As a young girl studying at Mponda Primary School in Zomba, Dr Jean Matete Kaunda, lecturer/ head of department of hospitality management at Mzuzu University, dreamt of teaching at university level. A lot of years and tonnes of hard work later, she is living her dream. She fills us in on what it took to make it this far, what life has taught her and the ambitions she is yet to fulfil.
Who are you?
I am Dr. Jean Matete Kaunda. I was born in Blantyre at Mlambe Hospital. I work as lecturer and head of the department of hospitality management within the faculty of tourism and hospitality management at Mzuzu University. My father, retired Lieutenant Colonel Nyondo, worked in the Malawi Army. After his retirement, he became a businessman until his death in 2008. My mother helped my father in business.
What memories do you have of growing up?
I remember sitting down with my grandmother listening to Bible stories and writing verses for her to distribute to people. I vividly remember spending hours and hours writing these verses for her.
Did you have big dreams as a child?
Of course, I did. I remember in Standard eight, while going to Mponda Primary school in Zomba, I had friends whose fathers and or mothers used to teach at Chancellor College.
I admired the fact that their parents taught at the University level. Right from Standard eight, I wanted to teach at Chancellor College. My dream was realised in 1996 when I joined Chancellor College in the Department of Home Economics, teaching nutrition and foods courses.
How did your parents and people around you mould you into what you are today?
I spent part of my childhood with my grandmother, Emelia Nyamfune. I owe a lot to her. As a Seventh-day Adventist, she instilled in me the value of hard work, especially in school and persistent prayer. Each time we were together, she urged me to do my school work and read the Bible.
My grandmother is a story-teller. My favourite story, as told by her, is that of Esther. When I heard it at a very early age, I was so impressed; I wanted to be like Esther when I grew up. I wanted to be a strong, principled woman.
I also owe a lot to my late father. He always encouraged me to work hard in school. I remember when he came to visit me in the US while pursuing my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree, he was very proud of me.
What does your job entail?
I mainly teach nutrition and food safety management courses. I also help to teach human nutrition to Biomedical students in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.
When school is in session, an average work day involves preparing for classes and lecturing. I also do administrative work as Head of Department.
I am also a Research Coordinator for our Faculty and I supervise studentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ research. When school is not in session, my dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work involves administrative activities as well as research in collaboration with other departments such as Department of Biomedical sciences and chemistry.
It is also during school breaks that our students are attached to different tourism and hospitality establishments for a three-month internship.
As faculty members, we visit these establishments to monitor their progress. Prior to joining the university, I worked in food production at Rab Processors Limited. I later joined Chancellor College as a lecturer.
What are the challenges you face in your current position and how do you get through them?
The major challenge would be preparing material for the classes I will teach. This is because sometimes I have as much as four classes to teach in a semester and it becomes difficult to prepare fully for each one of them.
However, I try to plan well; I would say time management is what gets me through this challenge.
What is it that you do when you get some Ã¢â‚¬Ëœme timeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢?
I enjoy reading fiction books. I have a couple of inspirational books that I have read over and over again. If you have such good books, please post them to me!
I also love fresh flowers; I have several potted flowers at my house that I lovingly take care of every day. I also enjoy listening to soft spiritual music. I also make time for my family; my husband Billiat, son Arthur and my daughter Tawina, each day.
They have played a very important role in my life and I acknowledge that. There is no greater sacrifice than the one made during the time a family member is doing graduate studies. As I was pursuing my masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree and PhD, my husband singlehandedly took care of our son and daughter. I salute him. I also salute my son, Arthur who endured many times without mum at home while I travelled to Seattle and Portland to work on my laboratory research.
What have you learnt from life?
One major thing that life has taught me is to take a genuine interest in the lives of others because you might learn a lot from them. I have learnt to accommodate other peoplesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ views and apply them to my day to day life and experiences. Even though life has handed me some dark moments, such as the divorce of my parents at an early age, I do not live in the past. I have learnt to be positive in every situation, no matter how unfortunate. I have learnt to rejoice in the person God made me to be and accept everything as His will.
What are your guiding principles?
I have always believed in my dreams. I do not let old mistakes or misfortunes hold me back. I believe all things are possible if you stay focused and believe in what you are doing. I also believe that you might get very few friends you can trust and rely on, but once you get those; treasure them more than your most precious jewel.
Who are the people in your group of friends?
Victoria Linehan in USA; Mrs. Elizabeth Chingayipe; Mrs. Anganile Nthakomwa; Ms. Judy Manda in the UK, Mrs. Love Masanjala and Anne Asbell in USA and many more.
What is your take on key challenges facing Malawian women?
Having done a doctoral research in cancer, in particular cervical cancer in developing countries, I can say one of the greatest challenges facing women in Malawi is cancer. In Malawi, death from cervical cancer is one of the greatest health risks a woman faces during her lifetime.
The morbidity among women is devastating, with repercussions on the family and the community. Women diagnosed with cervical cancer are sent home without proper treatment where they suffer and die a painful death.
Another challenge facing Malawian women, in particular adolescent girls, is poverty.Ã‚Â I believe the period of adolescence in girls is special and requires proper attention. However, the vast majority of girls are caught in a vicious poverty trap. They end up with unplanned pregnancies and are stripped of their education, basic health care and independence. And yet, fewer resources are invested in the welfare of such girls. As a result, many young girls from poor households are pushed into early marriages and unhealthy relationships.
How do you think these issues can be tackled?
On cancer, the best way would be to improve survival through better treatment.Ã‚Â Access to treatment is still a challenge to most Malawian women suffering from cervical cancer. In addition, we need to intensify campaigns encouraging women to go for screening; early detection is very important.
I know in most government hospitals and some private clinics, screening programmes are available. I believe it will take the whole nation to raise the welfare of adolescent girls in Malawi.
We need to civic educate our men not to take advantage of poor girls. We also need inspirational women to go out there and motivate girls so that they believe in themselves and know that irrespective of what they are going through, they can make it in life.
Who inspires you?
The first would have to be my mum. Through her actions, she has always taught me never to give up, to stay strong and be focused. My grandmother, Emelia Nyamfune, taught me to always put God first in everything I do and to believe in possibilities.
There are also many strong women and men who inspire me and Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State of the United States of America, is one of them. She is such a strong and principled woman and even the way she walks tells a story.
Any future ambitions, dreams yet to be achieved?
I did my doctoral research in cancer in developing countries. I feel that I have not used my research knowledge much. I would like to educate women and men with regard to cancer development and prevention in relation to nutrition/diet.
In addition, I plan to go back to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle, where I did my doctoral research and do some postdoctoral research. There is still an unfinished area that I need to work on with regards to cancer epidemiology in developing countries.