No one in the circles of fighting for the rights of children, women and the elderly in Malawi can struggle to open a chapter on Esnath Kalyati, a retired civil servant whose career and spare time has been associated with commitment to disadvantaged children in general.
Her interest in children dates back to the 1960s while she was pursuing her secondary school studies at Blantyre Secondary School (BSS).
She recalls the sorry sight of children from Ndirande Township who came to the school at meal times to rummage through the bins for some food. For her, this spelled a level of plight on the children’s part; that they were needy children who needed an improvement on their welfare so that they could have an environment that would be conducive to their growth.
It was probably no mistake that after completing her A-Levels at BSS, she found herself doing part time work in the Social Welfare Department.
She showed interest to follow this as a profession and was sent to pursue a Diploma in Social Development and Administration at the University of Wales, Swansea, in the United Kingdom, graduating in 1969. Even her thesis was about children, focusing on institutional care for orphans. Upon her return home in 1970 after the studies, she went back to the Social Welfare Department.
Kalyati was one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious badge of honour in gold award presented by the SOS Children’s Villages International, in Austria. She was being recognised for her consistent commitment and contribution in driving forward the work of SOS Children’s Villages as an organisation.
Her involvement in SOS Children’s Villages Malawi spans over two decades during which time she saw the sowing, watering and finally harvesting of the fruits to a level where Malawi as nation can comfortably declare that the dreams of the founder Hermann Gmeiner in 1949 of helping children in need are being fulfilled.
Her profession began on a humble civil service role of social welfare officer in 1970 rising through the ranks on steps labelled senior social welfare officer, principal social welfare officer, chief social welfare officer, deputy principal secretary, principal secretary, senior principal secretary all in one ministry.
Closer to her retirement, she worked in two separate Ministries of Natural Resources and in Economic Planning and Development under the poverty alleviation programme. She was the first woman principal secretary in the civil service, serving between 1984 and 1997.
Kalyati’s close relations and friends describe her as a retired but not tired woman, and as confirmation of that observation, she has since retirement worked as United Nations (UN) Gender Policy coordinator/adviser in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and later, Gender and Social Development Consultant at Relay Consultants and Associates.
Apart from her diploma in social development and administration she also holds a post-graduate Diploma in Applied Social Sciences from University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England attained in 1970 and Master of Science (Economics) in Applied Social Sciences from University of Wales at Cardiff, United Kingdom obtained in 1976, in her academic files.
All her academic papers focused on children and families, for instance she wrote about the pros and cons of socialisation of children in institutions and also the traditional patterns of family welfare in Malawi, which also looked at extended families, against nuclear families.
“My interest was always family focused. You simply cannot talk about children without family. While I was still working in government, I facilitated the establishment of SOS Children’s Village whose concept was to have village fathers, mothers and aunts, apart from the children themselves.
“At the village, they focus on orphans, and now there is an outreach known as family support programme which basically supports random families in the villages to be able to look after children. This means SOS is now able go beyond the children that are in the village in its support. The outreach has a multiplier effect, as the families that get the support are able to help others too,” explains Kalyati, who above everything else, has been a Sunday school teacher since 1978.
Complementing the educational qualifications is her long list of training courses and selected publications and papers.
As a recognised child care services practitioner dating back to the early 1970’s, she is a force to reckon with in
Malawi as a renowned family therapist and an advocate for poverty reduction, mitigation of HIV and Aids as well as Education for All, including early childhood education.
Her services have also covered guidance and counselling services to adolescent boys and girls at senior primary and secondary school level at Good Shepherd International School in Lilongwe and facilitation of national workshops for church leaders on Gender Based Violence (GBV); all of which she does voluntarily.
Kalyati is also held in high esteem with her consultancy brains in group counselling to counsellors of traumatised street children within Malawi. Of special mention is her hand in the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) sponsored production of a booklet “Commemorating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Malawi,” that outlines the country’s progress, achievements and challenges faced by the Government of Malawi in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She also continues adding value to the core beliefs of SOS Children’s Villages, even though she retired. She has served on the SOS Children’s Villages Malawi Trust as its longest member from its inception in the 1980s to date, and until March this year as chairperson.
Her input in moulding SOS youths into responsible citizens includes the guidance she has imparted on issues to do with sexuality, in a country where many teenage girls drop out of school due to early marriages and pregnancies. In other instances she has played a significant role in young men’s understanding of premature sex and its negative implications.
She was behind the processing of re-branding of the Malawi National Association in 2014 to conform to the international brand, a move that has enabled its activities to be well governed and aligned to the global policy with 300 quality co-workers that are result oriented and living the SOS brand. Through such initiatives SOS Children’s Villages Malawi is now recognised locally as strong and lead NGO on child care and protection issues.
Currently, the mother of three still serves as volunteer board member to a number of child related NGOs such as Goods for Good, Malawi Village of Hope, Fountain of Life and member of Coalition on Early Childhood Development in Malawi.
That many Malawians, especially those involved in Women Empowerment, Plight of Disadvantaged Children and in particular the Girl-Child, endorsed Kalyati as an asset cannot be an over-statement at all. She has made a contribution with a shining mark in Malawi.