When she failed to make it to the University of Malawi, she did not despair. Through determination, Tawonga Kayira attained tertiary education and has been able to contribute to the welfare of pregnant women and children through the different organisations she has worked with. Today, she is the assistant communications officer with Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra). She talks to Albert Sharra.
Who is Tawonga Kayira?
I am the third born in a family of five; thou we lost one brother Anthony in 1996. We are a small but close knit family. I was born on November 25, at St Johns Hospital in Mzuzu. My father was Ardah Kayira and he died in 1993. He worked for what was then called Veterinary and he later became a reverend for the CCAP’s Synod of Livingstonia. My mum did community work and worked closely with rural women to promote their lives to participate in development activities. She then later worked as a regional coordinator for Women’s World Banking in Mzuzu and also Women’s Voice for Northern Region of Malawi.
Take us through your education journey.
I went to various primary schools, including Kaseye Girls in Chitipa, Mzuzu CCAP, Kapando in Mzimba and Zomba CCAP. I did my secondary education at Phwezi Girls Secondary School. Life didn’t offer many choices if you didn’t qualify for public universities. So I studied secretarial studies, journalism and IT. I then went to the United Kingdom and enrolled at University of East Anglia, Suffolk College, where I did my A levels, Diploma in Business Administration, Bachelor’s degree (Hon) in Media for Development and English. I also did a postgraduate diploma in Personnel Management.
How has been your growing up?
I spent most of my early life in rural Malawi due to the nature of my father’s job. I loved the countryside with its unpretentious and unspoilt life. I also have heart-wrenching memories of losing my father, and then later my brother. The greatest lesson I learnt is that life breaks you to pieces at times, but no matter how hard it feels, pick up the pieces, dust yourself and proceed with your journeyyou can change the destiny of your life.
As a child, did you have big dreams?
I just wanted my life to be different. I read a lot of children’s books and novels that my father got from his British and American friends. We had a huge collection. I learnt then how to crave for success and pursue it. I promised myself that I would make it in life no matter what it would take. I watched many young boys and girls leave school and get married at a tender age. Some intentionally while others because of system failure.
Why are you interested in issues about children/human rights and maternal health?
I think this developed early in my life through my observations of rural life – how children were deprived of education; how women’s rights were violated; and how access to basic services such as health was a challenge. I became determined to make a difference.
How have you directly impacted on the lives of these women and children?
Working at Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia accorded me another opportunity to pursue my passion for children and women issues. I was given a project to manage at Wenya, Chitipa. That became one of the organisation’s most hailed projects by the donors and policymakers alike. The project dealt with gender issues by highlighting the vulnerabilities of women and girls to HIV and Aids through harmful cultural practices, among others. I brought those issues to policymakers so they could formulate policies that would transform women’s lives. I also developed an interest in research work on sexual and reproductive health and human rights. [Though now working for Macra] last year, I presented a paper in Windhoek, Namibia titled, ‘The Role of Women in Shaping their Own Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights through Legal and Policy Frameworks.’
Was working under Church and Society the right place to start your career journey?
Working at Church and Society taught me that it’s your perception towards life that will determine life’s perception towards you. My position kept changing from an intern, to doubling my role as a project manager and communications officer. I later became the monitoring and evaluation officer for the organisation’s various projects at the Synod, a role which moulded me into an advocacy and policy specialist. I also became the only female member of the organisation’s newly formed research department. The employer quickly noticed and tapped into my potential.
You are at Macra. Share with us the story that saw you here?
During my employment with Church and Society, part of my job included representing the director in various local and international forums. One such interaction was with Macra. I was impressed with what they were doing in terms of ‘Promoting Universal ICT Access’. Immediately I thought of what a transformation ICT would bring to rural people, especially women. I never imagined I would work with them though, but when I saw their advertised vacancies, I applied for the post of an assistant communications officer, and was offered the job. I am still on probation.
How else have you contributed to Malawi?
Just to mention a few, Karonga is one of the districts with rampart cases of violation of child rights, especially through child labour and child marriages. In 2010, I wrote a proposal on Child Protection to PLAN Malawi for funding. The proposal was accepted and the project is still running and making a difference to the people of Karonga. I also worked on a similar project in Mpherembe with funding from Limbe Leaf Tobacco. It brought me such joy to rescue children from early marriages or any form of abuse. I helped with lowering of gender based violence (GBV) cases in T/A Mwenewenya and Nthalire through our HIV and Aids project, of which I was the project manager. I highlighted issues of maternal mortality rate in the area and government intervened. In 2011, while in the USA, I presented the Malawi case to the Republican Congress (parliamentarians) where I highlighted issues of sexual and reproductive health for the people of Chitipa – Wenya as part of advocacy to increase international funding.
Have you received any recognition in your life?
One of my greatest moments was when the scientific committee that was reviewing the abstract of my paper presentation for the international conference in Namibia commented, ‘Interesting issue which deserves space on regional and international platforms. The power imbalance has huge bearing on women’s role in society’. I have been shortlisted and attended highly competitive regional and international seminars on leadership and public policies, among others.
However, those moments spent in the villages, sensitising young people and women on their rights stand out. These people’s smiles, trust and appreciation they gave me when their lives changed for the better meant a lot. The women’s relationships with their husbands improved. Their husbands stopped raping them, among others. Or when government and other key stakeholders provided the services the people lacked after we brought the issues to the former’s attention. Nothing tops that!
Who inspires you?
My mum. I still don’t understand how she raised five children when my father died and how she provided for us without failing us. Then there is President Joyce Banda, especially with her passion for safe motherhood issues. Few women focus on finding solutions to the challenges other women face. Internationally, it would be the women from Centre for Development and Population Activities (Cedpa) in the USA. They are building women leaders globally, especially at community level.