A bad beginning makes a good ending. Such is the US trip of Ambassador Edward Sawerengera and Blantyre mayor Wild Ndipo, Daily News reporter ERIN BELL writes.
Nebraska, let alone Norfolk, is not readily known by many Malawians.
But the State is now on the radar of the Malawian Ambassador to the US who will visit the city later this month.
The situation arose rather serendipitously, too, says Joe Mtika.
In love with Malawi
Mtika, a resident of Norfolk, is still passionate about his country of birth.
That is why he started Norfolk Schools in Kanjedza, Blantyre.
He wanted to pay for the opportunities that he has had in life.
And it is because of this school that conversations were started with the Malawian Ambassador.
Orphan Grain Train was shipping a container of school supplies and Mercy Meals for Mtika.
The duty for importing a container was waived for a previous consignment, but it was being requested for the most recent one.
The container was held by the Malawi Revenue Authority and the school was asked to pay about $7 000.
“When I got back I was not very happy,” Mtika says. “I wrote an email to the ambassador and the Malawi Revenue Authority, telling them that I don’t see why we should be penalised when we are investing in the country.”
Ambassador Edward Yakobe Sawerengera immediately took interest in the situation and phoned Mtika to apologise.
“Just for him to call me on my cellphone, I thought, ‘This guy is for real,’” Mtika says. “And he said, ‘Let’s bury the hatchet and let’s start fresh. I’m going to help you.’ “
Norfolk partners encouraged Mtika to meet the ambassador in person. They bought him a ticket to Washington DC and Mtika gathered letters of support from Norfolk Public Schools, Northeast Community College, Orphan Grain Train and State Senator Jim Scheer.
But it was Northeast Community College’s letter from president Dr Michael Chipps that extended an invitation.
“He put in there that, ‘I would have come with Joe, but I’ve got a conflicting appointment, but I’d be more than happy to come and see you at a later stage, and should you decide to come to Nebraska, we’d be more than happy to host you,” Mtika said. “So, the ambassador decided to take him up on that.”
Marriage of cities
Next week, starting from April 24, Sawerengera will be a guest in Nebraska.
The same week, Norfolk and Blantyre, where Norfolk Schools in Malawi is located, will be sister cities, according to Mtika.
This idea sprung from conversations he had with Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning. Another invitation was extended to the mayor of Blantyre, Wild Ndipo, who expressed interest in visiting Nebraska as well.
His visit will align with that of the ambassador.
The tentative schedule for the ambassador and the mayor includes a meeting with governors Pete Ricketts and Scheer in Lincoln.
They will also visit Nebraska businesses, including Appera, Nucor, the Louis Dreyfus Company’s ethanol plant, Hinkles Farms and Lindsay Manufacturing.
They will also spend a day at Northeast Community College where several students from Norfolk Schools in Malawi have already applied.
Given that Malawi is an agriculture country—the Northeast’s largest area of study—Chipps said he was excited to host the Malawian dignitaries.
It is especially exciting to show off what Northeast has to offer given the prospect of Malawi students studying in Norfolk.
Additionally, one of Northeast’s goals is to increase its international student population.
Chipps says: “What we’re trying to build is some kind of articulation, not written per se, but that we would create an avenue for many Malawians to be able to come here eventually as part of our international work, which we are continuing to work on, where we created a Centre for Global Engagement last year.
“So, we want to unite those efforts globally because, frankly, part of our Vision 2020, which is our strategic goals, the third one is preparing a globally competitive workforce.”
Additionally, the ambassador and mayor will meet the school’s local partners.
It promises to be an exciting week, but it still seems a little crazy how it all came together.
“The thing that started as a negative is now producing some positive results, not just to Norfolk Schools, but to the communities of Norfolk as well as Blantyre in Malawi,” Mtika says.
He says the email that he sent the ambassador was really to say: “I can’t believe you guys are slapping us on the wrist when you should be patting us on the back.”