Malawian Youth Development Leader Learns Lessons in Seattle
Even after years of experience working on youth development projects in his native Malawi, Rex Mlotha wanted to expand his horizons. His self-proclaimed “passion for positive change” led him to travel halfway across the globe—almost 10,000 miles—to Seattle, Washington. As a Community Solutions leader, Mlotha now works with Seattle-based nonprofit Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) to empower homeless and at-risk youth to lead positive and self-sufficient lives.
Mlotha credits this passion and experience for motivating him to apply to Community Solutions. “I really got inspired” to “try to serve the young people of some other countries,” he says. He and PSKS were a natural fit, he says, as its work “was interrelated to some of the issues and programs” he has worked on at his home organization. As Executive Director of Forum for Youth Leaders (FOYOLA), a nongovernmental organization based in northern Malawi, he has worked for years with children, young people and community members on issues as diverse as HIV/AIDS, gender, orphans and vulnerable children, and youth participation. Under his direction, FOYOLA’s youth development activities have included training, forming children’s rights activism groups in schools, and developing an agribusiness project that aims to promote self-employment among youth.
Mlotha’s experience at FOYOLA and contributions to other youth-related projects in Malawi prepared him well to help support PSKS’s mission. He ultimately hopes to leverage what he learns there to improve the lot of young Malawians. Mlotha is impressed with the “holistic approach,” employing peer-to-peer dialogues, counseling sessions, a transitional shelter, vocational skills training, and other diverse activities to reach young people on the streets. Though youth in Seattle may face different problems than youth in Malawi—drug addiction is far more common in Seattle, for instance—Mlotha thinks there are valuable lessons to be learned from this approach.
In particular, Mlotha hopes to implement a case management system upon his return to Malawi. His time in Seattle has made clear that, in many cases, the problems homeless and at-risk young people face are psychological; as he has learned, these problems require more one-on-one engagement. “Employing case managers to provide a “direct touch” can “stimulate an individual to make a very conscious and informed decision on what he or she wants to do.”