International Women’s Day celebrated in Sutton Coldfield with Esmie from Malawi.

Meeting those who have supported her while studying for her doctorate

As a schoolgirl in an African village, Esmie Kanyumbu (nee Esmie Chipala) faced many challenges: lack of food; no running water; having to help with carrying water and finding firewood; walking a long distance to school; class sizes of over 200. But ever since her first year at school Esmie wanted to be educated and she would sit under a tree reading books when other children were playing.
After finishing primary school, where she was always at the top of her class, Esmie was selected to go to St Michael’s Girls’ School in Malawi but her parents had difficulty in paying the fees. Sutton Coldfield Association of Women Graduates (SCAWG) were happy to help. Recognising that in Malawi all secondary schools charge fees, SCAWG set about raising money to pay them. For Esmie, as well as providing much–needed financial support, contact with SCAWG members also gave her encouragement. There were no women graduates in Esmie’s village to act as role models. Getting letters and emails from SCAWG members helped Esmie to maintain her determination to succeed.

When she finished school, Esmie was one of the best in her year and she was offered a place at the University of Malawi. SCAWG continued their support as she studied Economics and they were delighted when Esmie was given an award as the best Economics student in 2004. SCAWG was further delighted after their protégé was awarded a scholarship by the African Economic Research Consortium to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics.

As part of her studies, Esmie had to spend some time in Kenya, and a special donation enabled SCAWG to make a substantial contribution to her costs during that period. After successfully completing her Master’s degree, Esmie obtained employment with the Government of Malawi and thereafter got employment at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the central bank.
SCAWG have been delighted to hear of Esmie’s many successes over the years, but in summer 2018 they got some very special news. The Reserve Bank of Malawi had decided to sponsor Esmie to study for a PhD in Economics at Loughborough University. She and her family (her husband and two sons aged 8 and 5) were coming to England, to Loughborough. They arrived in September and once they had settled in we arranged a meeting.

“International Women’s Day was very special for us this year,” said Jean Soper, president/coordinator of SCAWG. “Esmie came to our meeting in Sutton Coldfield and told us her story”. Esmie described girls’ education in Malawi, explaining that although in the cities there are a few schools that achieve international standards, in rural villages the children of subsistence farmers have much more limited opportunities. Most cultures in Malawi believe education is unimportant for girls and so they face even more disadvantages than do boys. Although primary education in Malawi is now free, the number of teachers has not increased much and therefore class sizes are still very big. Apart from having inadequate teaching and learning materials, most schools do not have enough classrooms, forcing children to learn under trees and classes to be disturbed/cancelled during the rainy season. The girl child is further disadvantaged because most schools are unable to provide safe and sanitary facilities for girls.

The many difficulties in this country with a young population structure are very challenging, but the message that came through from Esmie’s talk was very encouraging. Support from SCAWG had been very helpful, especially at some crucial moments. Despite all the odds, Esmie has succeeded. She has now become the role model that she would have liked to have when she was younger.
Supporting the education of women and girls is an important objective for SCAWG and they continue to raise funds for this.

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