What is your background?
I was born in Zomba. My mother, late Mable Chikowi was a daughter of late paramount chief Chikowi III from Ntonya Hills, Zomba. My father was Luckwell Richard Mankhwala. He was a prominent businessman in Thyolo and Mangochi. I attended primary school in all three regions. I was selected to Providence Secondary School from St. Joseph Primary School in Zomba. Thereafter, I trained as a computer programmer sponsored by the then Malawi Railways. I have since had various trainings in early childhood and curriculum development. I am also a holder of advanced diploma in Project Management from the University of Derby through Malawi Institute of Management (MIM).
Tell us about your family.
I am the oldest child in a family of 11. I have three sisters who are still living: Angela, Lydia and Josephine and a young brother, Jimmy. I am also blessed with a half sister and brother, Maureen and Clifford from my father’s side. I was married to the late Satar Salim Osman from Balaka. We had four children together two of whom are now deceased – Tess and Benjadid. My oldest daughter is Habiba, the outspoken human rights activist and lawyer. Fawzia is my second daughter. She works as a finance and administrative director at Ntonya Private Schools and she is now an aspiring MP for Blantyre City South. I am also a proud grandmother of Nathaniel, eight and Reen Gabrielle, five.
How would you describe your childhood?
I was mostly raised by my aunt Margaret whose husband was the first commissioner in the Malawi Police Force. This meant that we never stayed in one place, as police officers are constantly transferred. However, I had an exciting childhood because of the large extended family I had. My grandfather who was the village chief was also an inspiration for me, and as child I loved interacting and following events in his court. Being selected amongst boys to Providence Secondary School was a great feat at the time.
What dreams did you have while growing up?
My dream was to become a lawyer. Unfortunately this did not materialise. However, I was determined that one of my children would at least be a lawyer and indeed God was gracious to me by answering that prayer through Habiba.
What made you establish Ntonya Private Schools?
I was inspired to open a nursery school by my late child Benjadid Derek who died prematurely at four. His demise depressed me but at the same time it inspired me to open a school in his memory. I attained early childhood education, which helped me to establish these schools. I started off with nursery school–Toys Crèche and thereafter, Ntonya Private Primary School in Blantyre and Lilongwe. We adopted Ntonya as our school’s name since that’s where I come from.
With how much capital did you start?
It is quite unbelievable that the capital for Toys Crèche was only K26. I used some of this amount to purchase stationery for advertising, which later on helped finance Ntonya Primary School.
How many people has it employed?
Over the years, we have employed many. We have at least 60 employees in both Lilongwe and Blantyre campuses.
Are there any scholarships the school offers to needy students?
In the early years, Ntonya gave five bursaries a year to needy children. As the school expanded we increased this figure kept increasing. So, far we have given out 190 scholarships in the nursery and primary and 75 in secondary schools.
How has your school contributed to Malawi?
Ntonya has contributed immensely in this country, creating and contributing to a pool of professionals such as lawyers, doctors, program directors, CEOs, bankers, athletes, accountants, nurses and the list goes on. Additionally, we have contributed to creating jobs to Malawians and easing some of the challenges of unemployment.
What does your work involve?
Apart from overseeing the school and teaching in the nursery school, I train people in computer programming because of my educational background.
Take us through your career journey.
After the one party rule in the early 1990s, I was among the pioneers to establish a nursery school in this country – Toys Crèche. The other famous nursery school that was privately owned at that time was Kwelani Nursery at Baptist Church in Blantyre. As such, I had always known that I was one of the first female pacesetters in that regard. My lowest moments were losing two children who never saw and enjoyed my success.
Is running a school profitable?
Back then in the 90s it used to be, as competition was not as much as it is now. Currently, the standards have certainly gone up and one cannot just start this venture without planning and commitment.
What are the challenges that you meet?
There is stiff competition. Schools have sprouted everywhere giving Malawians the opportunity to have a school of their choice. Even though competition is healthy, it requires that we upgrade standards, employing qualified teachers and sustaining them. Retaining teachers can be a challenge.
What are the plans for your school?
God willing, it is in our plans to expand to a tertiary college and improve our standards to match international standards of some schools in Africa.
What big sacrifices have you made in life for you to get to where you are?
have helped to educate most members of my extended family including my own children sending them to top notch schools as a way of promoting education. Most importantly, patience has been key to my growth and perseverance through the many trials and challenges faced by a single mother and a woman owning a business. I have somewhat given a legacy of hope to many single parents.
How do you balance your career and family life?
One of my weaknesses is that I am a workaholic and can be stubborn when it comes to this but now that I have grand children, I am learning to balance my family responsibilities and charitable events which I engage in privately.
Who do you look up to as a model?
My role models are; Maya Angelou a phenomenal woman and Oprah Winfrey, her philanthropic spirit is so admirable.
Is there any literature that has inspired you?
The Bible, Winnie Mandela’s biography, Home and Garden magazines and Meyers’ books.