It is a common belief that some pursuits are better suited to those that are young than to the older folk. Education is one of such pursuits.
Occasionally, some people defy the odds and turn the tables upside down. Attending a funeral in the Nsalu area in Lilongwe rural recently, I came face to face with an interesting character in the name of James Msampha Mwale, from Msampha Village, T/A Kabudula. By any standards, James is not a young man but at 72, he is a Form Two student at Nsalu Secondary School, probably the oldest student in the world.
Having left school in 1965, his interest in education was rekindled when he met Mr Kam’mwamba, the head teacher of Katsumwa Primary School in the area. James had approached the head teacher to borrow money so that he could travel to Johannesburg, South Africa, to better his lot. Kam’mwamba referred him to a fellow head teacher based at another school, a Mr Chidyera of a nearby Malimbe Primary School.
When Msampha met Chidyera, the latter was intrigued by the former’s articulation of English and asked him how far he had gone with his school. Msampha told his would be lender that he had gone as far as Standard 7 and had dropped out in 1965. He could not proceed because he had lost his parents. Chidyera then suggested that he should seriously consider going back to school.
Msampha gave this suggestion some serious thought and finally enrolled for Form One at the nearby Nsalu Secondary School. He is now in the process of preparing for his Junior Certificate examinations.
By contrast, many younger people feel that they are too old for education. I remember being persuaded by a relative of mine to take his daughter from the village so that she could go to school in town, and I obliged. At that time this girl was in Standard Five but knew not a single word of English. When I asked her what she had learnt in Standard One or Two in terms of English, she retorted that she could not remember because it was such a long time back. Implicitly, what she was saying was that she was too old for Standard One or Two material.
Msampha teaches us that you are never too old for education. Yes, at old age you may be physically challenged because some of your faculties may have started to slow down, but what is important is your determination. If you are determined, senility, real or imagined, will not hold you back. It certainly has not held Msampha back. Our young people should be challenged by Msampha’s determination and those who were on the verge of giving up on school would better rethink.
Msampha told me that his ambition was to become a CCAP pastor. That means he has to continue with his education so that he should obtain a Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE), which will enable him to be admitted to the theological college. What I picked from this was that this man had specific goals and he had a strategy to realise them. Many people go through life without any goal, any ambition or strategy. Little wonder that they achieve nothing. Let us humbly learn from James Msampha Mwale.
He may have some weaknesses, but shyness is not one of them. He tries out his English on anybody that presents the opportunity to him. His English is not exactly grammatical, but he is not bothered. He likes to use flashy words, sounding almost like Nicholas Dausi. If you ask him, “How are you?” his response will be something like: “I am vivid, what about yourself?”
The lesson from this great attitude is that shyness will get you nowhere in learning a new language. Many people shy away from trying out their English for fear of being laughed at in case they make mistakes. What I know is that even the English people themselves make English mistakes. It is better to speak (or write)something, make mistakes, and get them corrected than to keep quiet and get nowhere. That to me is progress. And Msampha is making lots of it.
—The author is a printing service provider and a social commentator.