Twenty-five-year-old Florence Kasende, who has just been selected out of 592 applicants to represent Malawi at the MILEAD Fellowship Programme in Ghana, speaks on how far sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s come and how she plans to implement the knowledge she will acquire from the programme.
Tell me about yourself?
My name is Florence Bridget Kasende. I come from MgÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ombe Village, T/A Mwansambo in Nkhotakota district. There are four children in our family, three boys and one girl. I am the only girl and the first born.
Both my mother and father were primary school teachers and life was hard considering that my father had to support his siblings and his mother due to the death of my grandfather. Things improved when my father became a secondary school teacher.
I grew up in the rural and moved to Lilongwe with my family in 2000. My father encouraged me to study hard and get a good education. He frequently monitored my work and taught me part-time at home. Because of this, I excelled academically.
Sadly, things changed when he passed on in 2005. This was four months into my university studies at Chancellor College. I lost my father, my mentor and my financier. Life became hard for me since there was no one to support me financially. This was so because my mother could not manage to help me and also pay school fees for my two brothers who were in secondary school at that time. As such, I resorted to raising my own money.
During holidays, I would make and sell mandasi (fritters). Sometimes my motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s friends would buy me groceries and give me pocket money. In other instances, my cousin would give me transport and pocket money.
Apart from financial instability, what other challenges did you face?
I was discouraged in my education, especially during my primary school days. Most of the schools I attended were in rural areas where there were no role models. I was always a star performer in class and boys would boo me or tell me that I am wasting my time if I think I will succeed in my education.
What is MILEAD?
The Moremi Leadership Empowerment and Development (MILEAD) Fellows Programme is a one-year leadership development programme designed to identify, develop and promote emerging young African women leaders to attain and succeed in leadership positions.
It builds their knowledge skills and support network to be agents of change in their community and Africa as a whole. The programme targets dynamic young women interested in developing transformational leadership skills that help them tackle issues affecting women in their communities and society as a whole. I got to know about it through an email which my former lecturer Dr. Henry Chingaipe sent me. Then I also participated in UN-Women E- discussion with young Africans which Moremi Initiative conducted. This discussion focused on the challenges the African youths and women come across and other issues concerning women.
What did the selection process involve?
The first step was completing the online application form which included four essays, listing the community services that I have accomplished and indicating my areas of interest. I also submitted my resume and two references from my manager and my former lecturer.
After the application, out of 592 applicants, I was shortlisted for phone interviews which focused on leadership skills, problems Malawian women face and my interest in community service. I also filled a questionnaire to show my commitment to the MILEAD Fellowship. About 26 young women have been selected from Africa.
In your briefing, you mentioned that the selection process required demonstration of an outstanding leadership promiseÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
I had to tell them my accomplishments and the leadership roles that I played. These include all the activities I have been involved in. I have been a member of Young Politicians Union, Chancellor College chapter; Peace and Conflict Management Society; Political and Administrative Studies Society.
I have also held different positions in CCAP student organisation while at Chancellor College. In addition; I was involved with Chikondi Orphan Care, which helps orphans and chronically ill people was voluntary. Through the activities of these organisations, I have demonstrated my potential for leadership in initiatives beneficial to the wider society.
Could you explain how you demonstrated commitment to the advancement of women in Africa?
I had to show that I have knowledge of the problems facing women in Africa. I did this through writing an essay which outlined the problems Malawian women face and I provided what I believe would be solutions to these.
In addition, the experience that I have had with rural women in the course of my work has increased my passion to become a change agent in the lives of African women.Ã‚Â I have always wanted to implement a project aimed at encouraging girlsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ education, supporting girls who dropped out of school, civic educating women about their rights and many more. Thus, I indicated to Moremi Initiative that I believe through its programme I am going to get support to implement such projects.
What does representing your country mean to you?
I feel honoured and I am excited because I know this is the beginning of bigger things in my life. Since I was young, I wanted to be a leader and help poor people, especially women, orphans and girls. I have always wanted to advance womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rights and dignity.
What are you hoping to learn?
I expect the programme to equip me with excellent skills in leadership, research, advocacy and activism. I expect to have hands on experience in womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s issues and empowerment. I intend to impart whatever skills and knowledge I acquire from the Fellowship Programme to the youth and women when I come back. Furthermore, as a fellow I will be supported in implementing individual community projects on issues of importance to my peers, community and country.
What are some of the challenges you encounter?
The greatest challenge is lack of support from people. Most of the times, people do not take young women seriously. This affects me since I am young and sometimes lack the experience to implement the ideas or to use creativity in tackling other issues.
In addition, my ideas and visions are often ignored because of my status in the community, my age or because they are different from other peoples/ organisationsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ perspectives.
What were your lowest moments?
My lowest moment was when I lost my father. It really affected me and the Florence inside me was crushed. Another moment was when my first contract with Care International ended. I stayed for six months without employment and yet I had to pay fees for my two brothers who were in college. As a result, my younger brother had to stay home for three months waiting for me to raise money for his school fees.
How did you rise above them?
I realised that remaining in mourning would not help matters, considering that I am the first born and have the responsibility of educating my brothers and supporting my mother. I just focused on my studies and started selling fritters during holidays.
Through this, I got pocket money and was able to help my mother.Ã‚Â I also started selling second hand clothes to raise fees for my brothers until Care reemployed me. Determination and lack of fear drive me to achieve my goals.
What are your plans?
My plans are to go further with my education, probably get a masters degree and PhD in the field of public policy.
Do you have a boyfriend?
(Laughs) Yes I do. His name is Patrick Chinguwo. He is a very supportive partner and he is the one who encouraged me to apply for the fellowship. When I doubted myself and wanted to give up on it, he advised me to keep going.
- Mpherere Primary School in Ntchisi
- Kasangadzi, Chamalire, Nkhotakota LEA and Nkhotakota CCAP primary schools in Nkhotakota.
- Mwansambo Secondary School in Nkhotakota
- Ludzi girls Secondary SchoolÃ‚Â Mchinji
- Attained a Bachelor of Arts in public administration degree from Chancellor College.
- Is working with Care International in Malawi as a field research scientist.