Maggie Phiri is a motivational speaker and founder of Dynamos Mentors, an initiative that helps rural and less privileged girls in education through mentorship and advocacy. She is also an agricultural practitioner passionate about gender and women empowerment with special interest in girls’ education. She is a 2015 fellow for African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (Award) and was also named among Africa’s top 25 young women leaders with potential and determination to lead, by Moremi Initiative’s Leadership Development (Milead) in 2012. Brenda Twea caught up with her.
Twenty-seven-year old Maggie Phiri has currently four mentees in the agriculture sector, apart from those that she mentors in other areas.
Award is a career development programme that equips top women agricultural scientists across sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills through tailored fellowships.
The fellows work towards alleviating hunger and poverty in Africa through agriculture research and close work relations with smallholder farmers.
Maggie is walking her own talk, practising urban agriculture and growing vegetables as part of her own home gardening as well as rearing pigs.
“That tells you that I am a farmer. All the vegetables I eat at home, I cultivate them myself. I am using the pig manure to grow them. I also want to expand my small-scale farming portfolio and working on raising urban agriculture,” says Phiri, adding that she also meets young people and tells them how they can be farmers and still look good as many assume that a farmer is a poor and dirty looking person only in a rural community.
She is growing interests and knowledge in agricultural research and development. She is also contributing to hunger and poverty eradication through leading by example, encouraging people to use their small house spaces in town to make their daily meals.
One of her mentees Sheila Kavwenje, who describes Maggie as a catalyst to development in Malawi, considers her as a role model. She says her passion as a scientist is what made her look up to her before becoming her mentee.
“There are so many benefits I can attest to concerning her mentorship. As a fellow scientist, she has already started giving me guidance in my career; helping me set up realistic goals that will lead to a major purpose in my career and in life. This has increased the levels of my self confidence a lot as she has helped and is still helping me learn to take control of my career.
Secondly, I have learnt so much from some of her experiences and knowledge, which has helped me improve on my levels of reasoning and I believe this will help me grow both within my field and the institution I work for,” says Kavwenje, a Luanar graduate in Irrigation Engineering and a Master of Science holder in water resources management.
Born on June 9 1989 to Ruth Choonara and Brighton Billiat Phiri, Maggie is the fourth born of six. She went to Ludzi Girls Secondary School in Mchinji before going to Mzuzu University (Mzuni) to study forestry. She later withdrew from Mzuni for Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) following the University of Malawi (Unima) selection.
Still, it appeared that was not her destiny because while studying at KCN, she won the former Egyptian Presidential Scholarship for African Scholars through Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
“I went to Egypt where I started my science career and studied a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture genetics and Biotechnology at Alexandria University. I was awarded another scholarship under the Swedish Institute (SI) which led me to study Master of Science in Rural Development and Natural Resources Management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Upsala, Sweden,” she says.
She says she has grown a great passion for agriculture as a science and a career and how it links with other fields such as health and technology.
Maggie worked with the United Nations Women on a gender and agriculture project under the Women Economic Empowerment Programme.
She also worked on a United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) funded research project on gender and agriculture under Goal Malawi. She is now a lecturer at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
Maggie believes that Malawi has what it takes to fight hunger and food insecurities.
“The cost of living keeps rising. It is getting hard to keep buying fruits, vegetables, tomatoes and onions. As a result many people may just drop it from their diets altogether.
“But if one is able to do at least one bed of vegetables instead of a lawn or a slub, they can have a month’s supply of vegetables and save from buying,” she explains.
Asked what keeps her motivated, Maggie says the fact that she can keep dreaming and make things happen.
“It is when I am able to look back and say, ‘we made it; we changed my/his/her story; we shaped at least one corner of my/his/her life or community, then I know for sure that I can do it over and over again,” she says.
Maggie also blogs on girls’ education (http://www.alibewawoblogspot.com/>); carries out motivational talks and link mentors with mentees.
“I have shared my story and I keep sharing. In the near future I plan to grow the goal beyond mentoring. I already see ‘our story’ and no longer ‘my story’ as a weapon of change,” she anticipates.
The young agriculturist was also named one of the 2012 Moremi Initiative’s Leadership Development (Milead) fellows, a programme that identifies young African women with potential and passion for transformational leadership roles and prepares them through rigorous training to take up such roles.
“I was 23 when I was named one of Africa’s top women leaders. I had just started my community contribution through working as a teacher to refugee students in Cairo and conducting Christian inspirational talks to children in Agamy, Egypt.
To me it meant a lot; it meant an opening of doors to concrete service, it meant building a network of likeminded young women leaders; it meant learning more, giving selflessly, believing in myself and living a meaningful life not just for myself but for others, too,” she narrates.
While admitting that tomorrow is never guaranteed, Maggie envisions her future to be bright and full of promises fulfilled. She sees a professional farmer, a professor, mentor and a great researcher that will leave a legacy for Malawi and the world at large. Most of all, she sees a great family woman.
She advises younger girls that there is no limit to where one can reach. She advises them to give a voice to the silent dreams within themselves; share and start living them.
“The power to flourish lies with you; only take on board those that are there to help you construct your dreams and learn from those that wish of destruct it. Go change your world, one life at a time beginning with your own,” she says. n