Mphatso Stiles is a Malawian educator who is disappointed with the focus on Western languages and culture by many, especially parents. She authored a book My First 100 Chichewa Words to help children who have been affected by the foreign culture and cannot speak any local language.
Mphatso said that after many years of engaging with teenagers and early childhood education, she thought of writing a book for toddlers.
She wrote My First 100 Chichewa Words to help a ‘Westernised’ community speak the local language.
Said Mphatso: “It’s not uncommon to find children born to Malawians unable to communicate fluently in any local language. It’s not their fault, but many parents have grown up in communities where English and a Western lifestyle were considered prestigious.
“So over time, some families have gravitated towards the Western lifestyle and made English the primary language of communication, making it difficult for children to learn Chichewa. In addition, the content children consume is mostly Western and in English, moving them further away from their roots.”
The mother of two and wife to Todd Stiles said she is passionate about her faith and tries to Iive for God’s purpose.
“I am resolved to explore gifts the Lord has given me. Having done ministry with teenagers for 10 years through Younglife Christan Organisation, I am now a published children’s author,” she explained.
Mphatso obtained her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Malawi and taught in a primary school for four years.
This is where her passion for early childhood education was fuelled.
She added that she is disappointed by the focus on Western languages and culture over our own.
However, she too, has been in schools which would punish her for speaking Chichewa.
But she observed that as a young professional, speaking fluent Chichewa and understanding the Malawian culture have proved to be an asset.
“It is unfair for educators to deprive students of a holistic education by withholding local languages and culture. We can’t claim to be educating leaders of tomorrow who can’t even relate or communicate with the people they are being prepared to lead,” she said.
She said the book is also supposed to teach children how to celebrate their worth by presenting language and culture in excellent quality on shelves and e-readers alongside books from around the world.
Her hope is to see the next generation appreciating their language and culture.
The author enjoys talking to children and understanding their thoughts.
She said the book has illustrations and captions in Chichewa and English.
Her aim is to help three groups of people; children who already speak Chichewa to develop language skills.
Secondly, she wants to help children who are beginning to learn Chichewa as the illustrations will enhance their memory.
Mphatso said the third group is Children who are learning English.
She recommends the book for its affordability, easy accessibility, usage and fun.
“There is definitely a lot of work to be done at every stage of children’s development, but I realised there were not many Chichewa resources for toddlers. I decided that instead of complaining about the lack of resources, I should be part of the solution,” she said.
The book is available on Amazon.
She said her journey to accomplishing the book has been amazing and full of discovery.
“I have two children under the age of four. My mother ensured we knew who we were as Malawians despite external influence. I also decided to give my children the gift of a rich culture.
“I started making flash cards to help my children learn Chichewa. It was effective and I researched on foundational words, got them illustrated and published a book,” she said.
Mphatso has no funding for the initiative and did it as a service to her country.
Seeing the book on the market has been fulfilling, but she believes there is a lot that can be done.
The author is excited about the positive feedback from readers.
When asked how she feels about meeting children who fail to communicate in the vernacular language, Mphatso understands that raising children now is different than it was 20 years ago.
Her goal is to see this book help parents reinforce language learning for both English and Chichewa.
She balances her career and family life by setting boundaries, schedule and routines.
“I make sure that things don’t get mixed up so I have set times for work and family. I try to stop work at a set time so that it does not overflow into family time,” she added.
However, the hardest decision she ever made was giving love another chance.
She met her husband, Todd after she was widowed at the age of 25, having been married for just eight months.
“People had a lot of opinions about me remarrying, not everyone was happy for me. I was scared of experiencing loss again. But at the same time, I knew he was the one, that fear doesn’t come from the Lord and He had the final say.
“So after countless moments of prayer, tears and wrestling internally, I decided to take a leap of Faith. Five years later, I can confidently say that God is sovereign and I am glad I marred Todd. He is my gift from above,” said Mphatso.
She encourages girls to seek the Lord diligently as they can do nothing without Him.
She said: “God will help you figure out who you are and what your purpose is. Once you know who you are, it is easy to decide when to pursue relationships and when to walk away. He will help you figure out what things to spend your time on and what things are a waste of your time.”
In her free time, she loves the outdoors and hang out with people.