In the United States of America, the land of the free and land of opportunities, Chikondi Mbewe’s life would be described as a journey from rugs to prosperity.
For, that is what happened to the young man from Mdambwe Village, Traditional Authority Chakhadza in Dowa District. Mbewe is the American version of the self-made man, just like Benjamin Franklin himself.
Yet, in 2006, he was just like any other community member, except that he had a Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) he obtained in 2005 at Natola Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Madisi, Dowa. He scored 28 points but his chances to qualify for a place in a public university was dealt a blow because he got a pass in English.
In Malawi, English is a core subject and to qualify for a public university, a student should get at least six credits in six subjects, including English. So, to someone who aspired to go to university like Mbewe, that was like the end of the road.
The young man says his illiterate parents banked their hopes in him. But now it appeared his future was doomed. His six siblings too were eager to see what he would do with the MSCE.
“So, initially, I wanted to go to a driving school to learn to drive trucks. I wanted to drive trucks to operate between Malawi and South Africa,” he says.
However, when Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (CRECCOM) launched a Primary School Support Project in Dowa, he applied to work as a volunteer. He was the only one who applied from his village.
“People were laughing at me for applying to be a volunteer. However, I told them that I did not apply for monetary returns but to get skills,” explains Mbewe.
Luckily, he was successful. He was among the pioneer Mobilisation Corps of Malawi. There were three initial zones, namely Madisi Zone, Mponela Zone and Mvera Zone. He was at Mtanira Cluster where he was responsible for Mtanira, Madisi, Malunje and Chikwawira primary schools.
Mbewe stayed for three years with CRECCOM. When the project phased out, he joined Rise Malawi, a non-governmental organisation that was helping primary school learners to study after knocking off from school.
“We were called youth mentors at Rise Malawi,” he recalls.
But, Mbewe still wanted to go to university. So, he studied at home at sat for MSCE in 2009. This time he passed with 24 points. He applied to Africa Bible College in Lilongwe in 2010.
Although he had no money, he went to start a four-year degree programme in Christian education at the institution. “So, to raise fees, I became a guard on campus. I was also cleaning lecture theatre rooms and doing gardening. Later in my third year, I clinched a job with the institution as a chef. This is how I raised school fees for my degree.”
Mbewe graduated in 2014 and got a job with Airtel Mobile Network plc in Lilongwe as a customer care officer.
Finally, the young man had achieved what he wanted. From being a poor villager in 2006, he now could afford to support his parents and siblings.
But, according to Mbewe, he reached this far because of the inspiration he got from one person—MadaloSamati, now CRECCOM Executive Director.
He explains: “I remember one day I asked Madalo to raise our stipend, but she told me that it was impossible because I had no qualification to help me earn more money. She told me to go back to upgrade if I wanted more money. These words kept ringing in my ears the whole night.”
Without mincing words, he said, “I wish I met Madalo today so I can say ‘Thank You”