Jacqueline Kouwenhoven, Member of Parliament (MP) for Rumphi West decided from the start to work with village development committees (VDCs) and area development committees (ADCs), in collaboration with councillors.
“We made sure all the committees were active and, together with the district council, we revamped committees that were dormant,” she explains.
This led to all 54 VDCs in Rumphi West Constituency becoming active and over 120 projects being implemented.
“We are transparent and accountable for every kwacha of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF),” she says.
Together with government, Kouwenhoven is upgrading the Rumphi-Nyika Road. She has also secured donors for development projects—some of which have been implemented. These include school blocks, teachers’ houses, community clinics, bridges, houses for Health Surveillance Workers (HSAs) and Teachers Development Centres (TDCs).
Born in The Netherlands in 1959, Kouwenhoven ran for a parliamentary seat at the request of people in her area. This followed the establishment of a Dutch social development organisation in Rumphi called Eva Demaya Centre.
“It was, of course, a big decision to become a Malawian citizen, and to actually present myself as a possible candidate. But I realised that, as MP, I could be of even more assistance to the community of Rumphi West, and bring further development,” she explains.
If retained as MP, Kouwenhoven has her mind set on continuing with the upgrading of the Rumphi-Nyika Road.
“It will be my priority to continue collaborating with the incoming government to upgrade the road,” says Kouwenhoven.
As female MPs face challenges, her situation is slightly different, as she is a white person.
“People tend to concentrate more on that fact rather than on me being a woman.
“If they bring up the fact that I am a woman, it is in a positive light as I fight for things such as better health care, family planning and child care,” she adds.
Kouwenhoven notes that aspiring female MPs have many prejudices and negative attitudes to overcome.
“You will only manage to overcome it if you have a strong motivation. Besides this, look for as many people who believe in you and who will fight with you. Make sure they don’t do it only for money, because in the end that will not be sustainable, and will cause problems. Being MP is about good governance and being of service to the people of your constituency,” she advises.
The parliamentarian, who comes from a farming family, cherishes her other name, NyaGondwe, which was given to her by Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe during the 2007 Gonapamuhanya celebrations.
After secondary school, she studied to become a State Registered Nurse and worked for a few years as a district nurse back home.
In 1983, Kouwenhoven left The Netherlands for Africa.
“It was a calling from God. For eight years I worked in the health care system in Cameroon and Mali. I met my husband, John Fox in Cameroon and we got married in 1986,” she says.
Kouwenhoven came to live in Malawi in 2000, and she set up a rural health and development centre at Luviri in Rumphi. She has lived there since.