She is the co-founder of Cresta Ladies, a grouping of women in Lilongwe which saves money for loans in an effort to uplift their lives. She also supports women and girls through her gender and development talks; and reaches out to students in need of financial support. EW spoke with her
May I know you?
I am the first born in a family of four children. I am 49 years-old, come from Nansanya Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Mchilamwera in Thyolo. I am very passionate about women and girls rights. I work as country director at ICAP- Columbia University.
Tell me about your childhood
I did not have a privileged childhood. I was raised by a single mother who worked hard to support me and my siblings. My father passed away in 1991. Because of tough life, I matured quickly by helping my mother take care of the family. We could grow and sell cooked cassava, potatoes and other merchandise to meet our daily needs. My mother also worked as a nurse. I grew to the realisation that a woman’s role in society is central and critical in bringing up children, married or not.
What is your education background?
I went to Dedza Roman Catholic Primary School and Thyolo Secondary School where I did forms One and Two. I completed forms Three and Four at Stella Maris Secondary School. However, I was not satisfied with my Malawi School Certificate of Examination (MSCE) results. So, in 1988, I repeated Form Four at Our Lady of Wisdom Secondary School in Blantyre and passed with a distinction. Because of my passion to help the needy, I joined the Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) after my secondary education. MMS is a congregation of women in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to providing better access to health care to the poor, especially women.
I pursued my diploma in nursing and midwifery at Nairobi Hospital in Kenya from 1990 to 1994. In October 1994, I started working at Phalombe Holy Family Hospital after which I went to Catholic Secretariat where I worked as a volunteer on a gender mission. I helped set-sup the gender desk at the Catholic Secretariat.
Later on in 2000, I did a degree in social ministry at Tangaza College – a Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Kenya and graduated in 2003 with a distinction. I was the only person who got a distinction in my class during that year. Then I went straight to UK where I studied masters in Gender Analysis and Development. After I graduated, I returned to Malawi to work with Global Aids Interfaith Alliance (GAIA) from 2005 to 2011 as a programme manager.
ICAP is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) under working in about 21 countries, mostly in Africa, in the area of HIV and Aids.
Tell me about Cresta Ladies
This is more like the Village Savings Loans (VSLs) which are now becoming popular in our villages and rural communities. We started this group to help women make ends meet or have plans to build a house or start a business. This is a self-sustainable initiative aimed at empowering and encouraging women to be independent. As of now, we are 25 members, but I am sure the number will increase soon. I am a member of the steering committee of the group.
I have completed constructing my house in Area 43 in Lilongwe, currently working on a guest wing. I am proud to say that Cresta Ladies has helped me with this.
Can you shade more light on the talks you give on gender and women empowerment?
I want young women in our communities to realise their potential while they are still young. I used to give talks on gender, empowerment and career development to girls in secondary schools, at church and homes. I still do this on my free time and weekends. First and foremost, education is the key to empowerment and good future. Through those interactions, I support young women with an interest in continuing with their education, but lack financial means. Currently, I have supported a few girls with their secondary and tertiary education at Natural Resources College (NRC) in Lilongwe.
Why the interest to help women and girls?
There are a lot of capable women with various skills suffering because there is no one to enlighten them and give them support to realise their potential. I was very impressed with the MMS mission to help and empower the poor, particularly women. I left the sisterhood in 2008, but I continue to respond to God’s call as a single woman.
What role has your family and relatives played in your life?
God has worked his wonders through many people to be where I am today. My mother used to tell us that sharing is more like banking, Kupatsa n’kusunga in Chichewa. I shared with my siblings and other people the little that we had. That’s how I learned about sharing and decided to join the sisterhood. My family has been with me especially when I needed them most. Even now, I cannot live alone. I stay with my three nieces and a sister.
How do you balance your life?
I have come to learn how to divide my work. I write down what I am going to do the next day . This helps me focus on my work when I am at the workplace and concentrate on my family when I am at home. Usually on weekends, I interact with fellow women and girls through my girl talks and meetings such as Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) meetings where I am also a member.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy taking small walks in the morning. I also like reading books and articles about gender and development which give tips on personal and career development. I also love spending time with my family and friends.
What is your message to women and girls?
They should know that there is always room for every person in this world. It is not easy to get a job, but with hard work, focus and luck, one is bound to get one. But first, one needs a plan and focus on how you will achieve your plan. Even if you are at work, don’t wait for your boss to tell you what to do. Career development is your personal responsibility and personal choice. Find out the gaps at your company or organisation and assist your supervisor in filling those gaps to open up opportunities. I believe that the sky is indeed the limit for every woman out there. And do not forget to help your friends as you move forward.