She was once stashed at a remote Mbenjere Secondary School situated at Ntanja in Machinga with no hope of ever teaching at an urban school.
Not that working in town has ever topped her ambitions in life.
To 37-year-old Makhumbo Soko, the classroom was and remains, her world.
She joined the teaching profession in 2008 and Mbenjere has been her ‘first love’. She only relocated to Blantyre Secondary School (BSS) on the ‘following husband’ basis in 2011.
She is married to Ophaniel, currently a banker with Finca Malawi.
“I wasn’t sure of what I would find here [at BSS] as I used to like Mbenjere school. I had really wanted to be part of the legacy of instilling positive change is as far as girl education is concerned in the area,” she said.
Makhumbo was the only female teacher at Mbenjere then.
Today, she is grinning from ear to ear, patting herself on the back for a job well done.
As she walked to the stage inside Chichiri Secondary School hall in Blantyre to claim the ultimate prize on Friday, she could not believe her ears; yet it was her name that was called out against the Best Teacher of the Year Award.
The excellence awards were organised by the South West Education Division (Swed) for a second year running.
Makhumbo explained: “I never thought it could happen. In fact, I do not think I have ever taught for awards, per se. I just love it. I get my satisfaction from the success of my students.”
She is the brains behind 71 distinctions in the sciences that BSS produced in the 2018-2019 Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations. She teaches Biology and computer.
Out of the 71 distinctions, 10 scored a point each in a particular subject while the rest were two pointers.
Makhumbo, a graduate in Information Technology (IT) with Open University of Tanzania, feels her teaching instincts are inborn.
Growing up in a family of teachers, she would enjoy ‘teaching’ her siblings for fun as they played within their neighbourhood.
However, that narrative of teaching for fun seemed to have changed of late.
This was after she missed the ultimate prize by a whisker the previous academic year. The 25 distinctions she produced were not enough.
She explained: “It hurt so much to miss out. I was that close and then I lost out to competition. Instead of crying over the spilt milk, this gave me an added zeal to perform even better. I am glad I have made it at the second time of asking.”
The teacher is currently the reigning best Biology teacher for the division and also the most outstanding teacher for the academic year.
For her feat at the awards ceremony, Makhumbo walked home with K20 000, a queen-size mattress, a certificate of recognition, a medal of excellence and a miniature trophy.
Things even went better for her when Mudi Sacco general manager Trizza Magreta, who was in attendance, announced her company would double whatever the organisers had awarded to all female winners. She got an extra K50 000.
And this did not escape the watchful eye of the Minister of Education, Science and Technology William Susuwele Banda, who played guest of honour.
Said the minister: “I do not think this is about the amount in the cash prizes per se. The value is in the appreciation. Teachers are rarely appreciated in the country and, yet as educators, we are the genesis of all these professions we have today.
“I am happy female teachers and students are making a mark in education and as a professional teacher myself, I cannot be more proud.”
In an exclusive interview on Friday, Makhumbo shared some of her secrets.
“First and foremost, I have always loved the sciences; precisely Biology. And then there is nothing that does not work out for hard workers. I am a hard worker and I think I got this from my father. He was a strict disciplinarian,” she said.
She also explained that she somehow dedicates the award to both her students and fellow teachers at her school.
“They have always been supportive and we are lucky to have Hilda Gwauya as our head teacher. She is really visionary,” she said.
She added that she took radical measures to ensure her students pass.
“I introduced extra classes which my students liked. We would meet during morning prep time and also at night. Also, I would also prepare tests for the class on each and every topic. By the time Maneb [Malawi National Examinations Board] exams came, the students were at least comfortable with the line of questions,” Makhumbo explained.
On how she found herself in teaching when she had studied something different, Makhumbo was blatant, explaining the development motivated her to do more for girl education.
She explained that role-modeling plays a great role in shaping up one’s future prospects which was lacking in her school days.
“Obviously, my family pushed me to study computer on the understanding that it would be ‘marketable’. For starters, I grew up in an era where we would rise up the education ladder simply because there was always somebody to beat in class during exams,” she said.
However, the mother of two boys—Clifford and Alexis—said she has no regrets over her past; arguing what she went through actually helped reposition her to serve the nation better.
The news about Makhumbo seems to have courted interests from far and wide, with the Women in Science particularly sounding optimistic over her feat.
Chancellor College-based analytical chemist Chikondi Shaba said the teacher’s feat was “news we like to hear.”
She argued that at this rate, Malawi was on course to groom scientists who can help bring solutions to various socio-economic challenges facing the region.
“Perhaps we have not been as aggressive as a country in terms of promoting scientific innovation; hence, a slow uptake of the sciences among girl learners.
“However, I can confirm that we have what it takes to be a force to reckon with in the region as far as the sector is concerned. The first step is always to have eager scientists at all levels and we have them as a country. Makhumbo has just displayed that with proper motivation mechanisms, we can do it. The good thing is that, girls are also emerging to be interested in the field, which is very encouraging,” Shaba said.
Shaba is the out-going Next Einstein Forum (NEF) Ambassador for Malawi.
Among others, the forum harnesses the power of the youth to bring African science and technology to the world and solve global challenges by creating a sustainable environment for impactful research and development
Meanwhile, Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) has hailed the awards; saying they stand to groom more scientists out of the secondary students.
In a telephone interview, head of the university’s research unit, the Centre for Innovation and Industrial Research (CIIR), Dr David Mkwambisi, argued it augurs well with the institution’s zeal to promote science and technology.
“We are actually looking forward to having some of those brains produced by those hardworking teachers should they get selected to study with us. As you are aware, Must is always casting its net wider in its quest to promote innovation.
“We hope to find some gems among the participants and as said earlier, we are ready to fine-tune them further. I just hope this will go a long way to generate the much interest in the science among the learners” he said.
Born on June 6, Makhumbo is a second born in a family of two girls and a boy.
However, the Blantyre Secondary School teacher will not be defending her crown this time around.
With her third baby on its way, school management has decided to relieve her of her Form IV duties. She is now tending to the junior secondary school classes.
Again, she laughs off the matter; saying “When I return, I will be back even stronger. Trust me on this one!”