A woman who believes that caring for the environment is not a luxury but a matter of survival, Meya Patricia Kalindekafe keeps busy with preserving the environment while also ensuring that she has a happy family. In this interview with Paida Mpaso, she tells why it is important for each of us to take a part in environmental conservation.
Who is Meya Kalindekafe?
I am a wife to Leonard Kalindekafe and a senior lecturer as well as specialist in ecology and environmental impact assessment (EIA) at Chancellor College. I am a Christian belonging to the Anglican Church. I am the first born daughter of late Jim and Noel Manda. My father was initially a primary school mathematics teacher and later on worked with Admarc while my mother was also a primary school homecraft/domestic science teacher in those days. I am a woman who believes that caring for the environment is not a luxury but a matter of survival.
Where do you come from and how many children were you in your family?
I come from Ngâ€™onga Village in T/A Chikulameyembe, Rumphi. We were eight in my family â€“ 4 girls and 4 boys.
What was growing up like for you?
As a child, I liked school, especially solving mathematics problems as my father marked pupilsâ€™ homework or prepared for his lessons at home. Afterwards, we would both ride on our bikes around the school and that was always quality time with my father. I actually have a scar on my leg due to falling off from a bike.
In the evening, I liked being with my mother in the kitchen helping with the cooking or playing with my young brothers and sisters. During holidays, I liked visiting my maternal grandmother because she always prepared sweet beer (chindongwa) and â€œchinthipuâ€ porridge made of fresh cow milk and maize flour for me.
What were some of the challenges that you encountered while growing up?
As a daughter of a head teacher and the first born in my family, I was expected to be a role model to my siblings and also to other girls around me. My father, though settled in Rumphi, came from a Tonga tribe and naturally emphasised on cleanliness and being smart. He always told me that education is the key to most problems. I believed in him so much that I did not want to disappoint him and worked hard at school. It was a challenge as a young girl because everybody was expecting me to lead the way. I am very grateful to my father for instilling these values in me.
How can you describe your full day as a lecturer?
My day starts with going to my office and either meeting with students on designated days and times or being in class lecturing to both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Sometimes I take my students to the field to enable them have hands-on experience. If I have no classes, I am either marking assignments or reading journals or surfing the internet for new information in my area or working on reports relevant to my work. I usually finish at 5.30pm. As a PhD student, I also work on my thesis on specific days.
You are the first chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Women in Science and Technology Network (Wistnet) in Malawi, fellow of the Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead). What do these accolades entail?
Wistnet is network of women scientists and technologists from the academia, private sector, civil society and government whose overall goal is to contribute to the socio-economic development of Malawi by promoting science and technology among women and girls through scientific and technological dialogue, capacity building and research. On the other hand, Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead) is the worldâ€™s largest not-for-profit organization which promotes leadership and sustainable development and has 13-member programmes covering 80 countries around the world, coordinated by Lead International in London.
How did you attain such positions? Did you compete or you were just selected?
I was elected as the chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Wistnet by members of the network. To be a trustee of the network, one has to be a person of good standing, experienced, professionally and technically qualified in order to provide technical, professional and moral guidance to the network.
As for Lead, I had to pass two rigorous interviews at national level and the second one at regional level which was conducted in Harare. After successfully passing the interviews, I became a Lead associate and had to undergo a two-year training programme on environment and development in Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, China and Mexico. I graduated in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2002 and became a Lead fellow. Basically, the programme looks for someone who is passionate about the environment.
What are some of the environmental challenges that Malawi needs to seriously look at?
Some of the challenges are inadequate capacity of the EIA unit in the Environmental Affairs Department to monitor compliance with EIA recommendations; lack of provision of HIV and Gender issues in the EIA guidelines, Environmental Policy and Act; no guidelines for strategic environmental assessments of policies and programmes.
How can these issues be addressed?
Apart from enhancing capacity of the EIA unit, people need sensitisation on the concept of â€œNot In My Back Yardâ€. I believe through this, everyone will be alert to ensure that environmentally detrimental activities are not allowed. The guidelines for EIA should be revised to include social issues as well as assessment of policies and programmes. There is also need for deliberate policies to make inclusion of HIV and gender issues a condition for issuing environmental certificates.
How many children do you have and how are you able to balance your career and family?
I have four children Kelvin, Margaret, Khumbo and Lucy. While allowing for flexibility, I usually plan everything around me and I do not get carried away easily by things which are not important to my family and my career.
How has your husband helped you become what you are today?
My husband is my energiser. When I am low, he fills me with energy. Leonard has always encouraged me to do what I desire and gives me full support. I thank God for the blessing of a loving and caring husband.
How did you meet him?
Leonard is my high school sweetheart. We met in 1982 when I was in Form 5 and he was in Form 6 at Kamuzu Academy. We have been married now for 24 years.
As a career woman, some women feel they cannot achieve as much as you have done. What can you tell them?
The important thing is to be adaptive, believe in oneâ€™s capabilities and to be very professional. It is also very important to share your ideas with your spouse to receive his full support.
What has been your secret to success?
After my morning prayer, I start each day with a happy attitude. I have always followed my heart desires.Â I believe in my capabilities and work hard with passion and determination. I also always make myself visible through networking.
What would you want to happen to the women of Malawi?
I want to see more participation of women scientists and technologists in decision-making and in solving problems that require scientific and technological intervention at all levels including the rural level.
You are also the director of Mandevu Farm. Tell me about the role this farm is playing in the society?
Mandevu Farm is playing a big role in the society. The farm was established with an overall goal of contributing towards the developmental efforts of the Government of Malawi and achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by alleviating poverty through improved livelihoods, food security of rural communities including women and those living with HIV and Aids and curbing environmental degradation and mitigating climate change through production of high quality tree seedlings and fish fingerlings.
What kind of food and attire do you like?
I like Malawian local food. My favourite is rice porridge with groundnut flour or mixed with pear for breakfast and nsima and fish for lunch or dinner. I eat fish (fresh, smoked or sun dried) at least three times a week. I usually have a glass of red wine after dinner. Banana is my favourite fruit.
On attire, am not particular to one type but rather dress to suit particular occasions. I also like collecting traditional clothes from countries that I visit.