Malawi is a country in South-Eastern Africa with a population of over 15 million and ranks as third lowest in the Human Development Index and has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world. A key aspect of HDI is measured by the education index. Therefore, for many, the most accessible route to development is through education. One such advocate is Masambiro UK, who support Kunyanja Private Secondary School in providing high-quality education to a cross-section of the community in Nkhata Bay and also establishing bursary schemes so more young people can also gain access to one of the best schools in the region. They aim to work with a sustainable model to keep the institution developing and this takes form with university sponsorship too. Sponsored by Masambiro UK to go through teacher training College, Chimemwe Nkhata returned to teach at Kunyanja, where he was formally a student receiving bursary.
How does it feel to come back as a teacher?
It feels great to work with my old teachers – the people who used to teach me are now my colleagues. And they are still teaching me. For example, I can attend a class to observe how they taught the subject, which is nice. There are also some things I can teach them. Skills as far as teaching is concerned, because at college they teach you how to handle students: class management; voice variation; teaching and learning resources. There are those who did not do education at college, so I can help.
What do you enjoy teaching most?
Form 3 social studies. Form 1 I don’t enjoy as much. I spend most time with classroom management because they are still young and don’t know how to behave! To some extent the Form 3s know what they are here for. If they don’t pass to Form 4 they have to sit again. They know how painful it is to fail.
Were you successful at school?
In my case I was very, very serious with school. I knew that I had to work hard. I came here in Form 3. And for your information I was the head boy. However, my brother didn’t have money to pay the school fees. Thereafter I was chased for school fees but my brother couldn’t manage. So I kept saying that I will pay next term, next term and so on. So the bills accumulated.
There was a volunteer called Rosa and she was teaching us mathematics. She was a very good teacher. We did a test and I scored 98/100. She said ‘oh! Very nice.’ So then next term she found me absent in class for a couple of days and she asked me what happened and I said I hadn’t paid my school fees. So I will come back when I source some funds. She then offered to pay my school fees. I said I will communicate to my sister in Blantyre to pay you back. But she couldn’t provide the cash. When I explained I had failed to source some funds. She said she would talk to her brother in the UK, Michael and he agreed to pay my school fees. It was a very good opportunity for me and I had to utilise it. I worked very hard, I had to struggle. I was almost position one in all subjects. Even Sydney or Feston could bare witness to this!
This was not a centre for Malawi examinations. So I had to sponsor myself. I got a temporary job. With the National Housing Census. I did that for two months but I missed those two months of classes. I used that money to move to Nkhata Bay Secondary School and live there for a month, buy food and stationery. My brother saw I was doing well and paid for my examination fees.
After that, I went to the teachers college in Karonga. Thereafter I spent a year in Chancellors College. When I went to College our fees per year were MK100,000. So I had to find money for the house where I was staying. My sister had to sell some things from her house and my father had to sell his animals. Expenditure for an average month was MK25,000. Then the people from Masambiro and Kunyanja helped me out. I appreciate what the school did for me.
And have you always wanted to be a teacher?
I have always dreamed of being a lecturer. My father said Chimemwe - be a doctor. But I said I’m afraid of blood! I would love to do lecturing on gender because I understand most of the people here in Nkhata Bay don’t understand the value of education for a girl. I just feel bad. Because in my family – my mum stopped school as her fees were just given to her brother. So up till now it still pains me. So I would like to be a human rights activist fighting for the rights of minorities, children and women. I don’t know when but I’m still planning because things are not okay. Women and girls suffer silently. Starting in the home; a girl she wakes at 4.30 am to do the dishes and cleaning while the boy is still sleeping. So I am fully in support of the Girls’ Dormitory Project.
Tell me about your name - Chimemwe Nkhata.
My great-grandfather is from Nkhata Bay Boma but there was a war between the Ngoni and the Tonga. My father was held captive but we just say we were from Mzemba. And Chimemwe means to smile, or happiness.
Are you happy?
I’m happy to be home. Because I consider this school as my home. When I’m here I just feel like I’m home. This school made me who I am today. People know me because of this school.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to yourself as a school student, knowing what the future holds, what would it be?
I would say ‘be a slave today, you’ll be king tomorrow.’ There are good things to come. It’s just a matter of perseverance.
Do you feel like a king now?
Sure, yes. I feel like, with the papers I have, I can be sure I’m getting some money at the end of the month. And possibly, who knows – I’ll be a lecturer at Kunyanja! I can buy any kind of food I like. I used to stay here from 07.30 – 15.00, not even taking tea at home. Not only that I would even come here at the weekend - people would find me sitting in class alone, reading. In those days I could not even dare to play football, or to dance. Even at the college, the very same spirit. When I was a student I thought there was no time to sleep. I would think that once you rest, you’re last. When I finish my education I knew I would have time to enjoy. Now, in the weekends I can sleep in. On the weekends I like relaxing, walking up and down and to the lake, watch some soccer.
Chimemwe has been teaching at Kunyanja since January 2015 and celebrated his graduation from Chancellors College in April, 2015 with a Bachelor in Education and Social Studies. There are currently four Kunyanja alumni at University sponsored by Masambiro, of whom two are due to return as staff upon completion of their studies - including Kunyanja's first fully qualified female teacher.