Her true life story, which was punctuated with highs and lows in equal measure; including rejection, stands to serve as an inspiration to many a girl child in the country where as she (herself) once dropped out of school to nurse a child after being impregnated before picking up the pieces later. Today, she drives a national network whose core is advocating for girls’ education and against gender-based violence (GBV). FATSANI GUNYA writes her story.
“An educated Malawian girl has high earning potential, enjoys good health; she is less likely to marry as a teenager, has fewer children, less likely to be a victim of gender based violence (GBV), more likely to educate her children, be productive to the community and the country at large.”
Not only does the quote perfectly depicts what her organisation- Girls Empowerment Network (Genet)’s- mission statement; she is a living testimony.
Today, such an experience is proving vital in instilling hope in girls who might otherwise feel alone.
Genet strengthens and amplifies young women’s voices by empowering them to advocate their rights and claim them from duty bearers.
Born on July 19 1988 at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre to Sylvester Kamzimbi-Jere and the late Letwin Nyirenda from Mabulabo in Mzimba, Lindiwe Jere is an entertainer, loves dance and music. But most importantly, she is a mother, an entrepreneur and a human rights advocate.
She is the third born in a family of six sisters and two brothers.
A devoted Christian, the single mother who jokingly says she is ‘still looking for the right one, is a fighter who now believes in second chances. Falling from grace gave her the much-needed resilience to strive for excellence.
“I fell pregnant in 2015, but things didn’t work out. It was not easy being pregnant out of wedlock. I had just started building my career and with the work I do, my pregnancy really didn’t fit into the picture.
“My family was obviously disappointed in me; the world around us laughed and we were dressed in shame. I became bitter and failed to work. I remember missing some important workshops and international trips because I couldn’t concentrate. I had sleepless nights and to sum it up, I was always sad,” she explains.
But with time, Lindiwe knew the choice was hers, irrespective of her current situation. She still had to be in charge of her future and that of her unborn baby.
She adds: “I realised I had to pick up the pieces and move forward. My daughter Israel was born and I was fortunate to have my family help me take care of her.”
Talk of single parenting, she had a dose of it and what it feels like during her childhood. Hers was one big family with only a single parent supporting everyone through an average job.
“That meant attending public schools as we couldn’t even dream of attending private schools; not even a cheap one. I recall us [the children] helping the family earn an income by selling ice lollies [freezes] and second hand clothes.”
Lindiwe went to Lilongwe Primary School and Mwenyekondo in the Capital’s high density residential area of Phwetekere (Area 36) before her parents relocated to Blantyre where she attended Chirimba Primary School.
But with the passage of time, fortunes changed. Her mum’s small scale business started blossoming. She was operating a tailoring shop and the family later sent her to Carewell Private School and later to Phwezi Girls’ Secondary School from where she obtained her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).
Of course she reveals all was not rosy as she cites several occasions when she could be sent back over fees.
“Most times, I was the schools’ laughing stock over the fees. We could go to school without pocket money, but my parents, who believed in education a lot, spurred me on.
Having missed out on the University of Malawi admission despite sitting the entrance examinations, Lindiwe finally found solace at the University of Livingstonia where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
This opened her eyes to wider prospects in life; the academic circles in particular. She has wanted to push for more since then. Most importantly, she learnt the ropes to self-sustainability.
Lindiwe admits growing up without a role model and no carrier guidance as she went through primary and college education.
“I might have not landed myself my ‘dream’ job, but I still find what I do to be three times interesting and better than what I dreamt of then. The passion in doing what I do now is the difference, I guess,” she says.
The activist claims her background only increased the passion in her to work for the benefit of the marginalised and disadvantaged girls whose list includes rural adolescent girls, street girls, girls living with HIV and Aids, girls with disability, orphans and their communities.
But she insists this is a life she would choose for her daughter; holding all factors constant.
Lindiwe says: “Of course, Israel’s father supports her, but since she stays with me, I do most things for her. Single parenting with a mobile job such as mine isn’t easy because my daughter misses the care of her parents, but we try to be there for her.”
Today, as Genet’s programme manager she says the organisation looks at the girl, firstly, as a human being whose rights should be respected; just like those of any other person.
“Genet envisions a world where empowered girls and young women are free to exercise their rights and live peacefully in a just, humane and equitable society,” she adds.
The organisation was formed in 2008 by young Malawian women and operates through forming girls’ networks. It uses various approaches such as communication and networking; workshops and training; lobbying and advocacy within the framework of social behaviour change models.
“We look at young girls as being future leaders. They are born powerful and beautiful who can be anything. Girls are more vulnerable to abuse because of their age, biological nature and the price that society puts on them and, therefore, they need special attention as well as special interventions.”
But her way to the top did not come on a silver platter. She has had her own share of hustles. Job seeking was one of them and it became even harder with single parenthood.
When she graduated, she taught in various schools. This, she says, is where she interacted with girls a lot and heard their everyday challenges.
“I could relate with them. When I listened to the girl’s stories, I felt like offering them more than just encouragement to work hard because their problems were bigger than just the lack of school fees or career guidance,” she says.
Lindiwe has realised that in life, they are cultural hindrances and psycho social issues affecting girls and their education.
“At the last school I taught, Linga Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Nkhotakota. I was introduced to a youth development project called Young Women Can Do It where I got trained in how to protect girls from violence. Right from that moment, I realised that was what I wanted to do.
But the persevering spirit she honed from her mother kept her going until GENET came calling for an interview.
“They wanted a project manager for their Keeping Girls in School100%- Menstrual hygiene management project. I was successful in the interview and here I am today!” Lindiwe explains.
The interview ends up with a powerful punch from someone who is taking her advocacy seriously: “Personally, I want to see happy and liberated girls in positions of power. I want to see girls who stand up for their rights, make their own decisions about their body, their reproductive health, career and choice when and who to marry.”