Martha Nyekanyeka, Malawi’s first female Fifa grade referee, has withstood the trials and tribulations that come with working in a male-dominated career. Having refereed for more than a decade, the single mother with a burning passion for football believes she still has a lot more to offer.
How do you stay on your feet when tempers start rising during a match?
I depend on the knowledge of the laws of the game. I am aware that people direct their frustrations at the referee and I do not take their comments seriously. Some even use abusive language but I do not bother about them because I know the implications of fighting back; it can take you out of the game. I just ignore them and concentrate on the game
Any proud achievements?
I have officiated 15 international games and been to four tournaments; Cosafa 2006 – Zambia, Cosafa 2008 – Angola, Zone VI Games – South Africa 2008, Zone VI Games- Swaziland 2010. I have also attended two CAF Anglophone Elite courses in Tanzania and Egypt.
What initiated your passion for football?
I grew up with boys and preferred their company at school. Because of this, I inevitably ended up playing a lot of games that are usually associated with men, such as football. I remember that some of my friends said their parents discouraged their daughters from associating with me because I liked being in a company of boys.
Did your parents approve of you being in the company of boys?
My mother would beat me up after sneaking out for a football game. She too thought I was in search of boyfriends. I wonder if she connects my current profession with my background.
At 21, Linda Sankhulani has taught about 200 women in Lilongwe and Nkhotakota how to make biomass briquettes from waste paper for sale and home use. The Bunda College of Agriculture (Agri-business) graduate, who says is passionate about mitigating effects of climate change, works with these women on voluntary basis. She hopes to grow the project with her co-founders.
How did you get involved with these women?
A friend invited me to help with a research on alternative sources of energy which in the long run mitigate climate change. After doing the research we came up with the biomass briquettes with the help of the project coordinator, Dr DD Mkwambisi. We were then using Kumudzi Eco-Learning Centre as our base.
Tells us about the centre?
The centre provides several training programmes on agriculture and environmental issues to the public. It teaches people on how to mitigate the effects of climate change. It also teaches them the importance of conservation agriculture, among others. It established Chalera as a cultural village and also promotes sport among the youths.
Why did you target women?
Women are the most vulnerable to climate change effects. They are responsible for fetching firewood and they easily understand the problems associated with deforestation. The project also seeks to improve livelihoods of women as research indicates that not only are they caregivers, they basically run the whole household.
What would you advise fellow youths?
I would advise them to take part in development activities and be creative. It’s high time youths made positive changes around their communities. Remember, it is not always about the money; it is about sharing your knowledge and coming up with creative ideas to bring about changes.
She set up an NGO called Mwana wa Mnzako that pays school fees for an average of 60 secondary school going students a year. The organisation is also financing the education of an engineering girl student at Polytechnic.
Where did you meet your husband?
I used to read about him in the papers while in the US. He was a soccer player. When I came to Malawi we met by chance through his friend. Then we met again while marking exams at St. Andrews, that’s when our relationship started.
What is the idea behind Mwana wa Mnzako?
It was registered as a CBO in 2003 and registered as an NGO last year. A study was done that showed orphan children were heading families and that the majority that dropped out of school were girls. It is my strong belief that education should be accessed to all and the NGO was set-up to offer orphans an opportunity to access and complete secondary education. The organisation is also financing a girl who is studying engineering at the Polytechnic. She has managed to overcome a lot of barriers.
Tell us about your job at Unicef.
[After the diploma in education studies at Leeds University] Since all I wanted to teach an opportunity became available. Malawi was preparing for World Conference on Education for All Summit in Thailand; I was given the opportunity to work with Unicef. After the summit Unicef asked me to stay on with them. I opened the education section and started to implement mandates from the summit one of which was to roll out the Free Primary Education.
I also initiated the community school project at Chinsapo which had no school then. Over 100 children were enrolled on the first day. We trained people in the community who had some formal education as teachers. 100 communities were assisted in establishing community schools for six to 10 year olds. It became a success. I also initiated programmes to reduce drop-out rates among girls.
Rachel Sophie Sikwese – First female chairperson of the Industrial Relations Court (IRC)
While growing up, she had always wanted to be a bwana like her father. Today she stands tall as the first female chairperson of the Industrial Relations Court. She is also involved in a cancer foundation.
Fast Facts: Born on February 9 1970 at Malosa Hospital in Zomba to a family of 15 kids. She graduated with a Law degree from University of Malawi. The single mother of two has published seven books.
What challenges have you gone through personally and professionally?
Personally, I have a weakness in trusting a lot. This can be disastrous at times. Professionally, I have gone through an experience where all my classmates and some of my juniors have been promoted in their jobs while I remained in the same position. It can be demoralising especially when the process is not transparent and without interviews. I had to really sweat it out to be promoted.
What plans do you have for the IRC?
My plan is to continue raising the status of the court. IRC decisions are respected the world over. International Labour Organisation (ILO) uses the IRC decisions to assess whether Malawi is complying with minimum labour standards.
What have you learnt from life’s journey?
My life has been a total mixed bag. The most painful memory is the death of my sister Emily. She succumbed to cervical cancer at 36. Until her sickness I had no idea that people can suffer in that manner. I am consoled by the fact that government is now seriously working on cancer management. I wish it was doing enough on cancer-related painkillers so that patients should not endure the pain.
The biggest lesson is probably that maonekedwe apusitsa (not all that a glitter is gold). I am more cautious with how I handle people and situations. I have also learnt to be frank and forthwith with people. It saves time and energy.
Tells us about your involvement in the cancer foundation.
We have an association of young professionals in the legal fraternity formed in 2009 called Cancer Support Foundation. We link cancer patients to doctors and organisations that specialise in cancer.
The virtuous woman
The year 2013
I believe 2013 is a time of great vision and authority! May we take steps to embrace the following:
1. Forgiveness – it is the way to God’s heart. May you spend some time in prayer, forgiving the people who have hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you won’t reap the consequences of your mistakes; rather your heart will be free to love again. Luke 6:37 says ‘forgive, and you will be forgiven’.
2. See yourself from God’s eyes. Ask the Lord to reveal to you how incredible you are to Him.
3. Ask God for direction. Pray and soak in His plans for you. ‘Not being anxious about anything, but in everything, present your requests to God’ (Philippians 4:6-7).
4. Strive for clean hands and a pure heart (Psalms 24:3-4). No matter what circumstances you came from, God will help you change your life. Determine to bring forth nothing but faith, love and hope.
5. Honour and respect others – with your words and actions. Struggling with negativity? Try speaking only positive and godly words for 10 days and see what happens!
6. Pray. Spend time in prayer for others. The hardest thing to give out is our time.
7. After prayer – action! Start small – reach out to what you’ve always dreamed of doing. God will bring forth the right people and finances, and He will equip you.
9. Praise and worship Him daily. Enter 2013 with a heart filled with gratitude. Bless others and extend gratitude with kindness. Remember, praise changes the atmosphere.
10. Decree justice and protection. Decree new life over your family and over those in bondage. Job 22:28 says ‘you shall decree a thing, and it shall be established’, so establish the new season for you and those you love.
Use your life to honour, heal and love – just like Jesus!
Have a blessed & fulfilling 2013, o virtuous woman!