It was early 2013 when Margaret Sapezeka volunteered as a community facilitator with Peace Corps Malawi, alongside other volunteers from the United States of America.
However, they needed to work with a local youth non-governmental organisation (NGO) to implement their programmes in Mchinji.
The Community Initiative for Social Empowerment (Cise) turned out to be the organisation to be partnered with the Peace Corps.
Through her work, Margaret was inspired by Cise and when the project by Peace Corps Malawi phased out, she registered as a volunteer with the organisation.
She has been working as a volunteer ever since until recently when she was elected as the organisation’s executive director.
When Margaret received the news of her appointment, she thought about repackaging herself to fit into the position.
“I had all these questions on my mind- where do I start; how do I start and how do I inspire my team and youths around the vision we have? I believe it is important as a leader to inspire others. I would like to provide direction to my team, to our board of directors and to the people that support our work,” she explains.
Margaret observes the need to carry forward the good track record that Cise has with the community, government, NGOs and the donor community.
“I also need to bring to fruition the vision of a strong and dynamic youth-led organisation which has the backing of government, NGOs and youth organisations in Mchinji and across the country,” she says.
In 2016, the 26-year-old was nominated by the National Youth Council of Malawi (Nycom) as one of the two representatives in the Malawi Partnership Forum (MPF), an advisory body to the National Aids Commission (NAC) board of commissioners.
“My role is to present issues on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) as well as HIV and Aids among adolescent girls and young women through Nycom secretariat. The issues are reviewed and tabled for NAC to take action for national response to HIV and Aids in this country,” she narrates.
Margaret describes herself as a passionate advocate for the empowerment of girls, gender equality, diversity and helping the young population in general.
“The mission of Cise is very much in line with my personal mission of empowering young people and the community; and celebrating the positive changes we make in our work. There are many young people making a difference in the lives of others.
“Although some do it for personal fame and gain, for others it’s a passion to change the world with zero profit. I celebrate when the community we serve tells the stories of change by citing our work and contributions,” she says.
Cise is one of the highest performing youth organisations affiliated with the Nycom.
Established in 2012 to respond to the challenges affecting the youth and children in Malawi, Cise is registered with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in accordance with Trustees Incorporation Act, NGO Board of Malawi as well as Council for non-governmental organisations in Malawi (Congoma).
The organisation started working on issues of the youth following the need to respond to HIV and Aids; teenage pregnancies and child marriages; and it has since grown to one of the reputable local NGOs that respond to matters of youth, women and children.
Currently, Nycom has over 190 affiliated youth organisations, out of which a few- less than 10- are headed by the females.
Margaret is glad to be one of these 10 female executive directors in youth organisations.
“I am thinking of forming a network to support each other and see more female directors in youth organisations. This will be powerful and it will change the direction of youth empowerment in Malawi,” she anticipates.
She decries the favouritism in youth networks and activities, arguing that this has hampered development.
“I am always against preferential treatment, where some youths have opportunities over others. I want opportunities for all. I have also noted that sometimes women and girls fall victim to abuse when they seek opportunities.
“Some girls have fallen prey to male leaders for wanting to attend a meeting or workshop. These are the kind of things for I want to campaign for change,” she explains.
Margaret is the third born in a family of five. She was born in Malawi, but her family lived in Ndola, Zambia until she was 19 when they returned home.
The young woman holds a Diploma in Human Resource Management obtained from Skyway College.
As a young woman in college and with a mother who was retired as a civil servant, she only had her sister to help with her college fees. Losing the sister was a nightmare which led to her withdrawal from college.
She has experience in youth and community work focussing on HIV and Aids, SRHR, gender, education, child rights and environmental health. She also has a passion for farming.
She is currently supporting a young girl who was selected to Kapondo Community Technical College.
“The girl has a nine-month-old baby, but did not have the resources to sustain her stay at the college while taking care of the baby. So, I support her and I look forward to empowering more young girls in the communities,” she says.