Hats off to Rachel Sibande, Edmond Kachale and others

People align themselves to problems in one of two ways : they either choose to be part of the problem and expect that the solution will come from external sources or they chose to be part of a (potential) solution, believing the solution lies within themselves and they only need to sear h within and discover it.

While many people belong to the former group, which in a way constitutes the wider, much trodden road, there are a few that are decidedly in the latter group.

Some local young people belong to the said group of innovators that search within for solutions. They refuse to always expect exotic solutions to local problems. Let us call this group Team A and the other one Team B.

One young person that belongs to Team A is Rachel Sibande, founder of M-hub, a local initiative to train and empower young entrepreneurs and innovators. Sibande is being featured here not necessarily because of the achievements of M-hub but because in her own rights she has innovatively provided local solutions to some of our local problems.

Recently Rachel was given an award of $25 000 by a gathering of scientists known as the Next Einstein Forum (Albert Einstein is one of the greatest scientific minds ever to have graced Earth, known for his theory of general relativity and the idea of the convertibility between mass and energy).

At its recent meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, Sibande was recognised for her innovative work to produce combustible gas from maize cobs. The gas can be used for cooking, lighting and for running gas operated generators to produce power.

Sibande’s innovation emerged the winner in the Climate Smart Innovation Track. It was one of 16 shortlisted projects, from which judges would eventually pick three winners, one at the top of each of three categories. This deserving young lady has really done us proud.

What is more, Rachel is not glued just to one innovation. She had been featured at the 2014 meeting of TEDx in Lilongwe, where she gave a talk on the innovation she initiated to help farmers access by mobile phone information pertaining to their farming activity. TEDx is a programme of local, self-organised events that aims to bring together hot minds that have ideas worth sharing.

Also featured at TEDx was a young man called Edmond Kachale, who shared his exacting work of developing a Google environment that used the Chichewa language. Such an environment, it was reasoned, would net in masses of Malawian users who were not comfortable with English.

Kachale told the TEDx gathering that as he worked online translating the Google website into Chichewa, the parent company, Google, noticed him and offered if they could be of any help. Kachale’s response was in the affirmative and Google sent him spreadsheets of data which he would later translate and share with local users. There has been no looking back since then.

Deep into the project, Kachale met online an Irish professor who was doing similar work for his dying Irish language. The two decided to share notes and work together on some aspects of their projects. Today, thanks to Edmond, it is possible to search the Internet using Chichewa.

I would recommend to Kachale to collaborate with individuals who are or have been undertaking similar Chichewa projects in information and communication technology (if such collaboration has not already taken place).

He can work with the likes of Jeremiah Chienda who has been developing computerised Chichewa speech synthesiser, or with a Polytechnic PhD researcher who is currently developing a Chichewa keyboard. There must be other individuals out there in similar projects. Chichewa on the computer is a seldom trodden path. I salute all those who have taken what may seem to be a small personal step but a giant leap for the Malawian/Zambian/Mozambicn language.

It does not help to spot a problem and do nothing about it. This, unfortunately, is the attitude of many (by far the majority) in our society. People like Rachel Sibande, Edmond Kachale and others are different.

They do not sit and wait for solutions to our local problems to come from London or New York, Tokyo or Bejing. They would rather search within for local solutions and share them.

Where Tem B members will say, “such and such is beyond the ability of Malawians”, these young people will say, “Yes, we surely can, with resolved focus and determination.”

It is hats off to them from this column and from all well meaning Malawians, including the esteemed readers of this column.

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