She is an architect and the brains behind the refurbishment of FINCA building countrywide. Her passion for drawing started as early as nine and she mastered the talent to perfection. CHIKONDI KASAMBARA spoke with her.
Who is Mercy Mjumira-Mchacha?
I am 29 years old and was born in a middle class family of five children-to which I’m the fourth. My father is a retired information technology (IT) officer, but I lost my mother in 2005. Losing my mother was the hardest experience in my academic life because she got sick when I was in second year of college and had a lot of projects to submit. I had to take care of my sick mother and my nieces because my sister was abroad, at the same time work on my school projects. Mind you, I was very young. My mother died two weeks before end of year exams and it was so hard for me. I, however, managed to do well in the exams and here I am, a graduate architect.
Tell me more about your education background.
I went to a number of primary schools such as Zomba CCAP Primary School, Limbe Girls Primary School and St Pius Primary School. Later, I went to Zingwangwa Secondary School, Nkhamenya Girls Secondary School and finished at Marymount Girls Secondary School. I was very good at mathematics and science subjects and always wanted to be a civil engineer. The year I went college was the same year the Polytechnic started offering a degree programme in architectural studies because previously, they were offering diplomas only, so, I applied and was successful. I was fortunate to attend the international youth restoration volunteers’ camp at Khamo World Heritage Sight in Zimbabwe in my second year of college. I stayed there for a month and that was a week after my mother’s death. So, it really relieved my stress because I had a lot on my mind and I lost a lot of weight. I graduated in 2008 with a bachelors degree in architectural studies. I then went to UK for three years under the British Exchange Programme and worked with the British Council in developing what was dubbed “Future City Game.” When I came back, I started working with Kamwaza Design Partnership as a graduate architect from October 2008 till January 2014. I later joined FINCA Malawi as facilities management officer. I enrolled for the master of science in sustainable engineering management, a three-year programme where am expected to graduate next year.
Why are you called graduate architect?
It’s a step ahead of just mere designing. It involves taking care of the structures that architectures design. During the development of the Future City Game in the UK, architects, urban and rural planners; engineers, mayors and locals sat down and discussed future challenges- both socially and economically- that will affect cities and towns in 20 to 30 years to come. They came up with solutions. I am responsible for designing, refurbishing as well as taking care of all FINCA facilities country wide.
Who inspired you to be an architect?
Since the age of nine, I had the tendency of sketching different designs on paper. I only realised after enrolling for the architectural course that it was really what I was meant to do. There is nobody I can mention to have inspired me to be an architect even though I learnt to have an open mind from my father. I am willing to learn new things every day.
What are some of the things you can point at as your brain child?
If you have recently visited FINCA offices, you will notice significant and notable changes. I am responsible for identifying new buildings, lease agreements with landlords and identifying contractors who can work on the buildings. I then make designs and hand them over to contractors and I am always supervising and coordinating with other departments until the buildings are ready for occupation. I always feel great looking at FINCA employees and clients conducting business freely in a better environment and a professional set-up.
What are the challenges you face in your profession?
When clients want some designs and we try to explain why what they want
is not practical. Some people believe that anything is possible in designing. It is not.
How far do you want to go professionally?
I dream big. I want to be in top management someday, but I also want to design and manage beautiful and unique structures in the country, bearing in mind the limited space we have as a country.
Tell me about your family.
I have been married for three years to Everson Mchacha whom I met in 2006 while at the Polytechnic. He works as finance manager reporting at TNM and we have a beautiful daughter Kimberly. She is two years old.
How do you balance work and family?
My husband is very supportive and the reason I manage is because he always lends a helping hand. It is not easy to design, be a mother and a wife and a student at the same time because all this requires undivided attention, but because my partner is there for me. The Lord has also been on my side. You can imagine being pregnant the entire first academic year during my masters programme and giving birth two weeks after the final exams. I try hard to manage my time well doing school work after my baby goes to bed because I don’t want to miss playing with her after work either.
How do you spend your free time?
I play netball for the Souls Diva’s Netball Club and train after work twice a week. This helps to ease my mind. I love watching TV, too, when I can. I am a Catholic faithful who congregates at St. James Chilomoni Church and a youth matron for Charles Luwanga youths. Above all, I realise the importance of family and spend as much time as I can with my husband and daughter. n