The Youth Clubs that are Getting Girls Back to School

By: Emma Beck, Associate Communications Manager, PSI

At 13, Emma ran out of money to pay for school.

Emma closes her eyes, a smile transforming her youthful features. “I dream of becoming a nurse,” she says. The 18-year-old sits as she digs her dusty blue shoes into the burnt orange sand below, settling into the courtyard where a Chigona Youth Club meeting was about to commence.

Emma walks a kilometer by foot to attend Youth Club meetings twice weekly. It’s worth every step, Emma says. After all, it was the maize her Youth Club grew and sold that paid off the loan they secured to send Emma back to school.

On Sundays, Emma, alongside her 56 peers, engages in incoming generating activities. Some days they tend to the crops they grow; other days they package honey or farm fish or plant trees. Members work alongside PSI to get the commodities to market. The funds raised support members’ immediate needs.

On Wednesdays, Youth Club listens to the latest episode of Youth Alert, a PSI-brain child and youth-led national radio program for Malawian adolescents. From love to health, the branded magazine-style radio program elevates young people’s narratives as an entry point to disseminate verified SRH information. Youth Alert! taught Emma what she can do to keep herself in school by planning for when she wants to have a child, by protecting herself from STIs and by understanding where she can access contraception, if she needs.

Across 14 of Malawi’s poorest and hardest to reach communities, girls like Emma envision futures filled with opportunity. Yet in a district where one in five girls will drop out of school, a vicious cycle of limited means to pay for steep exam fees, coupled with the nation’s high rate of teen pregnancies, pose barriers for young people like Emma to complete their education.

Community by community, Youth Clubs are changing that narrative with funding from the German Government through KfW Development Bank and USAID.

The PSI/Malawi-implemented Project N’zatonse works with and for young people aged 10-24 to deliver combined health, income generation and social development activities to more than 15 thousand of Malawi’s most vulnerable youth per month. The project’s Youth Clubs distribute more than 1 million condoms to young people per year.

“Honey for sale,” Emma motions her friends over to a table in the club’s central courtyard. Emma leans forward, adjusting the four jars of homemade honey lined in a row. A scribbled sign reading ‘K2,000 per bottle’ wraps around the glass’ edges.

“Youth Club has made me feel independent,” Emma’s cheeks curve, her lips separating to reveal a gleaming smile. “That makes me feel powerful.”

Emma alongside her peers at Project N’zatonse’s Youth Club, an initiative powered by PSI and funded bythe German Government through KfW Development Bank and USAID. / Photo credit: Emma Beck

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