Kaboni Gondwe: From a helpless orphan to PhD         

Kaboni Gondwe, 34, lost her father when she was three years old. She lost her mother at 11 years old. She had challenges coping with the loss of her mother which changed her and her brothers’ financial status and gave her stress following the trauma of her loss.

In addition to dealing with that, Kaboni says she also had to cope with bullying at school as well as rising above her own perception of a woman’s role in society.

“I observed that women were only destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more. I saw young girls dropping out of school because their families opted to pay fees for boys instead. Apart from that, home economics was largely for girls while arts and crafts was only for boys.

“Working at a shop belonging to an Asian and later at a filling station was liberating for me because I had two options—get a partner to finance my needs like some girls did or work and eat the fruits of my labour. I picked the latter. To me, those humble beginnings were a sign that I can make it on my own,” she explains.

After completing her secondary school studies, Kaboni could not afford to pursue any course. As such,  she started working in the Asian’s shop at 17.

“During this time, I was discouraged and because I got little money for my work, I almost gave up on my dreams. But the memory of my mother, who had believed in me to do great things, the encouragement of those around me and my desire to contribute my best to the world pushed me,” Kaboni says.

Kaboni with brothers

At one time while working as a fuel attendant, she went to her father’s relation to ask for some money. She was given K50 with which she wrote a letter to the University of Malawi (Unima) registrar, explaining that she really wanted to be a nurse, but did not know how to go about it. Kaboni had attached her transcript in that letter.

She received forms for university entrance application in response and upon application, she was selected to Kamuzu College of Nursing.

“I remember packing my mother’s old clothes for college even though they were very big. With the support of others and my own hard work, I have made it to where I am. I continue to face challenges both in my personal and professional life, but I have learned that challenges are key to success and without them we may not have the internal and external push to work towards our dreams,” says the freshly qualified doctor.

She is now a nurse and midwife with a PhD in Nursing from Duke University’s School of Nursing and a Doctoral Certificate in Global Health from Duke Global Health Institute.

Kaboni also holds a double Master’s in Nursing Education and Nursing Administration from Ohio University; a University Certificate in Midwifery and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Kamuzu College of Nursing, both with distinctions.

She has worked as a nursing officer for Ministry of Health at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) and as a lecturer at Kamuzu College of Nursing.

The hard working and resilient woman is very passionate about research and improving health care for vulnerable populations. Her current research interests are in maternal and child health.

“In my doctoral work, I specifically looked at maternal mental health and mother-infant relationship following preterm birth because Malawi has the highest preterm birth rate in the world. I hope to generate knowledge that is applicable to Malawi and the sub-Saharan region and provide mentorship to other budding researchers,” she explains.

Kaboni notes that often, people use evidence and theories that have been tested in the developed world and plug them into a whole different culture with different values in developing countries such as Malawi.

She hopes to test these theories and also explore what is quality health care from Malawi’s perspective.

The doctor was born in Blantyre on October 11 1983, the only daughter of the late Doreen and McKnon Gondwe.

“I identify as both from Mzimba and Rumphi, as my mother is from Eliakimu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzukuzuku in Mzimba and my father is from Chamumono village, T/A Chikulamayembe in Rumphi.”

She is a sister to two brothers; Sunganani and a younger one, Kelvin and they all grew up in Blantyre, raised by their mother who worked at Sedom.

“I don’t remember much about my life when my father was alive,” says the music lover who also likes playing the piano.

Her mother is her greatest inspiration, she says. When she was younger, Kaboni saw a few females taking up leadership roles in their careers.

She explains: “Growing up and seeing the strong woman she was, I knew I could be anything I wanted to be. In addition, her words of encouragement have lived on with me even after her death to guide me in times when I want to give up. She raised me up to never give up and to trust God in everything I set my heart on.”

Kaboni advises younger girls to always have a goal in life and work towards achieving that goal.

“Living life without a vision is the same as dying while you are still breathing. Nothing in this world will come on a silver platter; therefore, you have to work hard to get what you want. Remember that failure isn’t the end of things, it is just a signal that you might need to do things differently,” she says.

Among other hobbies, the doctor likes reading books, writing, watching movies and taking walks.

Her gratitude goes to all the positivity and trust people have in her, adding that she gets inspired to be the best she can be.

She further encourages the young generation to engage in lifelong learning both in and outside the classroom.

“The world is there for us to explore and share experiences, so, go out there and learn. Do not limit yourself to things you are comfortable with. Get out of your comfort zone and learn new skills,” she says.

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