Co-founder of the Christian nonprofit Loving Arms Malawi, Pempho Chinkondenji is a bright and inspiring #MotherlandMogul committed to public service and to championing women’s rights. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Cross-cultural and International education at Bowling Green State University.
An avid volunteer, in May 2016, Pempho became a member of a non-profit organization known as the Pan-Pacific and South-East Women’s Association (PPSEAWA-USA). At the end of 2016, PPSEAWA USA appointed Pempho to be their youth delegate to the United Nations.
SLA contributor Uloma Ogba caught up with Pempho to learn what ignited her passion for volunteering and social entrepreneurship.
When most people finish university, their first thought is usually how to land that high-paying job, but you chose to start an NGO instead. Could you tell us what inspired you to do so and what your NGO is all about?
I actually co-founded Loving Arms Malawi in July 2014, a year after I graduated from undergrad. I have two friends, Livinia and Sungani, who share the same passion and desire to reach out to girls in our communities. Together, we co-founded Loving Arms Malawi.
As a first-generation college graduate, when I got to college I learned the importance of having educated female role models who I did not have when I was younger. Also, my friends and I grew up in communities where discussions about abuse were considered taboo. Yet a lot of girls were going through the experience and suffering in silence. After college, my friends and I started talking about the issue of girls lacking role models, and the need to deal with the problem.
We also talked about the sexual and physical abuse happening in our communities right under our noses. In our country, the problem is not regarded as a health issue, hence the lack of counselling facilities to help the affected girls. After a lot of discussions, we decided to start Loving Arms, as a haven that provides free counselling, educational support, and spiritual mentoring to young people, especially girls that have been abused.
We do outreach programs to boarding schools, communities, and churches to support adolescents who have been through these experiences, or just need support. We identify educated role models to speak to the young people and work with survivors of abuse to share their stories with the young people.
How active are you currently in the leadership of Loving Arms Malawi? What lessons would you say you have learnt from running an NGO that you have been able to apply to other areas of your life?
I currently serve as a Co-founder for Loving Arms and also as the Program Director for the educational support project. There are a lot of things that I have learned through my experiences at Loving Arms. I have learned how to be optimistic, how to build a good rapport with others, and how to develop a “go-getter” attitude.
During our first outreach program, we were going to a boarding school that had over 800 girls and we were bringing them some cake for dessert. Since in boarding school, the food is not as great, and you do not get cake, we thought of giving them a treat. We had about 40 volunteers, and our church community was very supportive of in this program.
But this was the first time I was going to present at such a big event with this audience. I was nervous. Not only about my speech, but was wondering if what we shared with the girls would make a difference in their lives. Also, I was worried about whether I would be able to connect with the girls and get them to open up about issues that they normally would remain silent about. To my surprise, the event was a great success. I could talk openly with the girls, and it was amazing to see how they responded and wanted to engage with us!
You are now completing a Master of Arts in Cross-cultural and International education in the US. What led you to choose this major and how do you see it contributing to your future career goals?
My interest in education developed because of my experience with Loving Arms. Since we seek to provide girls educational support and get them to realize the importance of education, I started to develop interest in this area. More specifically, my interests centered on female education and development.
I was enrolled into the Master of Arts in Cross-cultural and International education where I learned a lot about educational policies and systems across the world. Because of my professional interests, I developed a self-designed cognate called Education Policy and Development. I have learned a lot about how the issues of gender, education and development interact.
My goal is to develop a career in education policy, especially for developing countries in the Sub-Saharan African region. I hope that the skills and expertise that I attain will not only benefit Malawi, but I will be able to contribute to other parts of the world.Pempho Chinkondenji's goal is to develop a career in education policy for developing countries Click To Tweet
You are now an active member of the non-profit Pan-Pacific and South-East Women’s Association (PPSEAWA-USA). Could you tell us what this organization is all about and what role you play in the organization?
I am an active member of PPSEAWA-USA. I currently serve as the Chapter President for our Toledo Chapter, and as one of the Youth Delegates to the United Nations. PPSEAWA is an international organization that strengthens peace by promoting better understanding in the Pacific and South-East Asia.
It also promotes cooperation among women in these regions to the improvement of their social, economic, and cultural condition. For example, PPSEAWA-USA provides scholarships to girls in this region to enable them obtain an education.
PPSEAWA USA recently appointed you to be their youth delegate to the United Nations. What an amazing achievement. What has this experience been like? What are some of the pressing issues you have been able to discuss at the UN meetings?
It was a great honor for me when the PPSEAWA-USA national President appointed me as one of the Youth Delegates to the UN. Through this position, I was able to attend the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) at the United Nations Headquarter in New York in March. At the CSW61, PPSEAWA co-sponsored a few side events.
Some of the issues were on challenges and opportunities of migrant women’s economic empowerment, and empowerment through education. This position also gives me the opportunity to attend Briefings at the UN that are sponsored by the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI).
Why do you think it is important for more young women to become actively engaged in volunteer work, especially with causes and organizations that work towards the advancement of women’s rights?
I think that volunteering is one way for young women to learn, gain on-the-job experience, and advocate for the rights of other women. Through the professional jobs that I have had, I was not able to fight for the causes that I am passionate about or be the voice for the voiceless in the communities around me because the focus of these organizations was different. I did not let that be the reason for me to just sit down and do nothing.
Through volunteering and community service with nonprofits and international organizations, I have been able to be part of local and global movements that seek to promote girls’ rights to education, promote equity and equality despite gender differences, and empower women and girls to reach their full potential. I would highly encourage young women to become part of the causes that they believe in. If they are interested, they should be able to go out and pursue volunteer opportunities that will give them the opportunity to become change-makers.
What women have been the biggest influencers and role models in your life?
My mother is my biggest role model and the biggest influencer in my life. I can confidently say that it is because of her that I have became the woman that I am today. She is a woman who is fearless, strong, and God-fearing. She came from a poor background, with no role models around her to inspire her to stay in school. Yet she did not succumb to the pressures around her that tried to stop her from going to school.
Even after my siblings and I were born, she went back to school to further her education. Her life story inspires me, that is why I have always desired to also help other girls find role models who will help in shaping them in their careers and personal lives.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young women reading this, what would that be?
The advice I would give young women reading this is; Do not let what you do not have stop you from pursing the dreams and aspirations you have in your heart.
Search for opportunities, and do not let negative responses bring you down. Trust, hope and press on until those aspirations become a reality.
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