A sure sign of success is when you don’t need a last name to introduce yourself, some say.
But for 35-year-old re-elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Mulanje South East, Naomi Kilekwa, her dream revolved around the people in her local community and attaining self-realisation though the odds were against her.
Born October 5, 1984, the fifth born of six children, Kilekwa was only able to complete secondary school and get a higher education through sheer will.
Kilekwa walked over 20 kilometres to and from, to get to secondary school. After writing her primary school leaving exams she was selected to Milonde community day secondary school.
Due to the distance, most girls dropped out of school, but her persistence to be educated pushed her on.
Though she was able to complete her secondary education, when she got her Malawi School Certificate Examination (MSCE) results, she was not as lucky as others to make the Malawi University selection. She had to stay home as her parents could not afford to send her to a private institution.
A limiting factor that put a barrier to earning more education. Unwilling to be defeated in her pursuit of education and wanting a better future. Kilekwa decided to work as a security guard, in order to find school fees for her college education.
Working as a security guard earning a low-cut salary, it took Kilekwa to save up her earnings and pay for her own education with the Malawi Institute of Bankers for a certificate in Banking and later the Malawi Polytechnic where she got a diploma in Information Communication Technology (ICT) which she says was offered under City and Guild.
Kilekwa braced her unwelcoming situation to take herself through school, as nobody could work hard for her own future or life, she had to take it up.
Though she got her banking certificate and ICT diploma, Kilekwa did not dream of a job with a prestigious financial company and or the bank.
“I wanted to help the people in the area I was living in especially girls. I wanted girls to be able to attain their education.” She says,
“I went to the same schools I know how painful that was,” narrates Kilekwa recalling her long walks to school.
During her time there were few schools and pupils had to travel long distances. She says she wanted to do something about helping others get access to education. She had been there, she knew and understood.
“I did not want others to go through what I had”
She began her journey in politics in 2007 at the age 22, with the desire to bring change in her community and contested for a seat, in parliament in 2009. She did not make it.
She, however, did not give up and could not give up. She says she faced heavy backlash as a woman. Was chastised, called names but she could not let ‘trying’ go.
In 2014 at the age of 30, she made it into Parliament and in the recent May 21, 2019 tripartite elections, Kilekwa has retained her seat.
At the most she says she wanted to change her area in terms of education, which has faced high rates of girl school drop outs, and bringing schools nearer was a dream she wanted to see fulfilled.
She says the distance to school did not only affect girls but boys as well.
Many children in rural Malawi, face more than the daily 20 kilometres journey to go to school and back. From the time they begin Standard One already most face five and six kilometres or more to get to school. Some harbour hopes of getting selected to boarding school in their district or other to finally get a break from the walks.
But very few are lucky to make the selection most have to settle for Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS) often which do not give them a breather.
Most reports indicate that distance to school is among the key reasons contributing to high school dropouts in CDSS at a time education has become a pillar for everyone’s success.
In the five, year term, she has represented the constituency, Kilekwa has used her position to expand St. Elena and Nanjiwa junior primary schools to become full primary schools.
She has pushed for Chimwaza and Milumbe community day secondary schools which has reduced travel to school and increased the number of schools in her area.
Kilekwa is responsible for bringing electricity to Milonde, Lumala and constructing a clinic at Namayinga. She observes that though challenges in terms of schools have been alleviated in most areas. The water problem continues to haunt the communities and especially the women.
Having drilled 40 shallow wells, to alleviate the problem she says the communities not only need more wells but piped water which she hopes to finally accomplish in her new term.
She adds that health is also one area where women face more problems, and with the maintenance of Mathambi, Chimwaza and St. Elena health clinics more women can now get better health care from the health facilities.
On her Parliamentary journey, the MP says, the road into politics is not easy, in 2007 when she was starting, people didn’t expect a woman to have that position. She says, though many tried to pull her down she managed to forge ahead.
The May 2019 elections didn’t bring a new era for her as the name calling and degrading did not and has not stopped.
There were many incidences of female candidates being harassed and this scene has not changed.
“They do not expect a woman to be in this position.” Says Kilekwa who points to her contributions in the last five years, as the reason for people’s trust and vote, as they can see a difference.
Politics is not an easy through street. She advises young people who aspire to go into politics to not look down on themselves. She says young people need to know of the possibilities, should not fear and give people their views.
“You have to listen to what people want and concentrate on making changes,” she advises
That those who did not make it, especially women, not to be discouraged, “I did not make it in 2009, but I made it, keep on trying,” Kilekwa says its trial and error.
Kilekwa is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She went to Chimwaza primary school. Later Milonde CDSS in Mulanje and got her MSCE certificate at Chisomo Private Secondary School in Lilongwe.