Today, I am celebrating the great life of national service, my father who, at 60, and after 36 years of serving the education sector, has finally retired.
Of course, a lot of people retire at some point. But there is something gold about my father–Joseph Nyondo–that represents the general story of most Malawian teachers—a story of heroic citizens that retire in silence, unnoticed and without a name.
It was in 1977—during the formative years of Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorship—when my father first tasted the feel of public service. He was a primary school teacher, serving children, somewhere in the remote and impoverished Chikwina, Nkhata Bay.
He barely goes public about the pupils he taught there. Whenever he gets the chance he tells you that most of his first pupils are renowned bankers, shrewd politicians, erudite academicians and the list is endless.
Well, the first test of his spirit as a fresh graduate, married with two children, came when he was posted to a remotest primary school that did not have a single house for teachers. He was put up in a church as his new community hunted for a house for him.
They found a one-roomed, grass-thatched squatter built of mud but had no window. That is where he called home and taught hundreds at Ching’oma Primary School pupils.
That was his first lesson of being a teacher in Malawi. And in the 36 years he has served—without protesting and quitting—he has gone through a great deal of frustrations that questioned his cause to stay the course.
In the 80s, for instance, he experienced the worst of a government drunk with the curse of tribalism and regionalism. Teachers with ‘Northern’ surnames such as his were, like stray dogs, ‘chased’ from the Southern and Central regions of a country they called home. He saw innocent and dedicated teachers being shipped and dumped in their home villages—punished for sins they hardly committed.
As if that was not enough, he saw the same government introducing a terrible university selection called Quota system.
In all these, he kept his cool. He did not protest. He did not resign. And he did not relent—or even go slow in teaching Malawian children with different surnames.
When democracy wiped Dr Banda’s autocracy, he was among the happiest teachers, over the moon that change would come their way. They thought they will live in better houses. They thought their salaries would no longer be demeaning.
Former president Bakili Muluzi introduced free primary school education that almost quadrupled pupil’s enrollment. His classrooms were packed, the resources not forthcoming but still living on a meagre salary in a shanty house.
As usual, he did not protest. Around 1997, the Chatsika Report well documented their pains, and government–with words–managed to put a smile on their face. There was going to be a fundamental change in their conditions of service. But it never came their way.
As usual he did not protest.
Since then, he has seen this and that policy being changed in the country’s education system. Both as a teacher and an administrator, he has struggled to understand why almost every year there is a new intervention in the country’s education sector. He wonders if ever our planners have time to monitor and evaluate these interventions.
Well, as usual he did not protest. And so he has remained till date—a patient, hardworking public servant with a strong cause to educate more without favour.
As he settles—perhaps pondering on writing a book—at his home in Karonga, his story to me, is one big story of heroes that serve with diligence yet retire silently without medals.
To me, my father is the face of quiet heroes that we have all come across. They’re not famous. Their names are not in the newspapers. But, each and every day they work hard for our sake.