‘’If you would not be forgotten as soon as you’re dead and rotten, either do something worth writing or write something worth reading.’’ Quoted from Benjamin Franklin, a great American citizen, scientist, philosopher, musician…..
This is one of my favourite quotes because writing is in my blood. My writing includes what I dream about. As such some of my dreams of achievement are propellers to continue my journey to the centre of my heart. I am always forward looking. In fact I am fully aware that my past is water under the bridge such that nothing can be changed about it; but I still have control over my destiny. So whether you’re a woman or man, a girl, a boy, housewife or a widow/widower, past your forties and that you feel your trials can’t take you anywhere since you’ re done with failure, then I am specifically here to talk to you. But who really is this Rhoda Zulu?
I believe I am a woman of substance. My starting point of achievement is a strong desire which culminates into definiteness of purpose. I am fully aware that my progress requires me to change from business as usual. I remember that John F Kennedy once said that Change is a Law of Life; my life long journey enforces me to be cool, composed and collected. At the back of my mind I am conscious that great people are those with an extraordinary amount of drive, determination and desire. (John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders around You).
Let me first give a brief background of myself. I am in my 55th year of life, and was born on 10th December, 1960. I am the second born in a family of eight children; now I am the eldest of those that still live. The first born and third born passed away. I come from Golomoti in Dedza East but was born in Blantyre and grew up in various districts like Blantyre, Thyolo, Chikwawa, Mangochi, Zomba, Lilongwe and Dedza with both parents; my father worked as a supervisor at PVHO. My father gave me a male name, Harvey(meaning warrior), long before I was born, when my mum was expecting me; so although I was born a girl and named Rhoda, my father claimed he saw a boy in me. I believe this is one of the reasons I grew up believing that my father expected me to excel and develop some attributes that then were mostly attained by boys/ men. My late father is my model because he went through a lot of adult learning.
I was selected to Likuni Girls Secondary School from Zomba in 1975, completed Form 4 in 1979. As a high performer in class l had hoped to go to College; but alas! I completely missed my goal; actually that year no-one from Likuni Girls’ went to College. It was a surprise to students and teachers. My father was more disappointed than anyone else in our family; he least expected my failure and we were no longer on talking terms; but nothing could change situation since those days there were no chances of repeating Form Four. I too lamented over my failure, but I decided to move on. I got married that same year (1979) with Christopher Zulu from Ntcheu and got blessed with our first born, Bertha. That time my father did not even want to see me because he did not approve what I had turned out to be; he had lost hope in me. He even reiterated that he wished I was born a boy.
I lived as a housewife for two years then thought of going for a nursing course. Earlier on my late husband had wanted me to go for teaching course but I had declined. So I enrolled for a midwifery course at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre but failed to start off because I became expectant again. Mind you, family planning was not possible because contraceptives were not available locally as is the case now. So we got blessed with my second born son, Patrick in 1982.
Later I did several interviews with companies such as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and MRA (Malawi Revenue Authority). I managed to secure a job at Lever Brothers in Limbe as an Accounts Clerk where I worked for one year. My late husband used to work for Malawi Housing Corporation then, but when he quit and joined construction works he was sent to Euthini in Mzimba to construct Euthini Secondary School. This proved a challenge since we were far apart such that I had to give up work and joined my husband up North. This time I stayed as a housewife once more for close to a year before I secured myself another chance to go to St Anne’s’ Midwifery School in Nkhotakota. Our two children were sent to live with my mother-in-law in Ntcheu for I could not send them to my parents. I used to like nursing although at first I feared taking care of terminally critical patients. In fact for a while I stopped taking animal intestines (matumbo) because to me they resembled those of humans.
But all along my late husband did not like that I was going to be at a nursing school for four years. So one day I got a message from him that my son was sick and I had to take leave off duty to attend to the child. But as soon as I got out of campus a relative of my late husband who used to work at Nkhotakota district council revealed that none of our children was sick but that my husband still wanted me to undergo interviews at Lilongwe Teachers’ College. I had to accept, went ahead, and started off training to become a primary school teacher. Barely a month passed and I got a letter informing I had succeeded to start work at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation back in Blantyre; based on interviews that I had done two years ago. I made up my mind to come back to Blantyre, wrote my husband; but he could not swallow that,
“ If you do so that’s at your own will; remember you left Lever Brothers because I am no longer working in Blantyre.’’
So after an internal battle I settled to continue pursuing training from 1983-1985 and started primary school teaching. That’s when I renewed closeness with my late father. That same year (1985) we got blessed with our third born Chrispin, then fourth Caroline (1989) and finally Brecious (1992). I first taught standard two; then I became ambitious such that each academic year I requested to teach the next higher class. When I reached standard eight I thought I wouldn’t go further. When I informed my Head teacher at Kanjedza Primary School in Limbe about my quest to teach higher classes he submitted my name to the division such that I got posted to teach at St Kizito DEC in Limbe. I taught barely for a term when the Eastern Division of the Ministry of education placed a call for applications to undergo Diploma Training at Domasi Teachers’ College. My late husband allowed me to go back to school; so I jumped at this opportunity, went back to class for another two years and upon graduating with a Diploma in Education got posted to teach at Chichiri Secondary School. Then my late husband had settled back to Blantyre. I took the same upward principal in my teaching career. Hence for four years I moved from teaching Form 1 then 2 then 3 and 4.Within these four years I also got interested to teach Communications at a Secretarial College(that belonged to Mrs late Aipila(once a Member of Parliament )at the Trade Fair grounds.
On the other hand I continued teaching though I was honoured with an annual increment of K50; it was argued because I had already been promoted through PT3 interviews I had attended before I went to Domasi College of Education. I believe it is this scenario that compelled me to find out what else I would do with my education diploma. In 1999 I heard of a vacancy for producers and presenters at MBC. I applied, invited for interviews, succeeded and got employed as a Producer for radio programmes. My supervisor challenged me to think of a programme to initiate. So I originated the programme ‘Mai Wamakono’ (Modern Woman).This is a programme in which women are interviewed to talk about the struggles they go through in the ladder to success and how they finally make it.
In 2001 MBC management noted that my educational background would fit in well with community development work. So I was trained in development journalism then requested to go and join the Development Broadcasting Unit of MBC. At first I was hesitant because I was conscious that I had already made several turns in life…Accounts, teaching, broadcasting. But then with the encouragement of David Kamkwamba who by then was a Team Leader for the Development Broadcasting Unit, I still accepted to give it a try. Interestingly this is where I got more exposure in development journalism facilitated by Radio for Development; a UK media consultancy. I recall that Levi Zeleza Manda is one of the veteran journalists who encouraged me to go back to class. So I continued to search for further studies while I worked as a community development facilitator in promoting contact and dialogue between communities with people in service delivery. In 2003 I applied and got a scholarship through the Joint OXFAM Programme in Malawi; so I studied for a certificate in NGO Management with Imperial College, University of London. When the Polytechnic began a distance learning programme in Community Development I jumped at the prospect and studied up to Advanced Diploma in rural and community development by Association of Business Managers and Administrators (ABMA) in 2007/2008.
My journey of professional advancement continued when in 2005 I applied for scholarship from National Media Institute that enabled me to study Media Leadership and Management with the Sol Plaatje Media Institute at the Rhodes University in South Africa. There I saw women past my age that were still studying, some struggled even to walk. This gave me impetus that I too would get to study further. So come 2008 I applied and got employed at Story Workshop Educational Trust (SWET), a local Non Governmental Organisation that specializes in dissemination of developmental messages. When I inquired about SWET educational policy in which interested employees who register to study are supported on fees costs, I jumped at the chance and registered to study for a bachelor’s degree in community development at Blantyre International University on Distance Learning in 2011.
Over the years of my professional enhancement I have developed a passion for rural communities. I therefore attribute SWET for supporting me financially, time provision to study and promoting my skills and competences in development support communications. Further I commend my family for encouraging me to study; plus other organizations that support professional enhancement of their employees. May I request those organizations that do not support educational advancement to emulate this good practice.
The climax of my story is about the latest milestone that I got on a Thursday, the 11thof September 2014. My face beamed with joy when this long time desire to complete a degree programme came into fruition. As I shook hands with the Chancellor of the Blantyre International University, Professor Charles Chamthunya, I reminded myself, “ Better late than never… Slow but sure…One step at a time…..’’ The delight was compounded by the fact that both I and my daughter, fourth born, Caroline Zulu graduated with a Bachelor’s in Community Development as well from the same university. This graduation day was a very colourful occasion, held at COMESA hall and thereafter I was treated to a luncheon organized by my children.
In terms of my writing career, I was discovered by Mike Sambalikagwa Mvona, current Malawi Writers’ Union President in 2001. Then Mr Mvona was an editor of Moni Magazine and I had authored a feature article titled “Kanthu nkhama motomoto’. Hence I have accessed various trainings in writing and contribute to the literary world. I have developed a life log passion for writing such that I now realize that regular reading and writing helps me develop the power of concentration, improves my creativity and sharpens my mind. I am actually compiling my short stories, poetry and Chichewa stories to start publishing my own work. My favourite article is Flight to Success published in the Bachelor of Chikanda, an anthology of the Malawi Writers’ Union. I also contributed to FEMRITE Uganda Women Writers’ Anthology, SUMMONING THE RAINS, in 2012; with a short story, Knife Pleat Skirt. The story was derived from real life situation of gender based violence incident which I investigated from a Malawian community in Thyolo during Ten Days’ Activism period of Gender Based Violence in 2005. This short story was one of other women writers’ stories from fourteen countries in Africa that got published into the African women Writers’ Anthology; after I participated at Women Writers’ Workshop in Kampala, Uganda, in 2011.
Allow me to remind you that no-one can climb the ladder of success with both hands in the pocket. Also bear in mind that the ladder of success must be set upon something solid before you can start to climb. I therefore feel that Blantyre International University (BIU) is a strong ladder that has pushed me a new step ahead on my lifelong pilgrimage towards my destiny; it has opened a new chapter for further exploitation of my God given potential.
Finally, take note of this, “Be willing to fail temporarily, not permanently. Imagine one man had failed in business in 1831. He was defeated in politics in 1832; failed again in business in 1834, had a nervous breakdown in 1841. In 1842 he failed to receive his political party nomination for the senate in 1855; defeated again in 1858.
“A hopeless loser,” people conferred.
But he finally surprised them all. He was elected president of the United States in 1860. Guess who? Abraham Lincoln (Quoted from Norman Vincent Peale). Here is another quote,
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan
That’s why Napoleon advises that a winner never quits, a quitter never wins. You must change the attitude of easily giving up or life of doubts. These worries are traitors and make us lose the good you could have won by further attempts (William Shakespeare). So be ambitious as you strive towards your desire. And when you achieve you’ll proudly say,
“This I have attained because I am objective, targeted, work hard with persistence and perseverance.’’