Why We Care.org

When I was growing up, my father wanted my sisters and me to have the same opportunities our brother had. This was not a traditional mindset in African families. My father instilled in us the belief that even if we were girls we could achieve whatever we wanted.

Women began to have a say in their families because they were economically empowered, and eventually the women started negotiating with their husbands about family planning.

There was a tug of war all the time between my father and my grandmother, who believed that African girls were supposed to simply be given the tools to grow up, get married, and have children. My father was a policeman so we lived in town, where we went to school. But my grandmother insisted that every Saturday I go to her house in the village so that I could acquaint myself with village life. And I am thankful for that, because I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to empower women because of the taste of village life that I had as a child.

In the village I had a very good friend. Her name is Chrissie Zamaere. Chrissie went to the village school and I went to the town school. Every Friday she would meet me by the roadside, waiting to hear about town life. And I would be excited to hear from her all the news of the village. She would teach me all about village life, from collecting wild fruits to getting crabs from the river.

Chrissie was the brightest in the village school – brighter than I. We were both selected to go to the best secondary girls’ school in Malawi. Chrissie went one term, but she couldn’t return – her school fees cost $6, and her parents couldn’t raise the money. My parents could, and I went on and finished my schooling, and today I am the president of Malawi. Chrissie went back to the village, got married early, ended up with half a dozen children or more, and she is still there, locked in poverty – and it makes me angry. It has made me angry all these years. As a young woman, I remember saying, “What can I do?” Today I keep Chrissie in mind each day as I work on behalf of women and girls.