The Malawi Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) will in December re-kindle memories of the country’s first president Dr. Hasting Kamuzu Banda by launching a Voluntary Youth Service Week reminiscent of Banda’s self help initiative the Youth Week Programme aimed to instil self reliance, disciple and workmanship in Malawian youths. In a statement YCF says the move is a resuly of a Young Leaders Conference (YLC) on the Malawi economy which was held on 10 October in the capital city of Lilongwe where delegates resolved to organise a Voluntary Youth Service Week (VYS-Week) during which youths across the country will voluntarily engage in community and charity work as contribution to economic recovery and nation building. Malawi is currently going through tough economic times with the cost of living and unemployment rising and inflation bursting over 28 per cent.
The 176 young leaders who convened at the conference backed the idea to re-introduce the Youth service week as a means of stamping the role of youths in a society. “Tentatively, the Voluntary Youth Service Week is scheduled to take place from 3-9 December 2012 during which a variety of youth-led activities are expected to be carried out,” says the statement adding that activities shall include construction and rehabilitation community projects, environmental projects (Sanitation and Tree planting), civic education, internship and professional voluntary services, Youth Trade Fairs, and youth hearings and debates. The statement further says “the VYS-Week is expected to highlight the youth abilities and achievements that can build a case for the call for meaningful youth participation in development and expose challenges and gaps in youth development. “In addition, the service week is expected to enhance relevant and survival skills for effective youth participation in community development,” says the statement.
The Youth Week Programme was first introduced by Dr. Banda with the aim of harnessing the energy and determination of youth for spearheading progress, instead of allowing them to aimlessly flood into urban areas seeking employment. Unfortunately the programme was overtaken by Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP), a paramilitary wing of the ruling Malawi Congress Party which apart from promoting rural development, held arms, conducted espionage and intelligence operations for the political party as well as run political indoctrination activities.
By 1989, the government had established MYP training bases, structured around the model of the American Scouts, the British Boys’ Brigade, the Israeli B’nai Akiva and the Chinese Red Scarves, in almost all of the country’s 24 districts into which the country was then divided. The training Bases sought to introduce self-sufficiency and industry through training of recruits in improved methods of agriculture, carpentry and entrepreneuralship. However, picking from the successes of the Youth Week Programme, and fighting the devil from finding work in the idle handles and minds of Malawian youths, the YCF has coined the inaugural event “Giving Back to Mother Malawi: Our Social Responsibility” Meanwhile during the October conference, the Ministry of Youth and Sports endorsed a Communiqué by Young Leaders Conference that assessed the impact of the country’s economic crisis on youths, discussed measures to cushion youths and their role in addressing the social economic challenges currently facing the nation.
The Ministry officials admitted that most of the issues raised in the communiqué had been outstanding for so long and that there was need to expedite the processes in resolving them. Some of the outstanding issues included the absence of an up-to-date National Youth Policy, lack of a comprehensive youth programme to tackle high levels of unemployment and working poverty among youth and issues surrounding Youth Enterprise and Development Fund (YEDEF), a loan revolving fund.
The officials agreed with the YCF observations that the economic crisis being experienced has worsened the plight of young people in the country and that programmes should be put in place to utilise youth energies and skills in addressing the social-economic challenges currently facing the southern African nation. In response, the Ministry indicated that processes are already underway to have National Youth Policy adopted by the end of this year, 2012. However the Ministry pointed out that the delay to resolve these issues has been partly due to lack of effective coordination among the youth actors and internal problems. On its part, the YCF delegation strongly urged the to Ministry to respond effectively to the needs and aspirations of young people in Malawi “considering that meaningful youth participation would help create jobs and accelerate economic development in Malawi”.
Meanwhile, the Ministry has pledged its support for the Voluntary Youth Service Week YCF. Government officials appreciated the spirit of the youth to help accelerate economic recovery through voluntary services which would make the implementation of community activities cost-effective. It was indicated that the YCF motto of “Giving Back to Mother Malawi” should be supported at all costs as it means youth are ready to meaningfully contribute to national building through self-less service and patriotism. The Youth Consultative Forum (YCF) is a youth forum for individual youths, youth groups and other actors in youth work.
According to an article titled Community Development: a Cross-Examination of Theory and Practice Using Experiences in Rural Malawi published in Africa Development journal, Ignasio Malizani, senior lecturer in human geography at Mzuzu University, the Youth Week was a beneficial self-help initiative which saw communities taking a break from their day to day activities and ffocus their energies in the construction of social infrastructure such as classroom blocks, clinics, postal agencies, community halls, roads and bridges, shallow boreholes and small-scale irrigation schemes.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Mwanza Central parliamentarian Nicholas Dausi, who was also a former member of the Malawi Young Pioneers who organised the Youth Week says that the programme helped youths develop entrepreneurial skills and instill a spirit of self-help and hard work in them. Unfortunately, because of the MYP heavy handedness in supervising the programme, the new United Democratic Front (UDF) government of Bakili Muluzi decided to abandon it at the the dawn of democracy in 1994. However, other commentators say the abandonment has created a generation of unpatriotic youths.