Rewriting her MSCE examination as a result of being playful did not discourage her ambitions. The bitter lesson propelled her to make it to university. Today, she is Dr Jacqueline Chinkonde-Nkhoma, a research officer at National Commission of Science and Technology. Her hard work and determination has recently earned her a rare professional award: a Norwegian PhD in Nursing. She shares her story with Albert Sharra.
Tell us about yourself?
I am a fourth born in a family of 10; three boys and seven girls. One boy passed away. I was born on 1st October 1970 at Bwaila hospital in Lilongwe. My father is Jamson Chinkonde, a retired secondary school teacher. My mother is Annie, a retired nurse. They are both living at Ntcheu boma and come from the same district.
Tell us about your immediate familyâ€¦
I am married to Justice Chimgonda- Nkhoma. He is so supportive and he has always been there for me. He is currently at Bunda College of Agriculture doing his PhD in Economics. We have been together for a long time and have been helping each other in our education. We are yet to have children.
Where have grown up and how was your growing?
While young, we used to transfer from one district to another within the Central Region because of my fatherâ€™s job. But we stayed for a long time in Salima and that is where I did all my primary school. My growing up has been of a mixture of spiritual music and school. I am a Seventh Day Adventist member and since my childhood days, I like singing in the choir. As a family, we have grown up so ambitious and our parents make sure we have all the support to take us to our destinies.
Challenges were also there, for example, there was time when five of us were in secondary school and so to support all of us wasnâ€™t an easy thing. But by Godâ€™s grace we made it.
How have your parents moulded you into who you are?
My parents were disciplinarians, they taught us to be humble and hard workers in school. They kept us close to God. They are good with communication. When we were young, they gave us room to speak out our minds on different issues; and to let them know what we wanted and what our aspirations were. They would tell us our strengths and weaknesses. This built confidence in us, ambitions and oneness as a family. This was a motivation to me. I worked hard in school and I was always in top five in every examination.
Now you are Dr. Chinkonde. What does this mean to you?
Itâ€™s a great achievement for me. However, this is not the end of it all. I am looking forward to more achievements not just for me but for the country as well. But this is the platform that will give me the opportunity to break through. I am happy that my PhD is in maternal health which is one area Malawi is facing challenges.
How did you find yourself in nursing?
Because I was so involved in choir activities while at Malamulo Secondary School in Thyolo, I did not pass well in my MSCE examinations. So I went to St Michaels Girls Secondary School and repeated Form Four. Having learnt a bitter lesson, I vowed to excel and make it to the university. I got good points and was selected to go to Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Initially, I wanted to become a lawyer but as I was growing up I started to feel like the profession will be in conflict with my faith.
According to the then system (in 1990), I first obtained a two years diploma and then a University Certificate in Nursing and Midwifery. I got a credit in the diploma and a distinction in the certificate.
How did you get into maternal health career path?
After the certificate, I was posted to Mwanza where I worked for two years between 1994 and 1996. Thatâ€™s where I developed interest in maternal and antenatal health. So, I worked in the maternity unit and later did a Family Planning course. I was sent to Machinga District Hospital where I worked with GTZ as a district family planning coordinator.
In 1997, I went back to KCN for my final years in Bachelors of Science Degree in Nursing. After graduating, I joined Project Hope under the programme called Child Survival and Mother Care. Later on, I joined UNC project Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTC) project.
What about the PhD in Nursing that you have just been awarded in September in Norway?
While at UNC, I got a chance in 2004 to go to the United States of America to attend a course in Reproductive Health. This also coincided with my being awarded with a scholarship to study for Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) in International Community Health at the University of Oslo in Norway. This was a two year programme and I graduated with an A which earned me a PhD scholarship to study Public Health and Medical Anthropology.
Towards finalising my M.Phil, I also applied and was awarded another Masters in Social Development and Health at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. I took it as a bridging course to understand the social and cultural issues that underlie the challenges affecting women.
Then I went back to Oslow for the PhD. Two months ago, I defended my research titled Mothers on the Edge, Negotiating Mortality and Child Protection in the era of HIV/AIDS in Malawi.
What will be your next move apart from your current job?
My focus is on what I can do to help develop Malawi. I would like to find out the links between poverty and reproductive health and what strategies can be adopted to deal with the inequalities prevalent in our society. I would want Malawians to participate in identifying problems and solutions to them. I feel there are a number of past achievements that we can build upon for a brighter Malawi. Think of youth week for example. These really helped to improve communication by providing better roads not only for business but also for ease of referrals of complicated maternal cases from peripheral health facilities. I want to remind people that some maternal deaths are preventable even through use of simple or basic materials that need not be bought.
I want to publish more articles or papers. I have already published a number of articles and some have appeared in one of the top 10 best journals in USA. One of them is RODT OG-HIVTT journal and my article is titled The dangerous milk-HIV infant feeding in a changing context. I have also published in the Biomed Central & Public health journal.
Is there anything you have done that has directly helped Malawi?
Sure! While in Norway, I managed to plant interest in Norwegians to carry out their research projects here in Malawi and this has since happened. My major supervisor who has also been coordinating funds in Norway for North-South Projects has managed to bring a multidisciplinary project in Lungwena. This is a project which has been implemented by the five constituent colleges of the University of Malawi. It is a project which has focused on nutrition, reproductive health, agriculture and sanitations towards poverty reduction. I have also managed to secure postgraduate places for a few of my colleagues at the department where I was studying. Even now, I have created good relationships with people of influence whom I can go back to for negotiations of more places. I remember my supervisor telling me that given chance I would fill up the whole class with Malawians to which I accepted and further told her that Malawians have a lot of potential but only lack adequate resources to achieve their goals.
In addition to this, three girls from KCN have gone to Norway for studies. For a number of times, while I was in Norway, I was asked to recommend names or candidates for scholarships. Four years ago, I was at KCN with my USA lecture Johanne Sundby for a motivation career talk and since then, she has been proposing that researches should be done here in Malawi.
What has been your drive?
My parents have always said they donâ€™t want any of their children to be a tail in this world and I can tell you that all their nine living children have done well both in education and life. In addition to this, the Norwegian life has played a bigger role to my success. The people in Norway are so supportive like Johanne Sundby. I think as Malawians, we need to adopt such a life and support each other instead of pulling each other down.