When she joined the Lions Club in Lilongwe, Chisomo Gunda decided to use the forum to empower women and advocate for their increased social stand and recognition. She even fought for women representation in leadership positions within the club. That aside, she has a passion for the community services. Rachel Kachali spoke with her.
Tell me about yourself
My name is Chisomo Gunda. I am 41 years old, an environmental scientist and mother to 9-year-old Esther. I am the first born to Martha and Nelson Gunda of Traditional Authority (T/A) Njolomole in Ntcheu. I am passionate about community service and a forward looking person.
Tell me about your education and work experience
I grew up in Blantyre. After my basic primary education I went to Our Lady of Wisdom Secondary School. Then I went to Chancellor College (Chanco) in 1991 where I studied Bachelor of Science majoring in statistics and environmental science. My minor was geology. After completing my degree in 1995, I started working for Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief and then I worked for World Food Programme (WFP). I went back to Chanco for my master’s degree in environmental science from 1999 to 2001. My area of specialisation is community based natural resources management.
In school, I took time to study the impact of community influence on the Liwonde National Park. Whatever project you do, there is no better achievement if you leave out the community. I joined WFP to monitor the food aid processes from an environmental angle. I then joined Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf) as an emergency drought recovery specialist. I also worked with Unicef before I went to Irlad, a World Bank funded project that looks into the rehabilitation and construction of irrigation scheme, where I do community based management at managerial level.
What has been your role as a gender advocate?
I love working with communities in making sure they are living in a conducive environment free from all evil such as man-made disasters. Particularly, I am interested in the welfare of women, girls and children. I used to visit Crisis Nursery in Area 47 in Lilongwe to help care for the children whenever I was free. It was from there that a friend invited me to Lions Club and I was finally convinced that this is where I wanted to be to do more. That was in 2007.
It was from there that I started pushing for the cause of women. For example, at the Lions Sight Clinic, I advocated the need to have many women and children tested. Before I became club president, I advocated for women leaders because men dominated. We need to understand that women have what it takes when given a chance.
While president, my theme was service with excellency. Nobody forces one to become a volunteer so be your best! My pillars of excellency included fundraising and interface with the community. This is because at Lions Club, we do not have funding. We get it from the community. Lionism is about taking from the ‘haves’ and giving to the ‘have nots’.
What’s your advice to women on leadership?
I find women to be very well positioned for good leadership. They ensure that their dignity is restored, account for their actions and ensure exceptional results. I have worked with male colleagues and noticed that most would be fine with shortcuts. All that women need is to support each other and help younger women do the same. We should also learn to give space and chance to others. I would like other women to take a chance in women leadership and would encourage my fellow female lions to become presidents because I know they can make it.
Do you still engage with women and girls in your free time?
I do career advancement for young women. I hold talks about career choices and women empowerment. These are some of the things I do to help uplift girls. I am also a member of Young Women Leaders Association.
Do you have any other recognition or awards?
Yes. On June 26 this year, at Charter Dinner, which takes place when we are changing the board or the leadership of Lions Club, I was awarded a Melvin Jones Fellowship Award. Melvin Jones was the founder of the Lions Club International (LCI) in 1879. To receive the award, you are supposed to make a contribution of $1 000 to LCI. But my case was unique as I did not make that contribution. At the Charter Dinner, the guest of honour asked me what I have done and made inquiries from other Lions. She thought I was an excellent president and promised to make that contribution to LCI to honour me.
What do you do on your free time?
My free time is spent in the Kingdom. I call myself a Kingdom worker. At my church, Life International Church, I am a media coordinator. I did not do media training, but my pastor believes I have this passion for organising things. One of the things I do as a media coordinator is to record the ceremonies and post them on Facebook.
I also love cooking. In fact I am organising myself to start a catering joint and have equipment ready. I am just looking for a right place. I grew up in my aunt’s restaurant, the Ginnery Corner Lunch Box in Blantyre. So, I learnt a lot about cooking. I also love spending time with children, in particular my child.
Ant last words?
Use what you have to make a difference! This is what I usually say to everybody, particularly to women who are used to depend on others. I think we need to open up to see how best we can bring ourselves out with whatever we have to bring about positive change. And do volunteerism and charity. I hear people say Lions Club is for the rich. But I am not rich. You should know that there is something you can give. It is not all about money. Think about your skills. For example, others are good public speakers and live through that. It is time to start acknowledging each other and lifting each other up.