The Big Interview

Malawi’s national woman of distinction!

At the recent Women of Distinction Awards (Woda), Felicity Rozina Malewezi, was the only woman who left with two awards, the Science and Technology Award and the National Woman of Distinction Award. Her supportive husband of 42 years, former vice president Justin Malewezi and son Quabaniso were right beside her. Cheu Mita sat down with this woman of distinction at their quaint retirement home in Likuni.

Did you expect to win the awards?

No, I didn’t expect it, especially the second one. It was a great surprise to me. But there are two areas that I am passionate about, one of them being girls’ participation in nontraditional subjects or subjects perceived to be male and I am really concerned about the plight of orphans, in particular, their education needs.

I believe children’s need s should not be buried with their parents. These things preoccupy my time now. I still advocate for girls’ full participation in school and science subjects. I talk to teachers and parents or to individuals. I set up an NGO called Mwana wa Mnzako in 2003 which pays school fees for an average of 60 secondary students a year. These are areas which I think people noticed for me to win the award.

What is the idea behind Mwana wa Mnzako?

Mwana wa Mnzako is a name from the proverb Mwana wa mnzako ndiwako yemwe. It was registered as a CBO in 2003, after I retired and it was registered as a full NGO last year. We worked with funding from Germany. A study was done that showed children were heading families as orphans and the majority of children that dropped out of school were girls.

It is my strong belief that education should be made accessible to all and the NGO was set up to offer orphans an opportunity to access and complete a secondary school education. The organisation is also financing the education of one of its former MSCE graduates at the Polytechnic who is studying engineering. She has managed to overcome barriers.

What has your career been like?

I worked as a mathematics teacher. I went into teaching because that was my childhood dream. I graduated from university in 1968 in the United States. While there, the government wrote me to proceed to the UK to study meteorology because they didn’t have anyone studying that then. But I refused and I told them I wanted to teach.

I was posted to HHI Secondary School, and worked there for two years. I got married and had to transfer to Zomba where I taught at Masongola Secondary School, then my husband was transferred to Lilongwe and I taught at Bwaila and Lilongwe Girls secondary schools where I was the deputy head teacher.

In 1983, I became Inspector of Schools at the Ministry of Education responsible for mathematics. I was also a chief examiner for both JCE and MSCE mathematics. At this time, I also became involved in curriculum development and supervision of teachers. This is when I noticed the challenges girls were facing in learning science subjects, especially in coeducational schools.

How did you get to work for Unicef?

While working in the ministry, I was sponsored by the British Council to do a diploma in educational studies at Leeds University in the UK. When I returned, I found I had been transferred to the planning section of the ministry. Since all I wanted to do was teach, an opportunity became available; Malawi was preparing for the World Conference on Education for All summit in Thailand and I was given the opportunity to work with Unicef to put together position papers and everything needed.

When I came back from the conference, Unicef asked me to stay on. I opened the education section at Unicef and started implementing the mandates from the meeting, one of which was the start of Free Primary Education. While there, I also initiated the community school project at Chinsapo which had no school then. Over 1000 children were enrolled on the first day; we trained the people in the community who had some formal education as teachers.

Hundred communities were assisted in establishing community schools for six to 10 year olds. It became a success story. I also initiated programmes to reduce drop-out rates of girls, projects to have schools closer to children’s homes and advocated for good teachers houses. I worked for Unicef for 10 years and retired in 1999 as I had to spend some time with my husband who was not feeling well then.

You worked four years through your husband’s reign as veep. Did this affect your work?

In a way it did, but my husband was very understanding and supportive. There were times he had to travel and I had to accompany him but I couldn’t. Then things became tough when people in the communities no longer looked at me as an employee of Unicef but a Veep’s wife and wanted me to relay certain things to him. I decided I had to pull out.

How did you manage to balance your career, family and being a Veep’s wife?

My husband understood my passion for education but some things suffered. It was a challenge to juggle everything.

How do you relax? What is a perfect weekend for you?

I read, watch TV or play computer games. I also do gardening; last year I managed to multiply seed for soya, some of which has been bought and distributed to farmers this year. It’s something that I find very relaxing although it is a lot of work. I also like supervising construction work.

When and where were you born?

I was born and grew up in Likuni as Felicity Chizalema on November 3, 1944. Both my parents were primary school teachers. I guess this is why I wanted to be a teacher. I was the second born in a family of seven. My parents went through a lot to educate us, my mother even brewed beer to make extra money.

What dreams did you have as a child?

I wanted to be a teacher, independent, and self-reliant and I wanted to help my parents out. I also wanted to marry someone in my own area of interest and my husband was the perfect person.

Where did you meet your husband?

I used to read about him in the papers while in the US. He was a soccer player. When I came to Malawi, we met by chance through his friend, then we met again while marking exams at St Andrews, that’s when our relationship started.

How many children do you have?

We have four children and six grandchildren.

What worries you?

All my children are far away except Quabaniso and I wish I could see them more often.

What is your favourite food?

Nsima with okra. I like indigenous vegetables.

What’s your vision?

To eliminate gender stereotypes and sexism in all life situations, starting from the home and schools.

Tracking Malewezi

  • Master’s degree in mathematics Leeds University UK
  • Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and psychology Spellman College, USA
  • Authored: General Mathematics Book 1 and Primary Mathematics Book 8
  • Diploma in educational studies, Leeds University UK
  • Post graduate certificate in education, University of Malawi
  • Certificate in evaluation of schools and teachers, International Training Institute
  • Woman of distinction award for her work in science and technology.
  • National woman of distinction: 2012

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