Africa should empower her women

During the Mandela Washington Fellowship Six week component that I undertook at a U.S institution (Bridgewater State University), all the Mandela Washington fellows were required to prepare a short (3 to 5 minutes long) Ted talk style ignite speech under the themes of servant leadership, empowerment, or innovation.  I wrote a speech under the theme empowerment, particularly the empowerment of women. I share, in the speech, a snippet example of what I have come to realize was my cultural dis-empowerment as a young African woman and conclude by proposing some possible solutions.

I must add that while at the 2017 YALI Summit in Washington D.C. (which was the culmination of the six weeks spent by the 1000 Mandela Washington Fellows in the US), I had the opportunity to visit the  National Museum of African American History. I was happy to see that the museum had sections dedicated to black feminism, race and gender, and women activists who played a role in the civil rights movement. Often, history has been recorded from a male perspective, with the role of women downplayed or not recognized at all. This is one of the reasons why one of the first projects that the organisation that I work with (Molaya Kgosi Trust) undertook was the Molaya HerStory documentary series, which showcased a series of in-depth one on one interviews of successful Batswana women in different sectors highlighting the pivotal roles they have played in development of their sectors as well as the challenges they had to overcome on their leadership journey.

Below is my 2017 MWF ignite speech…..

“I graduated from Law School in October of 2010. I, like many graduates believed that I was ready to conquer the world of work. In theory, there was nothing flawed about my thinking. After all I had successfully completed formal higher education. Eight months later, I sat in my first job interview and the interviewer asked me, “How much do you expect to be paid?” The question seems insignificant in and of itself, but in hindsight my response to this question would reveal the extent of my cultural dis-empowerment as a young African woman. At that interview, I told my first employer that I expected to be paid $400 less than what I knew a male friend of mine earned. I should highlight that my friend and I had graduated from law school with the same GPA. I downplayed myself because I believed that I would otherwise be asking for too much. This is but one example of an instance where I would make a decision that did not take advantage of an opportunity I had, even when the playing field was on the face of it equal.

Power, control, choice and options, these are terms that describe empowerment. And despite the fact that empowerment in relation to reducing poverty on the African continent  applies to all socially excluded groups, women are the one category of our continent’s population that are a common feature in all the excluded groups. As a continent, we have recognized the need, and are taking steps, to include women by removing discriminatory barriers. However, inclusion does not equal participation of women in society. The question then becomes, how do we, as a continent, ensure that one half of our population not only considers itself as entitled to make choices but that it is capable of challenging the status quo and holding accountable the institutions that affect us?

The concept of empowerment has many facets. Our response to it as a continent must therefore take similar shape. One aspect of it is that we, as African women, can individually become forerunners by taking on roles that are untraditional, and mentor our young women. I am a beneficiary of this tool of empowerment because of amazing African women have taken me under their wings. These women remind me every day that it is okay to say that I am capable of anything, that I should always be proud of something and that I am good at something. On the other hand, it is important that all actors within our societies collectively become aware of the existing injustice to the largely disempowered African female population. We all have to take positive steps to empower young women in our homes, through our school curriculums, and in the broader context we should as a continent include positive images of the role and contributions of women in our societies. And if you are wondering why we should all do this, I will answer in the words of Kofi Anan “there is no tool for development that is more effective than the empowerment of women.”

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A lesson for the heart (MWF2017 Diaries)

The first time the Mandela Washington Fellows at BSU heard Jim Orcutt, Co-Founder of “My Brother’s Keeper”, talk about this Christian Ministry of service and education, I was not there. What stood out for me (from the conversations I had with the fellows who had heard him share the story of how he and his wife had started from very humble beginnings what is now a non profit organisation with a 4 million dollar annual budget) was that they had seen God in him. This thread run through every single conversation I had with the fellows, irrespective of their religious backgrounds or whether they believed in God at all. I later got to hear a story about someone who is Muslim who had asked him whether they could volunteer notwithstanding the fact that they were not Christian. Mr. Orcutt responded by saying that not only could they volunteer but that the people that the organisation serves are from all religious and social-cultural backgrounds as long as they are in need.

So when we had the opportunity to do community service at my brother’s keeper, yesterday, I was more than eager. When we arrived at their Easton facility in the morning, what first struck me was the fact that there was not a single signage that identified the building or premises. Instead, there was a life size statue of Jesus washing Peter’s feet near the entrance of the building. A depiction of a leader who served. The day began with a briefing of what we would be delivering that day, how we would go about doing it, what the corporate policies of My Brother’s Keeper are, and thereafter we had a tour of the building. I should highlight here, that My Brother’s keeper’s mission is to bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those it serves. It does this by delivering furniture and food to those who need it.

I had mentioned earlier that the corporate policies of the organisation were explained to us and I will share a few of those policies to put into better context the experience I had that morning. The organisation is solely funded by private donations and does not receive Federal or State funds. My Brother’s Keeper does not have a prerequisites for one to receive a service from them. This means a person who needs food or furniture does not have to justify why they need help by an income statement or other document. Secondly, the delivery vehicles used are unmarked  to protect the privacy and dignity of those who are being served. In addition, every person they have the privilege of serving is given a crucifix  to convey the message that we are just the delivery people, and God is the person who delivered the food or furniture through us. And if the recipient declines the crucifix for religious reasons, the response should be “no problem, whoever your God is, that is the person who sent it”. The rationale is that it not the aim of the organisation to impose Christianity on people, but instead it is to give them hope.

The fellows were split into groups of 4 to 6 people, and we were designated a vehicle driven by a my brother’s keeper staff member. On this morning, we were tasked with making food deliveries to individuals who had called the day before in need of food. My group made five deliveries to different homes. There are several lessons that I learned and I will share a few. The first is that it is important not to judge a book by its cover. Poverty has many faces. Just because a person has a car parked in front of their house for instance does not mean they have food to put in their belly. The second lesson was in humility. That it is not easy for someone to ask another for help. This is what makes my brother’s keepers policies on having unmarked vehicle and no prerequisites for the service so important. Third, is that there is so much power in serving a person and not expecting a return, an explanation or a justification from them. We visited one home of a woman who was a first time user of my brother’s keepers services. She had heard about them from a friend (because they do not advertise their services- they work by word of mouth). After greeting her when we arrived and having some small talk about how she was, we ended the conversation with “God bless you and have a great day”. This woman was so grateful but at the same time I could see that she was so amazed that we did not ask an explanation of her. We didn’t need her to justify the kindness and love she was being shown. This woman stood at her door and stared at us until our van was out of sight. And I can imagine that in her mind she thought who are these people? How and why are they doing this? That is what my brother’s keeper is about. It about delivering more than just the food and the furniture, it truly is at the core about delivering HOPE.

When we returned to the Easton facility, we had lunch and then a feedback session where we shared what we had each learnt through the deliveries we made that day. We also took time to reflect on the lives that we had interacted with while we made those deliveries. During this session I cried. Not because I felt pity for the people we had served, but because by taking part in my Brother’s Keeper’s ministry to others, my own heart was ministered unto. We then ended the day with a prayer of thanksgiving and together said the Lord’s prayer.

The volunteering experience that I had yesterday is something I will keep in my heart forever. There are so many other things that I learnt about social entrepreneurship and service as a leader other than what I have shared above, but those lessons are for another blog. And I will end this with a verse that encapsulates my brother’s keepers work of service “Whatever you do for the most humble of my people, you do for me.” Matthew 25:40

We should all be our brother’s keepers.

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I have a love-hate relationship with the question “Where are you from?” (MWF2017 Diaries)

It’s been three weeks since I arrived in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.I have been meaning to blog. I never got around to doing it in the last three weeks because we have been so busy. I must admit, though, that I have loved almost every moment of my time here. In my last blog(rejection builds character), I wrote about applying for a fellowship the year before last, reaching the interview stage, and not being selected for it. Long story short, I applied again last year and here I am on what I know will be a life changing experience for me, the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

I have plenty of things that I want to share, but I will keep this one short (because I need to sleep). This fellowship is open to young leaders from 49 sub-Saharan African countries who have demonstrated themselves to be change agents in their organisations, communities, and countries. As long as you are from one of the eligible countries, even if you reside within any of the others, you can apply.  Now comes my conundrum. For the three weeks that I have been here, I have constantly grappled with how to answer the question “where are you from?” It sounds silly, but if you were born in and lived in one country for 12 years, and then you moved to another country where you lived for 18 years (latter which really constitutes the prime years of your life) but you are still a citizen of your country of birth…the answer to that simple question can get quite complicated. I am Malawian, by birth and citizenship. However, I have lived in Botswana longer than I have lived in any other country(the majority of my life really). In nutshell, I am a third culture kid. So while a majority of the fellows would answer that question with,a simple “I am from country X”, I have found myself swinging between a long and short version of an answer to that question.  Interestingly, at our program orientation when we arrived, I got a name tag that said I am from Botswana and a place card that said I am from Malawi. It appears even the host institution organisers were not sure where to place me. Eventually, we settled at me getting a place card which displays both countries. This has now become somewhat a standing joke amongst the fellows here. One of them calls me, Temwanani from MalaBo(Malawi and Botswana). To be honest, that seems to me to be an accurate description. I feel like I belong to both countries, while at the same time there are instances I feel foreign to both of them (like I am citizen of everywhere but nowhere).

This could be a tale about third culture kid problems. But I am a Pan African. I have an impulse towards my African identity more than my connectedness to any individual country. The fact is that being a third culture kid has given me a three dimensional view of the world. Growing up in two different cultures has allowed me to absorb the best characteristics of the two cultures. What I find to be the most amazing thing about this fellowship is that I have travelled all the way to the United States only to meet, to be reintroduced and to fall in love with Africa all over again through the 24 other fellows I am with at Bridgewater State University. And if I could sum up the last three weeks, the perfect words would be “It’s time for Africa!”

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Rejection builds character

I experienced my first major rejection in 2011. I was twenty-four and fresh out of Law School. At the time, I was almost certain that I did not want a career in a private law firm. This negative perception of a law firm career was ignited by a prior internship experience I had  during University. From my recollection, the experience was (to put it mildly) not so great. So I had a master plan. I would just enroll into a Masters program and then, well, find myself in something law related that would appeal to my fancy. I did not  have a particular plan on how I intended to get to this ideal place after my Masters. I honestly had not really thought that far, but it was a good enough plan to me. So, I applied into one Masters program. Yes, just one. I can only blame my naivety on the fact that I was pretty used to easily getting to where I  academically wanted to be.

In February 2011, I received a rejection email from the University I applied to. I was shattered for two reasons. The  first being that I had not really thought of what would happen in the eventuality that I was not accepted into the Masters program and the second being that I had not seriously until that point considered getting a job in a law firm.  It was a terrible position to be in, but it taught me my first  lesson about rejection. That lesson was in humility. I really appreciated getting my first job (at a law firm, after a really tough time trying to get a job) because I didn’t really have a Plan B, and I could not (the Masters plan having fallen through) live off my dad forever. So I stepped into my first job with a new willingness to learn and the right mind frame because I did not feel entitled. And seeing as its been some five years of working  in a private law firm since, my attitude was evidently transformed.

There would be many more rejections to come after that. Too many to fully discuss in this blog. But it just came to mind while I was writing this that I submitted my Curriculum Vitae to my present employers two times before I actually got a job with them. The first time was for an advertised post. The second I believe I could have just been trying my luck. And the third time around I really had no interest in applying, because I tried that before and I really believed I was over it. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by some pretty awesome/ ‘annoying’ people who told me I wouldn’t lose anything from trying again. So I did and  I got the job. This experience taught me that when you get a ‘No’ sometimes its really just God saying wait, keep pushing, have faith, persist.

Recently, I received a rejection from a fellowship that I had applied to. The rejection came after I had gone past the interview stage, so I kinda thought I had it in the bag. Turns out I didn’t. Surprisingly, I took this rejection really well. It could be because when I looked at the situation objectively, I realized that God has really come through for me in other areas in my life that  were stagnant. And if I am to be honest, I do not believe that I was ready for that opportunity. The rejection was really a chance for me to grow as a person, an Advocate, an Activist, a thought leader.

When it comes down to it, rejection is not fun. It sucks. But if you look past the temporary feelings it gives you, it is a grounding, skin thickening, resilience building, and faith stretching experience. There is growth when God says wait not now, or not  for you because there is better. It all comes together in good time.

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!” (Habakkuk 2:3)




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A note on delaying gratification

One of my biggest challenges this year was staying in my lane. To clarify the preceding statement, that is in so far as the lanes of what I can and can not do at this particular stage in my life.

To put things into perspective for you guys, I am working student. This means that I have financial responsibilities towards furthering my education, and that I largely share my spare time between school work and staying sane (a.k.a anything that does not require serious thinking).The foregoing has generally resulted in daily choices between going out with friends and family and using my weekends to do my school work. Or spending money on a trip (or buying a new car, or buying a new pair of heels, because I LOVE shoes) and meeting my school and other financial obligations. My current reality is actually that my family members do not invite me out, unless its someone’s birthday or some other important life event, because they know I will most  likely say I need to do school work. And surprisingly instead of being cool with that, I have found myself to sometimes take offence (instead of being thankful that they are doing me that favor), because I feel like I might be missing out on something.

So with that as a backdrop, I am happy to say that I have now began what I would call the final stretch before the finish line. And like a long distance race, this is the most important yet most challenging part. It requires resilience, focus and grit to maintain the same effort and work ethic that you did when you started. The goal is now visible but the distractions are greater.  Your body is fatigued, but you must keep on working until the work is done.

If I was asked what the biggest lesson that I will take out of 2015 is, it would certainly be the virtue of delaying gratification. Most times I want to stop and rest, I want to hang out all day with my friends, I want to spend money on things that will make me happy right now… but the reality is that those things will probably not give me a lasting satisfaction. What I have had to constantly remind myself of is that my ultimate goal will bring tremendous returns.

I have previously said to friends that I would never encourage anyone to pursue studies and work at the same. While that came from an honest and non-malicious place, in retrospect I believe its somewhat selfish advice. Everyone ought to be encouraged (if you have no other options or even if you do) to pick bigger, greater, long term returns OVER short term comforts and pleasures.  And that does not only apply to juggling school and work, it could also mean staying in that job that you are not so hyped about because it could help your career later  or saving now to spend later.

In conclusion, “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now”.

Seasons greetings and happy holidays to you and yours 🙂

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Love your journey,because its yours!

Hello Reader! So at the time I started writing this blog, I was going to start it a little something like this…. “Despite my past disposition (to disappear for months on end) I have made it for a blog in October.” Well, that was two months ago and that should tell you this was that blog I started writing but never completed. We are all in luck , however, because I committed to finishing this blog today.

The last couple of weeks (preceding the time I actually started writing this blog)  were not spent reflecting, but were rather filled with endless epiphanies about myself.I took a good look back on my life since I graduated from University and one thing has stood out…. that the manner in which I got to where I am today is quite distinct from that in which others around me have progressed in life. This in particular relates to how I got my first job, how I moved to my present job, what I am doing in my life now, the fact that I still stay at home with my family, how and when I got my first car etc.

For the reasons set out above, I wondered why we do ourselves such a disservice comparing our lives to the next when the way God worked this life thing is that even if you and I turned to the exact same pages of our life books, the content of our life stories would still be completely different. To this end, it also occurred to me that quite apart from the fact that we want to compare our lives with those of others, we also tend to set unrealistic timelines for ourselves.

To elaborate on my latter point, I attended two weddings in the weekend of 17th October 2015. One was for a colleague that I work with at our law firm, and the other was for a colleague that I work with in a community based Women’s Leadership and Mentorship program. A couple of years ago, I would have thought that the number of weddings I am attending (at this age i.e 29) would have me feeling some type of way about my unmarried status. Surprisingly it doesn’t. I am extremely happy for all my friends who have wedded,  and at the same time very content with where I am at in my life right now.

Quite frankly, if this was a year or two ago I might have felt some slight pressure to get married, especially because I have always wanted to have children young. In fact, those are the very sentiments I shared in my blog called ‘closer to 30 pressure to get married’. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that I have had to transition into this space. My boyfriend would be the first to bear witness that I always used to talk about having my first child by  or before 30 (others would call it hinting, but I was just letting him know *clears throat*).

I am going to turn 30 on August 28th 2016. And I have  made peace with the fact that I will not be married nor will I have a baby by that date and its perfectly okay. At the end of the day, the measure of how you are doing in life should be against where you have been as opposed to where you think you should be or where others are.

The moral is that I have learned to love every stage of my progress. Its a form of gratitude.


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Being intentional about personal growth

I usually start off my ‘back from hiatus blogs’ with some form of an explanation, this time there isn’t one. There was during my absence  much reflection but little urge to share any insights. This evening I was sitting on the couch in our living room, reading all that the world wide web could offer, and it dawned on me that I missed blogging. So here I am doing what I love but could not follow through on for a minute…hello reader.

The last couple of months have been rather interesting for me. The best way to describe it is that its been a journey of self discovery. A couple of months ago, I attended a Singles Ministry seminar at my church on ‘Understanding Marriage’. What I learnt from the seminar in respect to the institution of marriage deserves a blog of its own, but  of note is the fact that I discovered something about myself that I really never paid much mind personality type.  The background of this untapped interest in learning more about personality is that the topic was discussed in the context of marriage. In particular the fact that one of the keys to having a successful marriage is for the spouses to leverage on each others’ personality strengths- and not weaknesses- (opposite personality strengths to make well rounded ONE, hence its important to know your own and your partners personality types, so as to be aware of each other’s traits). The most intriguing thing about these marriage seminars I have been attending is that the more I attend, the more I wonder what business the 24 year old me would have had getting married (cause that was at some point my ideal marriage age). In other words, there are so many things that I just could not have been ready for.

Anyway, after the marriage seminar my cousin Nomsa and I went a little wild with personality tests,and we pretty much made everyone we knew take one. We started with the four temperaments test which is the test referred to at the marriage seminar (It categorizes personality types into Sanguine-bubbly social extroverts, Choleric-generally domineering extroverted Alphas of the species, Melancholic-sensitive emotionally and generally introverted perfectionists  and Phlegmatic-meek submissive introverts.N.B These are extremely generalized summaries but you can look up each personality type for more specificity), and subsequently we did the Myers Briggs 16 personality test.

Turns out that with the four temperaments test my dominant personality type is Choleric and secondary trait is Melancholic.Which makes me a person who is detail orientated, operates from well-thought through plans, who likes to be in charge- a strategist basically. By the way both the Choleric and Melancholic have negative traits e.g Cholerics can be cold, unforgiving, sarcastic, impatient and unsympathetic but on the positive are strong willed, determined, independent, strong natural leaders, confident and goal orientated. On the other hand,  Melancholics are easily offended, pessimistic, critical and picky but are also gifted,analytical, self-disciplined, creative, loyal and faithful. So I would naturally have a mix of all those traits.The Myers Brigg 16 personality test result was that I am an ISTJ (Introverted Sensing Thinking Judgment) which basically translates to my personality being generally honest, direct, dutiful, strong willed, very responsible,calm and practical on the positive, and on the negative it says I am stubborn, insensitive, a repository of opinion a.k.a critical and judgmental and I usually blame myself if something I am involved in fails. After I took these tests, and i read the results, for the most part I was like yeah that sounds like me but I also had ” I have never really thought I was like that, but now that I think about it..damn that’s actually me.

You might be asking yourself, so  you took all these tests and found out what you did about yourself and then what? Well I will tell you, if you are a regular reader of my blog you would know I am big on personal growth.  While I like my personality strengths, there are aspects of my personality that I am not trying to own. And something important that my pastor said when we first discussed personalities in the context of marriage is that the good news is that personality traits can be changed. For me, taking cognizance of my strengths has allowed me to leverage them more and knowing my weaknesses has made me conscious of what I need to work on. <For instance, I  know I can be a little critical, which stems from my perfectionism, an example is when I read people’s stuff and I immediately think that sentence is not constructed right…I am starting to keep my chill in that regard and I keep my opinions to myself unless they are requested.>

At the end of the day, like Jim Rohn says “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight. If you want to reach your goal and fulfill your potential …become intentional about your personal growth. It will change your life.”

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