Through the eyes of a Registration Officer; Mwawi’s storyOct 18, 2017
“This whole experience showed me why they call Malawi the warm heart of Africa. We were well received by community members in most of the areas we went to. They would come together to make our stay more comfortable and made us feel like we were part of the community. It was an experience of a lifetime and the memories will stay with me for a very long time.”
We met 24-year-old Mwawi Ng’ombe, from Lilongwe District, at the National Registration and Identification System (NRIS) Consolidation Center as she returned the Bio-metric registration kit, processed her final payments and collected her Certificate of Accomplishment upon successful completion of her service in the Mass Registration Campaign. As one of the 4,000 men and women selected to work as Registration Officers and Supervisors for the (NRIS) project, Mwawi has played a vital role in the provision of a legal identity to eligible Malawians.
A young lady with a Diploma in Information and Communications Technology, Mwawi’s passion for information technology is quite evident as she recounts her journey of her 6 months as a Registration Officer. She narrates her most memorable moments, the challenging moments she experienced, her future and how the exercise brought her closer to her dream of becoming a Software Development Engineer.
“My older sister is the one who encouraged me to apply when we saw the advert. I did not think that I stood a chance but surprisingly, I was shortlisted to go through the aptitude test to asses our computer skills and other things,” she recounts.
This was not only to be Mwawi’s first employment, but an also an opportunity for her to showcase her ICT skills that she had acquired through her diploma studies.
“There were no job opportunities at all and I was depressed because I was unable to support myself after completing my school, so this opportunity came at a very good time for me,” she says.
Mwawi was first assigned to the Chankhungu registration center in the Dowa district, a rural area about 30 kilometers east of her birthplace and home in Lilongwe city. It was time not only to work and earn a living, but also to sample life in a village – no electricity, no bed, a room with broken window panes in the chilly weather conditions of Dowa in June.
“It was very tough but I am glad that I got to experience how differently people live. It has made me more grateful of what I have and more knowledgeable about the levels of poverty in Malawi,” explained Mwawi.
And this was not all that the role as an Registration Officer for the National ID taught Mwawi, more lessons followed as she moved from one phase to another, from one district to the next. She also learnt work ethic and dedication.
“We always made sure to start work by 7 o’clock (in the morning),” recalls Mwawi, probably remembering the comfort of her bed just some 10 to 20 minutes’ drive to her home in Lilongwe.
For her, it was a humbling experience, all in the wish to assist thousands of Malawians acquire a legal identity, and that kept her positive because she knew what she wanted.
“This whole experience will increase my chances of finding a job, which is usually a challenge for us young people with no prior work experience. They [NRIS and NRB] have given us Certificates of Accomplishment which will also boost my CV. I would like to eventually become a software developer and I already have ideas on how to go about it,” she tells us.
Growing up, Mwawi “had always been fascinated by computers and wondered how they worked and that is why I chose IT.”
Through her work as a registration officer in Dowa, Mwawi has also grown up to care more for the underprivileged. She now knows just how underprivileged Malawian women are.
“In all the three districts I worked, there were more women who were illiterate than the men. They faced challenges when filling in the registration forms even though they were written in simple Chichewa,” she recalls.
She met a 14-year-old mother who had waited the entire day in the queue at a registration center, only to discover that she could not register, as she was under 16.
“It was my first time to see a lot of girls with babies, who should have been in school,” she says.
Mwawi immediately became a center of attraction, a role model.
“Seeing a young lady operating the biometric kit was inspiring to them. Some girls would just sit there and watch me work for long minutes. It made me realize that having a female doing what I was doing was very rare in those areas,” the 24-year-old muses.
Most of the girls, says Mwawi, said they dropped out of school due to poverty, but she begs to differ.
“I feel that the biggest reason is that there is no one to motivate and inspire them to stay in school. There is no supportive environment, like what I had growing up. They really need to be inspired to have an ambition. When you have ambitions, not even poverty will keep you from accomplishing your goals,” she opines.
Mwawi will never be the same again.
“My whole experience as a Registration Officer opened my eyes to issues of development in Malawi. It has made me appreciate all the organizations that are working to promote issues of gender in the country,” she says.
It was not all rosy, however, because in Phalombe District, Mwawi met her worst experience – she was called a ‘blood sucker’.
“Some community members in the southern region accused us that when taking their fingerprints, we were trying to find out how much blood they had and that the kits we were using were refrigerators where we stored the blood that we sucked off people,” she narrates.
Fortunately for her and her colleagues, they left unscathed amid stories of angry villagers attacking and killing innocent people whom they suspected of being vampires. She returned to tell her story, a story of a lifetime experience having helped Malawians acquire a legal identity through a biometric ID card.
“This whole experience showed me why they call Malawi the Warm Heart of Africa. We were well received by the community members in most of the areas where we went. They would come together to make our stay more comfortable and they made us feel as we were part of the community. And on our part, we also treated everyone with respect, we spoke to them kindly when they needed clarifications about the registration forms and we also observed their culture in terms of our dressing, especially for us females,” she concludes.