No one expected Carol Chidothe, the youngest of six, to be the leader of her friend group. But then Carol never fit the mold. From a young age, she organized events for herself and her friends in Malawi, including visits to church on Sundays.
“My friends’ parents always loved me,” Carol explains. “They trusted me to take care of their kids.”
It wasn’t until 2013 when Carol began work in telecommunications that she found an outlet for her leadership skills.
“I noticed that teen girls in my community were getting pregnant and dropping out of school,” Carol says.
“I knew I had to do something to help these girls pursue their goals, to help them be the women they could be.”
Now the executive director of the Center for Women and Girls Empowerment, Carol supports women and girls in her community through the establishment of girls’ clubs in secondary schools. These clubs mentor girls in career and leadership skills, in health and personal hygiene, and in science and innovation.
Recently Carol has begun work, too, on civic and social programs in Malawi, where female youth make up the majority of the population and hold considerable sway in the country’s nearing general elections.
“I want women to know that their vote counts,” Carol says. “They are our hope for future generations.”
Among the barriers to successful elections, though, is a dearth of civic education in the country, where, as Carol explains, high illiteracy rates persist.
“We need to show the women of Malawi that they have power, that they can change things,” Carol says. “If we educate women, imagine what the future can be.”
Even still, many voters have lost faith in recent years in the country’s candidates, as Carol underlines.
“A lot of politicians are vocal during the election cycle, then promptly disappear,” she says. “It’s eroding trust.”
To counter this, Carol urges advocates to plan grassroots programs, to study closely their community dynamics, and to meet individuals where they are.
“It’s only when you sit down with community members and listen to them that you can understand the challenges they are facing and present valuable solutions.”
In addition to promoting grassroots initiatives, Carol encourages organizers to enlist other young people to get involved in campaign planning and to inspire their peers to vote.
Above all, Carol stresses the importance of a strong campaign objective. “If you don’t have a vision, you don’t know where you are going,” she says.
Equally important for Carol in planning and running effective campaigns is a genuine concern for neighbors near and far.
“You can only lead when you fall in love with your community.”