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Mission and Purpose
The Malawi Human Rights Youth Network (MHRYN) is a secretariat for 68 youth organizations throughout Malawi. MHRYN mobilizes funding, coordinates, and builds the capacity of these member organizations. MHRYN’s vision is to achieve “an environment where youth and children are empowered and participate in issues that affect them and are able to contribute positively to the socio-economic and political development of country.” MHRYN strives to respond to these challenges through various projects.
Origins and Development
MHRYN was founded in 2001 in response to the various challenges that inhibit the growth of youth participation in Malawi. According to Program Officer Hastings Saka, voter apathy was, and continues to be one of these challenges. In talking about this issue, Mr. Saka stated that MHRYN research found that many young people hold the perspective that “we don’t see the need in showing up [to elections], voting for someone who is not there for us, who actually prioritizes his special interests or political party interests at the expense of development initiatives.” Another major issue inhibiting youth participation is what Mr. Saka termed “the big man theory”. Explaining this, he stated that for young people, the expectation in Malawian society is that “whatever an elderly person has said, you cannot dispute that.” He elaborated, “Young people are just like objects. Things are being made for them, decisions are being made for them but they are not involved. They are not effectively participating. Where they have been involved, it’s like maybe they have just been invited to a meeting but they are not empowered to speak and they are not given affirmative actions to make sure that their views are aired out.” Through the implementation of projects to combat the aforementioned challenges, MHRYN has successfully increased its membership to become the largest youth organization in Malawi today.
Organization Structure, Membership, and Funding
National Coordinator Ronnie Phiri leads MHRYN, which has a overall staff of 10 people. It receives funding from multiple sources, including National Democratic Institute, United Nations Development Programme, etc. The organization is always searching for more funding.
Specializations, Methods and Tools
In an effort to establish “an environment where youth and children are empowered and participate in issues that affect them and are able to contribute positively to the socio-economic and political development of country”, MHRYN implements budget tracking/accountability clubs throughout Malawi. Created after the national elections of 2014, these projects were created so that youth can track the expenditure of government officials. As stated by Mr. Saka, “they should be able to track the utilization of the resources because that’s their money...not the government’s.” In order to select participants, MHRYN and/or member organizations work with local chiefs to identify capable young people. After this, MHRYN trains the young people in how to monitor government spending/budgeting, as well as provides the accountability clubs with the data they need to effectively monitor and evaluate civil sector employees. As Mr. Saka stated, “time and again we are at loggerheads with district councillors because we have presented out something which they have covered [up]...there’s a lot of financial mismanagement.” Regardless, positive changes have been seen as a result of these budget tracking/accountability clubs. For example, Mr. Saka told me that corruption and/or mismanagement is rampant during the construction of primary school blocks in Malawi, which involves coordination between local elites and local government. He described how much of the time, money either goes missing or the school block is poorly built/unfinished. Following the intervention of the budget tacking/accountability clubs, however, several schools have been completed due to community pressure. Explaining the success of this project, Mr. Saka stated that, “in a way, we have tried to create an interface or a forum where a member of parliament can meet the citizens and explain things as they are.”
MHRYN also fulfills its role as a Secretariat for 68 youth organizations across Malawi by organizing an Annual General Assembly during which all member organizations gather in Lilongwe to discuss past and future activities.
Major projects and events
MHRYN implements projects in four programmatic areas. They are: Governance and Human Rights, Climate Change and Environmental Management, Health and HIV/AIDS, and Child/Youth Empowerment. For example, with funding from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), MHRYN implements the National Youth Local Governance Internship Program. Here, eighty youth (40 men and 40 women) from member youth organizations gained internships within Malawian city and district councils for one month, with the hope of empowering them to “effectively participate in local governance issues from the grassroots level.” Mr. Saka proudly stated that, although it was difficult to establish due to government scepticism, “it was the first of its kind in Malawi”. Mr. Saka believed it was of critical importance due to his belief that “part of empowerment is that these young people should be aware of local governance structures, their laws and the processes and the systems”.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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The Decentralization of Malawi's Political System
Lead image: Malawi Human Rights Youth Network, http://bit.ly/2VQh4KB