The loss of her mother to cancer at the age of 17 served as a channel to fuel Esnatt Gondwe’s passion for development.
It helped her see that the vulnerability she felt at that age must be greater in younger, orphaned and vulnerable children living in rural communities.
Gondwe decided to create a similar environment that built her tenacity and character by offering children- who lost loved ones or were in a vulnerable State- a place to feel loved.
She began working within her community and her enthusiasm led to the birth of Stimulus, an organisation established in 2009 to bring change in society.
While in her second year at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, studying for a Bachelor of Arts Humanities degree, Gondwe had the opportunity to represent Malawi at a global youth forum in London organised by the British Council.
“The conference ignited my passion for addressing multiple things that were affecting my society. When I returned from the conference, I thought about ways to work with children to address issues that were hindering their development. The mind of a child is as malleable as clay and is, therefore, ready to be formed and moulded,” she says.
Gondwe believes that some of the negative practices that adults in the country have become accustomed to could be corrected.
“Most of us have become accustomed to lack of assertiveness, but I think it is important for the young ones to know they can dream big; that the sky is the limit and if they work hard, they can achieve everything they dream of.
“They need to know these things from a young age, so that if they grow up with that spirit, most of the problems we face now could be reduced. I believe that planting the seed of assertiveness and self-belief from a young age would work towards building a generation that can inevitably move the country towards new heights,” says Gondwe.
She founded Stimulus together with 10 friends. For the first three years of its existence, they had funding from the British Council’s Global Change Makers Programme.
“This support allowed us to visit four different centres in Zomba every Saturday, providing a programme that encouraged open and free thought through games and moral based stories, while giving the children a place to express their ideas and insights through art and drama.
“I served as coordinator of the programme from inception until I graduated in 2012. Stimulus is still running. Currently, my role with stimulus is to provide assistance and guidance to the current Chancellor College students running the organisation,” says Gondwe.
Growing up, Gondwe was taught to always look outside of herself to ensure that her family, community and individuals within it are content and secure.
“My parents and siblings provided me with an environment where I felt secure and loved. This environment equipped me with the confidence to stand on platforms that work to alleviate the challenges within society. Without my family and God I would not be where I am today,” says the last born of six children.
After attaining a bachelor’s degree, the 26-year-old received a scholarship from the Mandela Scholarship Fund through the Canon Collins Trust, to study International Human Rights Law at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.
She completed the postgraduate degree this year.
Her passion for equality in the access to social services such as health and education, as well as her love for children and the community have heavily influenced her professional trajectory and she has seven years experience working with communities.
“I have taken my message of equality and the importance of investing in children to several international fora, including the African Youth Summit which led me to the World Economic Forum and other youth summits in Africa and Europe,” says the young woman currently working on a maternal and child health project with a faith-based organisation, Emmanuel International.
“I believe that investing in the mind of a child is a targeted step towards defeating social and cultural mindsets that are hindering our development as a nation, because their minds are still malleable and able to retain and adopt new insights,” she explains.
Finding support for their programming has been the main challenge faced by Stimulus. As the founder, she notes that most people are willing to support events or public initiatives that can serve as an opportunity to promote their brands or organisations.
“What we do with Stimulus is covert and not as public, so gaining support for it can be challenging. We circumvent this challenge by enhancing community engagement by hosting fundraisers in Zomba.
“In addition, we have identified people who connect with what we do and want to support it. Finally, we fundraise within our group as making a difference starts from within,” she says.
Gondwe has four sisters and one brother. As someone who lost her mother to cancer, she also fundraises for Cancer Survivor Quest, an organisation led by survivors to promote awareness of the disease and provide treatment of those who cannot afford it.
“Our public health system is not able to provide equitable health services for cancer treatment. It is for this purpose that a friend and I initiated the Be the Cure Campaign which fosters collaboration between government, private sector, artists and students under the message that everyone- in whatever capacity- can be the cure for cancer. We were able to fundraise over K1 million for Cancer Survivor Quest,” she says.
She did this in 2013 and 2014 before leaving for her Master’s degree studies in 2015 and will resume now that she is back.
Gondwe points out that assisting in the fundraising for an organisation that is run by people that have won the battle with cancer and are determined to help others achieve that same victory is an experience that is both humbling and inspiring.
“Death is hard to bear for people who lose someone knowing when there was more that could have been done and that there was treatment they could not access because of insufficient funds,” states Gondwe. n