Shining among USA college women - The Nation Online

Shining among USA college women

Ellen Chilemba, the 23-year-old founder of Tiwale, a Lilongwe community-based organisation (CBO) equipping women with entrepreneurial skills and offering them micro-loans, is one of the 2017 Top Ten Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be among Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year winners and also to take home the grand prize. I am so happy about finally finishing our women’s centre at Tiwale and ready to launch a few other projects,” says Chilemba in reaction.

Chilemba: I am absolutely thrilled

For six decades, Glamour has honoured trailblazing women through their annual college competition that is aimed at spotlighting dynamos and glass-ceiling breakers in colleges across the United States of America.

Tiwale is a youth-led CBO working with women who were forced to drop out of school early for various reasons, including early marriages, providing them with economical and educational opportunities and vocational skills training.

The vocational skills trainings include tie-dyeing fabric, which has found its way on the international market, according to Chilemba.

“I spent hours reading in the library with my girlfriends; we all had big dreams. I was fortunate, I won a scholarship to go to high school in South Africa, but one of those friends was forced to drop out of school and get married.

“Her story haunted me, so at the age 18 I launched Tiwale. We help women get trained and provide them loans to become entrepreneurs; and 150 women showed up at the first meeting. I ran the programme for two summers and then came to America for college,” Chilemba explains.

When overwhelmed, Chilemba says she thinks of Lucy, a mother who escaped an abusive marriage and set up a new home with a mud floor and tyres for furniture.

Lucy is now a tie-dye trainer for other women at Tiwale, and her house now has a cement floor with proper couches. That is what Chilemba wants most— to help the underprivileged women chase their dreams.

Since inception, Tiwale has assisted 40 women to start own businesses, and over 60 others have been trained to tie-dye, and to sew.

“Today, our tapestries and totes sell around the world. Our latest project is to finish building a centre to support 200 Malawian women,” she says.

Chilemba also carted home a $20 000 grand prize, which she says she will invest in completing the women’s centre under construction at Mtandire in Lilongwe.

The economics major at Mount Holyoke College in the Massachussetes, USA was also named one of Forbes Magazine Africa’s Under-30 entrepreneurs in 2015.

At such a tender age she has a whole bag of awards to her name, including Pacific University Emerging Leader Award; Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award; Clinton Global Initiative University and Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development work and in 2016 when she was invited to present the ‘We Are Family Foundation Humanitarian Award’ to Bonom, who handed it back to her. 

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