Born at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre, Sandra Phiri is a young woman actively engaged in making a positive impact in the community around her.
She co-founded the Youth on Board Organisation (Yobo), a non-profit organisation dedicated to empowering young individuals.
Yobo was established in 2010 in Blantyre, out of a strong motivation to address the pressing challenges faced by the youth.
“I was motivated by several factors. First and foremost, I witnessed a high dropout rate among young girls and boys in our area. It troubled me deeply to see the potential of these young individuals being compromised due to a lack of educational opportunities and support.
“Additionally, the absence of proper mentorship programmes in schools struck a chord with me. I firmly believe that mentorship plays a crucial role in guiding and inspiring young minds, helping them to navigate through challenges and make informed decisions about their future,” she explains.
Furthermore, Phiri, originally from Mnamizana Village at Waliranji in Mchinji, says she was also concerned by the lack of knowledge in climate and agri-nutrition skills among the youth.
“In our region, where climate change impacts are felt strongly, it became evident that empowering the youth with the necessary skills to address these challenges was vital. Driven by these, Yobo was established as a platform to make a tangible difference in the lives of young people. We envisioned an organisation that could provide mentorship, impart various skills, promote sustainable agriculture practices, and raise awareness about climate change,” she says.
So far, the organisation has achieved several significant milestones and made a positive impact on the youth—successfully imparting various skills to over 3 500 school children and equipping them with practical skills in handiwork, sustainable agriculture, and nutrition.
The organisation has also implemented mentorship programmes in primary and secondary schools, providing guidance and support to young individuals.
Not only that, Yobo has also actively promoted climate action among the youth—encouraging the establishment of school backyard gardens and tree-planting initiatives to raise awareness about environmental sustainability.
“Additionally, our focus on agri-nutrition has helped young people understand the importance of local Malawian foods and how to prepare nutritious meals,” says Phiri, the young woman with a passion for travel, exploring new cuisines, and expressing herself through writing.
As an advocate for youth empowerment, Phiri says she would like to see several changes in the country in matters affecting young people, including access to education; mental health support; sustainable development and youth empowerment among others.
She says: “it is crucial that every young person, regardless of their socioeconomic background, has access to quality education. I strongly believe in the importance of improved access to educational institutions; better infrastructure; reduced dropout rates; and enhanced educational resources. Building back better institutions will ensure that all youth have equal opportunities to receive quality education.”
On mental health support, Phiri recognises the rising mental health challenges among young people and notes that it is essential to address this.
“I am a strong advocate for improved mental health services, awareness, and support systems. We need to prioritise the well-being of young individuals by providing them with the necessary resources and guidance. Considering the high rate of youth suicidal cases in our country, mentorship and mental health support are critical for their overall well-being,” she says.
Additionally, she aspires to see the country prioritising sustainable practices and environmental protection.
She thus encourages young people to actively engage in climate action; promoting sustainable practices in their daily lives, and having a voice in environmental policy dialogues so that their perspectives and ideas are considered when making decisions that impact the environment.
And through the various initiatives, they have contributed to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG four which empowers young individuals through educational initiatives, while the climate action activities are also directly aligned with SDG 13 (Climate Action) to mention a few.
Education-wise, the young woman has just completed a double Master’s degree in the European Public Health Programme which she pursued at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland and École des Hautes études en santé publique (EHESP) in Paris.
She harbours some ambitious plans to make a significant impact in the field of nutrition, by among other things, establishing a Nutrition Lab that serves as a hub for nutritionists from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on research projects.
This lab, she adds, will focus on utilising local food items to conduct studies that contribute to the local understanding of nutrition and health.
In addition to conducting research, the Nutrition Lab will also provide valuable opportunities and internships to nutrition and health students.
She says: “by offering hands-on experience and mentorship, we aim to nurture the next generation of nutrition professionals and empower them to make meaningful contributions to the field. My bigger vision is to establish a partnership with the Global Foodbank Network.
“This collaboration would provide international recognition and allow us to contribute to global efforts in combating food insecurity and malnutrition, and I am sure that through it we can also expand our reach and make a tangible difference in communities both locally and internationally.”
However, as much as she is living her dream right now, but it took a long and winding road to get there as she explains: “I struggled to pursue higher education. I faced numerous rejections when applying for a master’s programme. This process began in 2016 and it took me until 2021 to finally be accepted. It was a long and arduous journey, but I never gave up on my dream of furthering my education.”
Nonetheless, these challenges, she says, have taught her the value of resilience and perseverance, and instilled in her a deep sense of determination to overcome obstacles and pursue her goals relentlessly.
“I have learned to embrace my uniqueness and not be discouraged by setbacks or the opinions of others,” she adds.
When she is not studying, working or advancing their goals at Yobo, she is a poet and spoken word artist, having written numerous poems, and performed in both Malawi and Paris.
And apart from the double masters recently earned, she is also a certified nutritionist, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Health, as well as a Diploma in Food and Nutrition from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
Moreover, her demonstrated leadership skills and commitment to climate actions and environmental causes led to her appointment as the European Climate Pact Ambassador.
In this role, she collaborates with European Union (EU) policymakers and stakeholders on initiatives such as the EU Green Deal and public health policy.
Currently, she is also the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship Country Representative for Malawi, whereby she and her colleagues work diligently to raise awareness about the Erasmus Mundus Programme among various universities in Malawi.