Zeria Banda started out as a teacher geared to make a difference in the lives of secondary school students. Today she works as communications officer, and has dedicated her life to changing lives through selfless giving and writing.
At 23, Banda graduated with a Bachelors of Education from Chancellor College and went straight to practice what she was trained in- in rural Mchinji at Ludzi Girls Secondary School.
“I taught for only two years, English and Geography. I loved teaching, I would do it again. But living in rural Mchinji was not thrilling for someone born and brought up in the city. So I just wanted to move,” she says.
Banda was raised in the streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, home to more than a million people.
“I had a fairly comfortable life living in the city in a middle income country where I was born. I was completely raised by my own parents. Had utterly no experience living in other people’s homes,” she says.
All her holidays were spent at home as other people came to their house almost every holiday. She is very much used to hosting people and not being hosted starting from her parent’s house, she observes.
Banda at an early age learnt to take charge both at home and at school, becoming the headgirl at Njube High School in Bulawayo at the age of 15.
At 16, she decided she wanted to study at the University of Malawi. She was admitted to Chancellor College the following year.
“My parents were extremely supportive of my bold pathway venturing into a country they called home but, totally strange to me. I first set foot in Malawi in 1983 and have been in and out of the country, returning to work in my birth country from 1999-2005.”
“I was very much a favourite child, not spoilt per-say, but I got most of the things I wanted. I, however, did not inherit any estate from my parents, but I inherited much greater values that helped me create my own estate,” she narrates her childhood.
On her path to that creation, a journalism job is what she began with, joining Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) as a News editor – English Desk in 1990.
“That time there was no journalism school in Malawi so my English major in college was good enough.”
Within a year, she says, she moved to the Reporting unit. Thereafter she embarked on building her capacity as a journalist, in the process earning a two-year Diploma in Communication Studies from the Polytechnic in 1996, another two years later, a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Ball State University in the United States of America (USA).
The class of 1996 at the Polytechnic was the pioneer to the current journalism programmes at the Polytechnic. She says it started as a small class of six students, admitting those who were already holding first degrees at that time.
“Most of us came from MBC, with only one from Malawi News Agency. I was the only female student,” she says.
Today, Banda at 54, has a 28-year track record in media and development communications, 20 of which in international development organisations.
Currently working as a communications officer for World Bank Group, managing Africa communications and partnerships, she tells of her successes.
“Every time I win competitively in my career path that’s most memorable. I got all my jobs competitively starting from MBC in 1990 through to the World Bank in Washington in November 2018, she says.”
She inevitably competed against giants in the profession but was always proud to come out atop.
Her first international job was with the Global Water Partnership in Harare where she competed against men only from five other Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) countries to be the regional communications officer.
“That was sweet success, “she exclaims.
Building her very first house in Namiwawa which she completed in 2013 is another memorable achievement.
“I built this house from my salary over a 10-year period. I had no loan over it. So when I finished it I really felt very good and more geared to build more,” she says.
However, through her long birthday celebration traditions, she has been able to reach out not only to her family and community she works with but her village, Phanga in Ntcheu.
“Annually, I reward myself on my birthday in a special way – I travel to fine spots within Africa, a continent I truly love – from the Egyptian pyramids in 1999 to Robben Island in South Africa, and many others in-between over the years.”
But the most memorable achievement was for her birthday in 2017 – which was going to her village in Ntcheu and building a church for God so His children can worship in a decent place.
She built a church, two years after pledging to construct a new one for her community in Phanga Village in Ntcheu as part of her birthday thanksgiving.
August, 2019, Zeria handed over a K16.7 million building to Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church.
“I go to the village very often, so I could see this was a very big need, she says.”
The church is a special way of spoiling herself while appreciating in essence that everything belongs to God and giving back to him should be nothing but a tone of joy- relieved to have finally delivered her promise.
Five friends she considers true, Banda says contributed K600 000 without her asking to support the building of the church.
“They felt it in their heart to support. My family helped with supervision and coordination, the village church community with sand and water, so I did not pay for these. I am truly grateful for their support,” says Banda, who learnt from her parents the importance of putting God first, gratefulness, hardwork, integrity, cleanliness, orderliness, and giving.
In class of 1988 at Chancellor College, she was voted the most sincere, she says looking back on how she has built her life.
One achievement she is yet to celebrate is the completion of her book titled: Kamuzu: In His Own Words.
“It’s all done just waiting to be published. I basically capitalised on my profession as a journalist and collected more than 300 quotes from Kamuzu’s speeches from the 1960s to his last one conceding defeat at the 1994 elections.”
She says colleagues who have read the script say it’s an amazing piece of work- learning about Kamuzu from what he said.
The whole book does not contain a word from any other person – it’s simply in his own words.
Though her contributions speak of beauty, Banda say she has faced many challenges in her life but has been able to ride over that which could potentially pull her off-course.
“In the midst of all hell seemingly breaking loose, I’ve been able to make decisions and implement them,” she says.
“One major development that truly challenged me was losing two brothers and my father in the same year 2005.
“I resolved to step into their shoes and be the father, brother, uncle to their children, siblings, and the widows. Standing-up for my family in this way has not been easy over the years, but with God’s grace and determination, it’s been doable,”says Banda.
One way of overcoming was to accept the challenge, “I could not be continually in a mode of feeling sorry for myself with arms folded – that could not rescue the family from that difficult situation,” says Banda.
Banda has continuously ridden the path to bettering the people around her, her village and her family, proving to herself that she can and she will do it, she says,
“Empowering myself for the common good drives me. In my life I don’t just aspire, I go ahead and level the playing field in my mind, tell myself that I will do it, then deliver.”
“As girls and women, we ought to have that mindset that we are equally important to the development of our families and country, and we ought to play our part in all aspects by being decisive people with integrity, and a spine to take positive action,” she advises.