Ellen Chilemba The 21-year-old who is fighting for women’s education in Malawi

Ellen Chilemba The 21-year-old who is fighting for women’s education in Malawi.

Ellen Chilemba from Overture on Vimeo.

We first heard of Ellen Chilemba when writing our feature ‘7 African entrepreneurs to watch out for‘ in October last year.

Chilemba is a 21‐year‐old entrepreneur from Malawi. She is the founding director of a social enterprise called Tiwale which means “let us shine/glow” in Chichewa.

In Malawi, girls often face the same fate: early marriage and insufficient schooling. Over time, this cycle has created a substantial population of women who are undereducated, jobless and facing extreme poverty with few options to pull themselves out. Ellen has been tackling this inequality head-on – starting when she was only 17.

Tiwale started out by teaching Malawian women how to make dye-print African fabrics. The money generated from sales has then financed female entrepreneurs and provide school grants to programme participants interested in going back to school. To date, the project has trained more than 150 women.

Ellen has featured on Forbes most promising entrepreneurs under 30, and was also spotted and featured on the popular photo-documentary project Humans of New York, gaining lots of well-deserved exposure for her venture.

But since we last wrote about her, Ellen has not rested. She is now hoping to build a women’s centre in the Ntsiriza Community, Lilongwe, Malawi.

Tiwale has acquired a plot of land to construct an education centre. Funding permitting, the centre hopes to provide secondary education classes to help women attain the Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education (MSCE); as well as further vocational skills training. These options will enhance the women’s prospects greatly, and address gender inequality in the country head on.

Ellen took some time out of her busy schedule recently to answer a few questions for us. Check out the interview:

What initially inspired you to set up Tiwale?

I was frustrated at how common the idea of a girl leaving school at a young age for dowry benefits had become. Looking at our leadership, in a country with a history of government monetary scandals, I recognised that young people shouldn’t wait to try to change things. When 5 youths between 14 and 19 years old agreed to initiate Tiwale and 150 women showed up, there was no turning back – we had everything.


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