She had just gotten out of university… no job! Lusungu Kalanga, aged 20 at the time, began looking for opportunities that led her to volunteerism. Her passion to begun while still in university reading to the blind.
Additionally, during the holidays, her church had a programme of volunteering in hospitals and donating various items to children’s wards. She basically began serving others from a young age.
Growing up with the same spirit, she co-founded Growing Ambitions, an organisation that builds the capacity of girls and young women from peri- urban areas.
“In 2010, I volunteered for my church’s outreach ministry in Kauma, Lilongwe, focusing on supporting widows and orphans. Through it, we ran a sponsorship programme whose requirements entailed children to be in school.
“Despite the programme, the school dropout rates for girls kept rising. The initial assessment showed that early pregnancies were the major reason for this,” she states.
Kalanga, who is also a member of Capital City Leo Club, a youth arm of Capital City Lions Club International, says she started meeting girls who had dropped out school in 2012 to hear their stories and encourage them to still pursue their dreams and thrive.
This is how she teamed up with Chikondi Chabvuta and Umba Zalira to organise the first back to school workshop which attracted over 30 girls and different role models who stepped up to talk to the girls. This later led to the birth of Growing Ambitions.
“Our focus is on creating safe spaces for girls and young women to interact and learn from each other. We believe girls and women are amazingly determined and resourceful in their fight to achieve a better future.
“We aim to support and strengthen them in their own struggles, helping them to unleash their full potential to change their lives, communities and the world at large.
“We envision a Malawi where girls and women, regardless of their socio- economic status or past experiences take full charge of their lives,” she says.
Regarding her motivation behind stepping on board Growing Ambitions, Chabvuta says: “Being a girl myself, I want the lives of young girls that were not awarded equal chances in life to have the educational attainment that is their right.”
On her part, Zalira says she joined the cause so that she forms part of the solution just as she is part of the problem.
Being an African feminist, Kalanga says she strives to play her part in changing the narrative for women and girls.
“Challenging my society’s deep rooted norms and values that are oppressive to women is a cause I’m very passionate about. I hope that in my lifetime, I will witness a world where men and women have equal rights and patriarchy is history.
“Until then, I will work hard. We shall ensure that girls and young women in our programme learn to be assertive and become confident to go after their dreams, challenging societal expectations of them,” she states.
Furthermore, Growing Ambitions promotes the values of sisterhood.
“Girls need to know we are stronger together and that other women are not competition,” she adds.
The 27-year-old is also a mentorship coordinator for Maphunziro265, a non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) aimed at linking scholars in need of support and scholarship providers in Malawi.
“My responsibility is to link up volunteer mentors with mentees on education promotion, career guidance and navigating through the maze of life and education goals. I have also served in different positions in promoting the rights of girls; including at ActionAid International Malawi where I advocated the right to education for children, especially girls.
“I worked with communities, local and religious leaders and schools across the country advocating, creating and strengthening safe spaces for girls to voice their experiences,” she explains.
She has also supported victims of sexual violence, ensuring they get holistic support, including counseling to re-integrate into society.
Kalanga is also a Moremi Initiative’s Leadership Development (Milead) Fellow, which helped her advance her Growing Ambitions cause. She defines the fellowship as her re-birth.
“Being in the same space with 24 young women leaders under 25 years old who were movers and shakers in their communities and countries gave me the push I was looking for to be a transformational leader.
“It affirmed to me that I matter …that my contributions in society are significant. As a Milead Fellow, I learned to cross-examine concepts of leadership in a broad African context, cultivated the skills necessary to occupy and excel in leadership positions and gained knowledge on cutting-edge issues critical for the development of African women and girls,” she says.
The 2016 Mandela Washington fellow adds that the fellowship served as an opportunity for her to grow her network, learn and share about best practices to propel our continent forward.
It has helped her renew her hope and says she is now fired up to making a difference in the country.
“No one should make the mistake of undermining young people. We are innovative and determined to change the status quo. It is no longer business as usual,” she adds.
Kalanga is one of three children born to Bentry and Molly Kalanga, but her younger brother passed on in 2007, leaving her with an older sister.
She went to Mary Mount Girls Secondary School in Mzuzu before going for further studies at Chancellor College where she attained a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences in 2009.
She has now been accepted to study a Master’s degree in Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK under the prestigious Chevening scholarship.
“Master’s studies have been part of my career plan for a while now. So, from this September, I will be studying full time for a year. When I am back, we plan to expand the work of Growing Ambitions nationwide,” she says. n