers, so I am happy that I can tell them more about what I am learning here. I would want to teach computers as well when I grow up."
Rachel has big aspirations for her future. She wants to become a doctor and is determined to use all the knowledge she has gained through a free learning program to achieve her goal.
"I enjoy creating calendars on the computer. I know that all the things I am learning now will be to my benefit in the future. I am happy I get to be one of the few girls in Malawi to have access to this unique knowledge that most girls in my country do not have," Rachel explained.
Another student, Pemphero Mafuta, a Form 3 student at Mlauli Secondary, expressed her gratitude for the program, saying, "I am greatly inspired by what our teacher is doing for us. It is rare to find someone who can impart such rare knowledge for free, and yet she does it with all her heart. I am inspired to keep learning about computers and technology because this initiative has helped me understand the importance and relevance of technology in these modern times."
The Girls Technology Malawi Initiative is making a significant impact at a time when girls in Malawi are lacking support and positive role models.
According to statistics, only 13% of girls in Malawi complete upper secondary school, and the number drops to a drastic 2% among the poorest children.
In March this year, the second cohort of young girls completed the program and received certificates for their successful completion.
Chisomo plans to expand the program and reach out to more than 3,000 women across Malawi.
Through their dedication and hard work, the Girls Technology Malawi Initiative is providing hope and opportunities for girls in Malawi to realize their full potential.