Meet Chmba Ellen Chilemba: DJ and Education Activist Fighting for Gender Equality in Malawi
At 17, Chilemba founded her organization Tiwale after seeing a friend forced into early marriage.
By Buhle Dlulane, who is part of the Global Citizen Fellowship Program 2020.
Chmba Ellen Chilemba, 25, is the founder and director of Tiwale, a community-based organization in Malawi that was founded in 2012 in response to the challenge of young girls being forced into marriage in exchange for a dowry.
In 2019, the World Bank reported that female enrollment in secondary schools in Malawi was just 33.7%. This lack of education accelerates the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality among young girls.
But Tiwale’s mission is to help empower women to develop sustainable ventures, and provide them with access to educational and economic opportunities in Malawi.
At the age of 15, Chilemba witnessed the harsh injustice of her friend being forced out of school and into child marriage. This was a pivotal moment that remains fresh in her memory as she painted the picture for Global Citizen. ”In that moment I recognized the severity of systematic inequality against girls and people of color globally,” she says.
With what she refers to as her soft and empathetic nature, along with the values of kindness and humanity imparted on her by her parents, this event became the spark that drove her activism and inspired her to start Tiwale at the age of just 17.
Although it started with a small team of five teenagers and one micro-financing program, Tiwale has now grown to great heights and has directly impacted the lives of 313 women and girls, and reached over 22,000 young people through its campaigns.
They now have an education program that assists with homework, as well as a community library, and they have also provided school grants to qualifying community members who would like to return to school. They also offer sewing classes and often host tie-dying skills workshops.
In addition to that, they offer a microfinance program that starts with a business education workshop and ends in various teams pitching to a panel of Tiwale members. The best business plans get access to $70 interest-free loans.
Tiwale also believes in telling the stories of African people, through the TeaWale blog, where they share stories and other creative work.
About the progress Tiwale has made over the past eight years, Chilemba says: “The beauty of starting something when you are naive or without knowledge is that there is no limit to your search for solutions. If there’s a problem, you always try and find a way to fix it.”
At the center of Tiwale’s business model is innovation and listening, so that everyone feels like they can determine the next direction and feel ownership over the space. It has become a space for family with warmth, protection, and thoughtfulness for the members of the team.
Elaborating on gender equality, Chilemba believes economic empowerment should be a priority, that women should be paid equally, women-owned businesses should get more funding, and the law should be equal and accessible to everyone.
Chilemba also appreciates that the work she does at Tiwale gives her an opportunity to check her privilege, she says, adding that she is also grounded by the fact that the people in her community depend on her and is happy to use the knowledge she has been given access to as a bridge to help others.
Tiwale’s next phase is to open more doors for the community through Chilemba’s passion in music. The industry grows its income yearly and there is a growing demand for African sound — yet there are not yet many female music producers.
To bridge this gap, Tiwale wants to start a fellowship to give women equipment, software, and skills to pursue their careers in music. This will create spaces for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community to be successful in their music, be paid equally, and bring it back into their community. When they learn, they have an obligation to teach two other Tiwale members, to create a skills sharing ecosystem.
The impact Chilemba would like to have in the world is one that’ll empower young lives.
“I want a world [where] people live more freely,” she says. “I hope by living honestly and truly as myself, I am inspiring a younger person to do the same.”
Powered by BeyGOOD, the Global Citizen Fellowship Program unearths African youth with remakrable potential. Through the program, 10 young people will each engage in a paid, year-long fellowship aligned to one of Global Citizen's four pillars of activity: creative, campaigns, rewards, and marketing. You can find out more about the Global Citizen Fellowship Program here.