Chipiliro Mponda: Malawi Shipping Company captain

Her name is Chipiliro Mponda. She is 27, a female excelling in a male dominated field.

Mponda is a captain sailing one of the local vessels, the Ilala, across the Lake Malawi. She is the only active female captain working at the Malawi Shipping Company.

Captain Mponda in the line of duty
Captain Mponda in the line of duty

As her feminist sisters cheer her on in the background every day for her courage, the silent cheers serve as a badge of honour that she wears on her chest.

Anyone would be proud of that, but it is no walk in the park to wear her shoes. Mponda is constantly working away from home and family and has to make her voice a bit louder to be heard, being a woman in a leading role, among other things.

“Some passengers are not used to having a female captain, so, sometimes it becomes difficult to order them to do something. They undermine me. For instance, I might give a safety precaution during sail, or give passengers a simple order to move their luggage; it takes time for them to comply because they are not used to taking orders from a woman,” she explains.

Born at Liwonde Hospital in Machinga, the young woman comes from Mangochi. She did not grow up in one place because her mother was in the Civil Service as director of finance, they moved a lot. They lived in Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mangochi and Nkhota-Kota.

She read for her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) at St Monica Girls Secondary School between 2002 and 2005, after leaving Chitawira Primary School in Blantyre.

Mponda, the second born of three children began her career journey in the marine sector in June 2010, soon after her studies at the Malawi Marine Training College in Monkey-Bay where she attained her advanced diploma in Marine Navigation.

Says Mponda:  “I then decided to upgrade. And in 2012, I upgraded to marine master class two. In 2014, I sat for another examination, marine master class one which I passed and qualified as a captain. I had always wanted to do something challenging so when this opportunity came and also with encouragement from my mother I went for the Marine Navigation training; and here I am now.”

Growing up, she always dreamed of becoming an engineer, but then settled for this due to other circumstances.

She has been working with Malawi Shipping Company, sailing both passenger and cargo ships as a second mate since 2010. She worked as a first mate between 2012 and 2014 in ships like M.V. Katundu, M.V. Chilembwe and also M.V. Ilala.

Realising the need to constantly upgrade oneself, Mponda plans to further her studies, funds willing.

“I would like to study for a degree in Marine Navigation in Sweden,” she says.

Mponda likes many things about her job sailing on the fresh waters of Lake Malawi. Among others, she says the job teaches her a lot of things.

“This is the kind of job where you have to be active all the time because a single mistake can cost you a lot. In addition, being in a job that requires care and safety, I love it when we go on voyage and reach our destination with passengers as well as the whole crew and vessel, safe. I also appreciate the team spirit we have,” she says.

However, the captain admits that it was difficult at first, being surrounded by men all the time. With time she taught herself to also live like men, doing what they do, and to not always look at herself as a woman. That has worked wonders and she now blends well with all her colleagues.

“I am actually thankful to my male colleagues because they do not think of me merely as a woman, but a colleague. They correct me when I’m wrong and teach me everything I need to know for the smooth running of our work,” she explains.

Like most girls who have been raised by a single parent, Mponda says her mother is her biggest role model. She describes her as a hard working woman and says she admired her so much and wanted to be like her, though in a different job.

It is not easy to work away from home and away from family members for longer times. It is even harder if most of the people one works with are men and that calls for focus in someone that would like to take the career path that Mponda took.

Hard work is the biggest key of excellence in this job according to her and she advises younger girls to have resilience if they wish to take the same career path, as she says it is one of the most challenging jobs.

“One needs to really have the will to work hard, to excel in this job. I cannot lie, this job is a real challenge and it takes strong mindedness and bravery,” she says.

As a way of relaxing when she is not sailing, Captain Mponda likes to read books, watch movies and spend time with family and friends. She also likes travelling, seeing new places and meeting new people.

She was born on February 18 in 1989 and comes from Chigonele Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba in Mangochi. Mponsa has a brother, Elton and a sister Edda.

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