Tell me about yourself
I am married to Wiseman Kabwazi and we have two daughters Mphanda, Martha and a son Tsinde. I have eight siblings. My parents are Betty and Henry Mathandalizwe. I lost my father when I finished my Form Four.
What is your education background?
I started my education at Limbe Primary School, but attended other primary schools in Blantyre and my home village in Dedza. I went to Ludzi Girls Secondary School. I was then selected to Kamuzu College of Nursing where I withdrew on personal grounds. I did not have the inner calling to pursue nursing. However, the experience taught me to respect and value the work nurses do, especially when limited by resources. I later studied journalism at the Malawi Polytechnic. I also got a Bachelor of Human and Social Studies Degree majoring in Development Studies from University of South Africa and a Masters degree in Women’s Law from University of Zimbabwe.
While formal education enlightened me in many ways and has been an integral part of my work, I have come to realise that it is what we learn and apply in our daily life that is most influential on how intelligent, knowledgeable or wise we are. No degree, diploma or certificate can compete with inner wisdom. I learnt from my mother and father’s wisdom and keep learning from the young and old; poor and rich, black or white, male and female. I also pay attention to learn from nature around me.
How was your upbringing?
I grew up under the watchful eye of a disciplinarian mother and a girls’ education advocate father. I come from a family of 10 children, seven girls and three boys (two passed away). A big family meant food rationing. But it taught me how to accommodate different people’s interests and manage different characters. It equipped me with management skills which I use in my everyday life especially at work.
Please give a brief of AGE Africa
AGE Africa is an NGO operating in Malawi, which focuses on the empowerment of Malawian girls through education. Founded in 2005, AGE Africa’s mission is to provide life-changing opportunities for young women in Malawi through targeted initiatives in education, mentorship and leadership development. The organisation’s vision is that all girls in Africa will have equal access to secondary education and that young scholars will be empowered to finish school, leverage their education into viable opportunities for earned income and to self-advocate for their own life choices.
Girls in Malawi face many barriers to economic, personal and academic success. Although secondary school is viewed as a cherished opportunity, girls face real threats to their development and often get little support. Only girls who are well-prepared and supported succeed.
AGE Africa’s Scholarship Programme provides comprehensive scholarships for rural and vulnerable young women at public secondary schools. It targets girls with demonstrated financial need and interest in their education. While our fund supports girls at government boarding and rural day schools, in the coming five years, we are focusing our expansion exclusively on Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS). A typical AGE Africa scholarship includes school fees, uniforms, school supplies, books, maize flour and bicycles that are loaned to students in pairs so that they travel safely to school in numbers. AGE Scholars are additionally supported through Creating Healthy Approaches to Success (Chats) girls clubs. The life skills programme focuses on sexual and reproductive health programmes, leadership development and post-secondary transitions.
What has AGE Africa achieved so far?
From when it started in 2005, AGE Africa has grown its scholarship base from eight girls to 190 girls at 10 school partners across Mulanje, Zomba, Balaka, and Mangochi. It has also grown the number of students supported by its extracurricular programmes from 150 to more than 700 in 2015 actively participating in Chats. It also supports more than 80 of its alumnae in its growing tertiary transitions programme which provides interventions to support girls’ transition from secondary school to continuing education or earned income opportunities.
AGE Africa seeks to restructure, streamline and package its CHATS girls’ club programme and expand to reach 12 000 girls in secondary schools throughout Malawi. We are also focusing on building young women entrepreneurs in Malawi. The organisation acknowledges that entrepreneurship and other livelihood skills are critical in ensuring secure post-secondary livelihoods.
What inspired you to help girls?
No matter how old I grow, there is always that “girl” trapped inside me. This girl comes alive whenever I come across or hear stories of girls struggling to access education. Although there is a generation gap, today’s girls face pretty much the same challenges that many girls faced years ago; child labour disguised as domestic servitude, poverty, early marriages and other socio-cultural practices that impede on their right to education. As an advocate, I have committed myself to supporting girls’ access to life changing opportunities. I started supporting girls’ education when I was in secondary school. Education has helped me to have a better sense of my own intrinsic value and to recognise the value of other women and girls.
Tell me about your work experience.
I joined AGE Africa as country director in July 2014. I also served as national gender coordinator for Concern Universal from September 2009 up until 2012, where I provided technical guidance on gender programming. I also provided strategic support in promoting learning and impact assessment as well as providing support on communication and advocacy. I served as regional women’s rights and HIV and Aids coordinator for Actionaid International (Malawi). I have also served as IEC National Coordinator for Dignitas International, a medical humanitarian organisation founded by a group of international health experts. I have also worked for a local NGO, Projects Office-Blantyre Synod as programme manager for Orphan Care and Vulnerable Children Programme with five components in early childhood development, vocational skills training, small enterprise development and adult literacy. I also worked for Mineral and Appropriate Technologies (MATAMA), an environmental management NGO, as Projects Coordinator. I started my career in development programming working for World Vision International as Communications Assistant in 1994.
What challenges do you face?
Life is punctuated by many challenges. I honestly cannot flag out a specific strategy used to deal with them. However, one thing I have learnt is to never give up on dealing with challenges. If you can’t climb over the mountain, you can get round it. You can also use another route. If it becomes impossible, it maybe a wrong route.
What do you do in your free time?
I love to reflect, meditate and write. I published a book (novella) in support of girls’ education in 2003 entitled The Golden Stick. I am in the process of authoring another one. I also love watching the sun set. It takes me back to my village experiences, where sun set means something different from the urban area.
What are the challenges facing women?
Lack of self-determination. Of course the environment is not conducive, but self-determination is a sword that can help to cut the oppressive cords that bind women. Fatalism, the feeling of powerlessness is very common among women, acceptance that as women we have no power to influence our own actions.
Any last words?
Calling all Malawians to support girls’ education. That does not mean boys should be neglected. All children in Malawi deserve better opportunities. You may think about your children alone, they can get good education, but will have uneducated neighbours who will still create socio-economic problems for them. n