In September 2003, almost 50 students enrolled for media studies at the Malawi Polytechnic in Blantyre.
In what was the largest class since the introduction of journalism studies at the constituent college of the University of Malawi in 1999 was a shy boy from poor background who usually said nothing, slighted no one, took no alcohol and studied hard.
When the first test came, he outshone everyone.
This is how Lloyd Kayisi Phiri announced his presence in the race to the top.
He later headed news and current affairs departments at Matindi and MIJ FM radio stations.
But what most of his classmates did not know during their four years together popped out when he spoke at the shutdown of World Vision International’s life-changing work in Senzani, Ntcheu.
“I am what I am because World Vision gave me a hand up when it mattered most. Had the organisation not sponsored my secondary and university education, I would have ended up poorer,” he said.
Lloyd was born in 1982, the year the international Christian organisation, which strives to improve the well-being of children, arrived in Malawi.
He was a crawling baby when the organisation started working in his remote locality in 1983.
His father’s death pushed him and his brother, Dalitso, deeper into poverty.
Their mother supported them single-handedly using proceeds of a crop field that hardly ever produced enough yields.
But this did not ruin his boyhood dream to become a journalist.
“My interest kept growing since I first listened to BBC World Service in the 1980s,” says the broadcaster.
He sanitises his story of abject poverty as “mere humble beginnings”—some hardening-off.
“I was raised by a single mother in a tiny, grass-thatched hut that leaked throughout the rainy season. I got used to sleeping on an empty stomach. Meat and fish were beyond reach. We often bathed with no soap in sight and walked to school bare-footed while our peers had shoes to spare,” he narrates.
Hard memories are not few, but he worked hard to unchain myself from poverty.
Lloyd was selected to Lunjika Secondary School in Mzimba, but his mother could not afford school fees.
He enrolled at a community day secondary school in the area.
“I walked eight kilometres to school and most of the walks were done without shoes,” he recalls.
His turning point came when World Vision, through community leaders and teachers, selected him as one of over 100 brilliant students from impoverished households that were sent to various private secondary schools countrywide.
Lloyd was sent to Kaphuka Private School in Blantyre, with others going to Kings Foundation and New Era in Ntcheu.
”Being at the boarding school marked the end of the long walks and put me on the path to university,” he says. “Without the sponsorship, I could not have gone to university. Because of the degree, I get employment; support my wife Grace and our two children as well as relatives.”
Besides a promising career, youth in Senzani look up to him as a role model.
“When I hear his voice on radio, it reminds me that everything is possible with hard work,” said a student from the CDSS.
In the rural locality, World Vision is remembered for constructing schools that saved learners from long walks to access education as well as offering them learning and teaching materials.
It also supports the youth to acquire vocational skills in carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring and sustainable agricultural methods.
Investing in the youth
Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani V thanked World Vision for improving access to education, saying “the future Malawians envision is in the hands of learned boys and girls”.
“We feel honoured that World Vision came and worked in our area. I am encouraged to hear the story of Lloyd. I wish the youth heard more of such stories. This country will only develop if we invest in the youth to achieve their potential,” said the youthful Ngoni Paramount chief.
The youth constitute the majority of the population.
Last year, government committed to investing in improving access to quality education, skills development and decent jobs to reap the benefits of weaning the youth of employable age from dependency to join the working class.
According to World Vision Malawi country director Hazel Nyathi, youth empowerment is a must.
The rise of Lloyd aptly personifies the power of education to break a vicious cycle of poverty.