In January 2015, Malawi was hit by deadly floods that claimed more than 1,000 lives. As one of the counselors in the Tithandizane (meaning “let’s support each other”) National Child Helpline in Malawi, I supported abused children who walked into the center or called its toll free line.
During this emergency, our team of counselors was deployed to provide psychosocial support to survivors in the camps. Leading a team of 42 staff, I supervised follow up for child abuse cases. One morning, I decided to have a chat with a group of girls affected by the flood. Providing this safe space allowed the young women to speak honestly and openly about their time in the camps. Thandie, a girl with no relatives in the camp, explained that one of the camp coordinators told her that she had to have sex with him in exchange for relief items. Together with police and social welfare officers, I investigated the issue and the camp coordinator was suspended and sent out of the camp.
After that, Thandie and the other girls in the camp were living freely. Our leaders oversaw the establishment of 14 youth clubs that integrated youth into various committees. The committees distributed relief items, made sure children were not abused, disseminated sexual reproductive health information and services among girls and boys, and abolished child marriages that were taking place for survival.
In addition to leading the emergency response in the disaster-affected district, I also stepped into a leadership role at the National Child Helpline. I follow up on complex cases of child trafficking, child marriages and defilement. Recently, I led a team that rescued 18 young people from being trafficked to Mozambique plantations. My department made sure that they were taken to a safe place while the police prosecuted the perpetrators.
Seeing these challenges first-hand has further motivated me to make a positive difference in the lives of youth around the globe. While interacting with young people on a daily basis, I have realized that I must provide a voice to the voiceless – especially girls who are more marginalized in many spheres as compared to their male counterparts.