The Power of Listening

How Tingathe is able to uplift and empower young people in Malawi


Interview with Sarah from Tingathe.jpg

Tingathe means “we can” in Chichewa, the national language of Malawi. Sarah Lindire, founder and executive director of Tingathe, was born and raised in Malawi and had first-hand experiences with the struggles young people faced in her community. She later became one of Malawi’s youth ambassadors with the British Council Global Change Makers Program and developed community action projects. She then worked for several INGOS (International Non-Governmental Organizations), including the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and UN Women. She became a gender and governance specialist who often worked with young women specifically in poor areas, neighborhoods, and slums all by the age of 28. After millions of dollars later from different development programs, Sarah saw no real changes in communities.

In a critical attempt to understand the lack of progress, Sarah sat down with groups of young women and had conversations about their current situations, needs, and hopes for the future. These women responded, “The things you are doing is nice, but no one really asks us about [those] things so that’s why nothing really works. They don't ask us because we are not educated, we don't speak English, and we don’t make money. Yet somehow we still manage. Maybe if people asked us what works, then we would tell you.” Then Sarah started to listen.

What started from a single conversation turned into over two years of research, consisting of focus group discussions to uncover the transient needs of the community. Instead of referring to the area that Tingathe works in as a slum, Sarah calls it a Peri-urban area that houses thousands of young people from different tribes ranging from vastly diverse cultures, languages, and backgrounds. It is very difficult to penetrate peri-urban areas because they are communities that have been abused and overlooked by many. Despite these challenges, Sarah had no intentions of giving up on her community. Instead of merely giving supplies and resources, Tingathe builds relationships with other organizations, governments, and individuals who are invested in understanding the issues faced by the young people in the community.

In terms of program development, Tingathe continues to use a holistic approach to understanding the specific needs and passions of the youth in its community. Sarah states that “even though we have a very structured training vocational program, we have enough malleability and flexibility to adapt to the needs of the community.” By having local trainers interact with local youth, Tingathe aims to build trusting relationships in the community that will create more cohesion to overcome tribal and linguistic differences. Sarah hopes that her success in Malawi can be turned into “a series of models that are governed by a value system that can be taken from this location to another and be localized so that it can be taken up by the community.” Tingathe aims to provide the best education and skills while also offering the flexibility and accessibility to meet the specific challenges of local communities. Tingathe intends to build an ecosystem that is responsive yet still respectful to the issues of the community. What sets Tingathe apart as a unique catalyst for change is how they are able to successfully transform a population that is very difficult to connect with. She states that “we partner with people in a way that [we hope] is empowering. It shows that we’re democratizing power, sharing power, and redefining power.”

Upon our closing remarks, we asked Sarah if she had advice for young people who are interested in helping their local communities but do not know where to start. Her response was similar to how she first developed her passion to start Tingathe: The best place to start is listening. She states that “human sight is very complicated and to be able to truly understand the issue, you need to ask questions, listen, and be a part of the community before deciding what needs to be done.” Similar to the meaning of “Tingathe”, we can have the power to inspire and develop long-term change, but we first have to listen and understand the community.