Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati has against all odds travelled an extraordinary journey to become a renowned politician with outspoken personality.
The journey started in earnest when she was selected to Providence Secondary School in 1984, at a time it was a rare feat for primary school learners to pull off, due to cut-throat competition for space at a few national boarding schools available.
Two years after earning her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 1988, Kaliati enrolled for a certificate in primary school teaching at Bembeke Teacher’s Training College in Dedza.
This opened a window of opportunity leading to her destiny.
While some regard teaching, especially at primary level, as one of less lucrative professions, Kaliati proved what the late Professor David Lubadiri once said: “It is not about one’s qualification, but what one can do with it.”
On December 18 this year, at Crossroads Hotel in Blantyre, Kaliati reached another milestone after graduating with PhD [doctor of philosophy] in gender and development studies with Mexico’s Azteca University, after successfully defending her thesis that dwelt on Analysis of Factors Affecting Participation of Women in Community Development.
This follows her bachelor’s degree in Business, Finance and Investment done online through University of Malawi’s Chancellor College and a Masters degree at Malawi Institute of Management (MIM).
She said her conferment of honorary PhDs by at least five universities did not give her total satisfaction; hence, the urge to study.
Said Kaliati: “I have five honorary doctor of philosophy degrees, but I wanted to study in class and qualify to get the paper.
“I do this to motivate and inspire my children as well as the community that I serve, which also inspires me so much.”
She said she rose through the ranks because she was proud of being a teacher.
“When I qualified as a teacher, I enjoyed my work at Thuchila Primary School and before long, I was promoted to teach at a Community Day Secondary School. Through my hard work and development that I championed at Thuchila Community Day Secondary, some people noticed that I can help in development as a Member of Parliament. That’s why they approached me to contest in primary elections.
“I became member of Parliament for Mulanje West in 1999, at a youthful age of 33. I then enrolled for an Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Development (ECD) while I was a minister and then degree, masters and PhD,” she explained.
But Kaliati said what pushed her to study was when she was demoralised in her political life and got inspired by US’s celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who said: “Turn your wounds into wisdom. You will be wounded many times in your life. Some people will call them failures. But I have learnt that failure is God’s way of saying ‘you are moving in the wrong direction’.”
“I enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in 2010 and my Masters in 2015 while I was going through difficult times in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Actually, I did my Masters while I was not a minister,” she said.
With her passion for gender issues, especially on children and women’s welfare, Kaliati said she liked her studies as they related to her daily work.
“During my research, I collected information and data as I interacted with people across the country in the course of my work. I learnt a lot from them and that made it easier to write my research paper,” she said.
Kaliati also applauded her lecturers, fellow students and those who inspired her to take up her studies.
Her achievement did not go unnoticed, though, as she received massive congratulatory messages from various people of goodwill, including Mary Chilima, wife to Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who summed up in a Facebook post: “Congratulations to Dr Patricia Akweni Kaliati on the completion of your PhD. You make us proud.”
Writing on his Facebook wall, banker and sports personality Charles Ulaya, who is also social media activist, congratulated Kaliati.
Reads Ulaya’s post, in part: “On Saturday, [December 12] the Secretary General of UTM, who is also the Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Annie Kaliati successfully defended her PhD thesis dwelt at Analysis of factors affecting participation of women in community development pursued under Azteca University (Mexico) the panel that included Dr Kamlongera and professor Kamwanje at College of Medicine. Akweni, we from Ulonda wa lero wish you all the best.”
In an interview, Ulaya said Kaliati’s feat is worth celebrating for fighting to get higher, particularly in education.
“She is one of the rare women who have shown that the sky is the limit. Despite her background as a primary school teacher, she has continued with her studies to attain a PhD, also despite being Secretary General of UTM and a Minister. Mrs Kaliati needs special congratulations knowing that she is a family woman, churchgoer and very sociable,” said Ulaya.
Since elected member of Parliament for Mulanje West in 1999 until 2018, when she lost, Kaliati has served in many ministerial portfolios in the former administrations of Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Peter Mutharika.