As we continue featuring Women of Distinction Awardees, this week our correspondent Martha Chirambo sits down for a heart to heart with Gertrude Kasopa, who was awarded in the education category. A 37-year-old PTE3 primary school teacher with passion in the education welfare of girls, Kasopa encourages girls in primary schools to fully utilise their potential in mathematics and science.
You were one of the few who were awarded during the first Women of Distinction Awards. What do you make out of this?
It is overwhelming to be recognised and awarded out of millions of people. The award came as a surprise. I was very happy because I did not expect it. When I got the news of the award, I could not believe it. I have passion for work and I do it at will, I have never thought that anyone would notice and appreciate what I do.
What do you think earned you the award?
I would not be the best person to outline that but perhaps I was recognised because I always work hard in everything, particularly in promotion of girlsâ€™ education. There are some girls who drop out of school because of laziness and lack of encouragement from their homes. I have a strong passion for girls.
Apart from teaching, what else do you do?
I am a business lady. I trade in a variety of groceries. Apart from that, I am also a matron of Girl Guide Association at school. This association guides girls in self-defence, self-reliance and charity work, among others.
What is your normal working day like?
Though most people think teaching is as simple as ABC, I must say it requires a lot of dedication.Â I am usually busy preparing my lesson plan as well as teaching and learning aids. Thereafter, I make sure that my family is well taken care of. In between these two, I also manage my investments. In all these, I am able to manage my time.
Any significant challenges that you meet in the course of your work?
It is hard to assist each child as an individual because of lack of teaching and learning resources. Therefore, we do not reach out to each and every child. Imagine, I handle a class of 150 children. Sometimes when I hand out exercises, some pupils do not submit their work because they assume I will not notice, but I am always able to follow up on this and catch them out. I think the high teacher-pupil ratio affects the quality of education in the country. Furthermore, some pupils attend classes without basic learning materials such as pens and exercise books. These pupils do not hand in their work. They depend on us teachers to help them out. If we do not assist, they resort to stealing from others.
What motivates you to concentrate in championing girl child education irrespective of these challenges?
Growing up was not easy. Life was tough. I helped my family bring in income through selling fritters (mandazi) and sugar cane. This upbringing taught me that the girl-child faces a lot of challenges. Because of this, I have developed a passion for girls who drop out of school due to financial constraints or are struggling because they were born in families that are not financially stable. My humble background also helped me realise that it is hard for most girls to get an education. Instead of sending their girls to school, most parents ask them to run errands on their behalf. Therefore, girls are at a disadvantage in as far as education is concerned. I would rather they go to school first, then do the rest later.
So how do you champion this cause?
It is probably a gift from God because it comes naturally to me. Whenever I notice a girl who is out of school, I approach her, then meet with her parents or guardians to get their side of the story. Most parents support my cause. Most admit that they are unaware that education is vital to their girls. Thereafter, I talk to the girls to encourage them to enrol at the nearest education centre. There are times I even go a mile further to talk to head teachers on the kind of support the girls need.
Does this Women of Distinction recognition have any positive impact on your efforts?
Of course it does! This award is a big motivation. I hope it will help me double my efforts in this work that I do. It has re-ignited the fire to promote girlâ€™s education within me.
You have been a teacher for 18 years. Have you made any significant achievements on your project?
The image of a 15-year-old girl I met while teaching at Potola in Zomba refuses to leave my mind. I met her in 2000. She was so young, yet she dropped out of school in Standard Five and married. She had two children. One had to only look at her to realise that she and her children were suffering. It broke my heart. When I approached her, she welcomed the idea and enrolled at the school. The headteacher was very supportive and closely monitored her performance. She was a star performer who was promoted to Standard Six in a few months. She was resilient, she completely ignored other pupils that bullied her. I am pretty sure that she has or will be a success story, wherever she is right now.
Is there any other case that you would also like to share with us?
When I joined St Johnâ€™s Primary School, I noticed this intelligent eight-year-old girl who always looked unkempt. My heart bled for her because she reminded me of my past. I began supporting her and she would spend her holidays at my house. When classes resumed, I would give her soap, clothes and all necessities. I helped her until she relocated to Dedza.
As a woman, what challenges do you think Malawian women are facing.
Mmmmh!Â women are facing countless challenges. If they shared their stories, you would shed tears. Domestic violence is rampant in most families, yet most women do not voice it out. This worries me because domestic violence affects the performance of children in school. I feel there is need for policies to deal with men who abuse women in any way.
Your interest is biased towards girls education, what are some of the major challenges you think Malawian girls face?
Some of these girls are not as innocent as you think they are. Some of them are involved in drug and substance abuse. Some do this to seek attention or because they have low self-esteem. Some girls lack encouragement from parents, which is a shame.
How do you think these can be resolved?
I would like to appeal to parents to love and support their girls by sending them to school, so that they grow up to become financially independent citizens. We also need to have more role models holding career talks with the girls. This will boost their self-esteem.
Teaching is a calling. How did you find yourself in this profession?
I have a heart to serve. It was my will to work with children; mostly the disadvantaged. My passion was to become a nurse, but because of reasons beyond my control, I could not pursue my dream. I therefore joined the education sector as I would also interact more with people and serve my community. I was on the right track. I started out on 26th September 1994 as a temporary teacher at Kaduya Primary School in Phalombe. I then followed my husband to Zomba where I was posted at Cobbe Barracks Primary school. I worked for five years before being transferred to St Joseph Girls Primary School. From there I was posted to Mpata Primary School. I worked at Mpata for nine months. Mind you, during this period I was still a temporary teacher. I then went to upgrade my education at Blantyre Teachers Training College. Thereafter, I was posted to Satemwa Primary School where I worked for two years. From there I was moved to Potola Primary School at Ntiya, in Zomba. In 2004 I was posted to Zomba Police College Primary School where I worked for a year before moving to Mwenyekondo Primary School in Lilongwe. From there, I was posted atÂ Mbuka Primary School before I followed my husband to Mzuzu. We again relocated to Lilongwe and I was posted to my current station, St Johnâ€™s Catholic Primary School. I reported for duties on 7th January 2008.
You mentioned that growing up was tough. Could you elaborate on this?
I was born on 28 August 1975 at Lusaka Hospital in Zambia to Emma and Reuben Kasopa. I am a fifth born in a family of eleven (Nine surviving now). My family then moved to Zimbabwe. We later came home in 1981 when I was six years old and settled at Namikango Mission in Thondwe, Zomba District. Life was tough because my parents were not working.Â We often covered a distance of three kilometres to Nankumba Primary School, sometimes on an empty stomach. I did not have much time to play with my peers because most of the time I was busy running errands and selling fritters. I persevered till I sat for my Malawi School Certificate of Education(MSCE) examination. When I did my Primary School. I did not perform well during my MSCE; hence I failed to further my studies. It was not the end of the road for me, because when a vacancy was created in 1994 for Temporary Primary School Teachers, I jumped at the opportunity. After working for three years, I was selected to go for a three-month crucial teaching course atÂ Blantyre Teachers Training College.Â I graduated in December 1999 with a Certificate in Education.
Can you tell us about your immediate family?
I am married to Leonard Chitimbe. We have four children, three girls and a boy. My first born is Pilirani(20) a school leaver. The second born is Patuma(17), who is doing her Form Four at Mai Halima Private Secondary School, then Gloria (15) in Form Three at Police Secondary School and lastly a boy Godbless(4). My husband is very supportive. He is the one who sponsors some of my initiatives in supporting girlsâ€™ education.
During your free time, what do you like doing most?
I love baking.
How do you look at the future?
My future looks bright, mostly because I am upgrading my studies. I will rewrite my MSCE exams this year.