Pempho Chinkondenji: Do not let what you do not have stop you from pursing your dreams

Pempho Chinkondenji
Pempho Chinkondenji co-founded Loving Arms Malawi to create a safe space for girls/women Click To Tweet

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.

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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.

With the Girls

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.


To learn more about Pempho’s story, you can contact her via email, follow her blog or check out her LinkedIn page.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Marcia Lebambo: I want to see my people in better conditions

marcia lebambo she leads africa
The Marcia Lebambo Foundation brings Spelling Bees to school learners in townships Click To Tweet

Marcia Lebambo is a woman passionate about developing marginalized communities in rural areas. A self-described village girl who came to Gauteng to claim her piece of gold, Marcia is giving back to the community through education in a unique way.

Her foundation uses Spelling Bees to educate school children in rural areas and townships in South Africa. Marcia believes Spelling Bees are a great way to encourage confidence in children. Though she works as a senior campus officer and lecturer, Marcia is pursuing her PhD and is still digging for her gold.


Tell us about the Marcia Lebambo Foundation

The Marcia Lebambo Foundation was established in 2012 as a non-profit organization focusing on teaching school learners in townships and rural areas writing and reading skills. This is done using a popular competition called a Spelling Bee.

In the competition, contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with a varying degree of difficulty. This is a comprehensive learning process that allows children to learn the definition, pronunciation, and roots of the words.

Learning grammar is not the only benefit, learners are able to enhance vocabulary, competitive spirit, greater knowledge, cognitive skills and confidence.

Since 2012, over a thousand learners participated in the program. The initiative was motivated by improving the quality of basic education in the country, especially schools in the rural areas and townships.

As an organisation, we believe that the fight for quality education cannot be the responsibility of government alone, but every South African. This is the reason why we are extending a hand to your organisation to help change the plight of our education system.

What motivated you to starting Spelling Bees in South Africa?

Coming from a rural school where the level of education was very poor, I didn’t value myself as a student. So when I joined TUT as a student in 2005, I felt like I didn’t belong and that affected my confidence a lot.

After completing my degree, at only 19 in 2007, I then told myself that I cannot sit and feel sorry for myself. I had to do something not only for myself but other kids in similar backgrounds like mine. I wanted to go back and help kids from previously disadvantaged schools learn how to read and write.

Because spoken words are written first, if you can master reading and writing you can master the speaking. In 2012, together with a group of volunteers, I founded the Marcia Lebambo Foundation which organises the Spelling Bee competitions.

If you can master reading and writing you can master the speaking Click To Tweet

Coupled with the rapid pace of social media and technology, writing has become a challenge globally, especially for learners in marginalised communities. I believe that if you cannot spell the word, you cannot read, and if you cannot read, you will not be able to write.

We literally go school by school sending invitations and requesting collaborations from school teachers, principals and parents. It is very challenging because it is self-funded. But it is worth it.

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Do you have a favourite book or read much?

I love biographies, they tell a story and invite the reader to meet the person behind the person. I call biographies intimate reads.

Currently, I am reading Zuma, A Biography by Jeremy Gordin. In between, I’m also reading a local Author Sy Tshabalala’s book titled Being Positive in a Negative World, Daily Supplements of Inspiration. But the pace has been slow because I am doing my PhD which consumes a lot of time on research books and articles and a lot of writing.

What keeps you awake at night?

To see my community and people in better conditions than they were yesterday.

Being raised by parents with no educational background and being the first in the family to receive a university qualification reminds me that I represent my entire community. That responsibility reminds me that I have to rise above the narrow confines of my individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

I am driven by knowing that God has given us powers to be and do anything that we want in life, whether good or bad, the choice lies with us.  I am also inspired by ordinary women with no education or employment who use whatever little resources available to sell fruits and vegetables to pay for their children’s education.

My question daily is; If they can do it, what stops me? If the late Mandela could move the entire world behind prison bars, what is actually stopping me? That is what inspires me.img-20161007-wa0001

Why did you choose your profession?

I started with a course that I didn’t want to do because I didn’t apply on time to secure a space on the course I wanted which was law. So I went for any that was available and ended with administrative management. I completed it in Cum Laude because I wanted to quickly remove it from my face and register my all-time favourite. But as one can expect, life happened and I ended up doing so many other courses.

My qualifications include:

  • Diploma Administrative Management
  • B-tech Strategic Management
  • B-tech Public Management
  • Masters in Entrepreneurship

After so many years, it is only now that I have been accepted to study LLB. The plan is to complete my PhD first this year, 2016. I want to be an academic full-time. There still so much work to do especially in the black-dominated universities.

Marcia Lebambo was the first in her family to receive a university qualification Click To Tweet

How do you define family?

Family is strength, family is love, family is light. To me, family is everything. They keep you grounded, when you go up they celebrate with you, when you go down they cry with you. They are our ultimate life cheerleaders.

Three of my siblings are part of the Spelling Bee initiative. I must say without them, I would have not grown the foundation to where it is today. Being closer, they help ignite that fire within.

Which would you choose between trust or love?

Both.

With trust you love, and with love you trust. Without the other, the puzzle would be incomplete.


We want to know what amazing things women are doing in your communities! Tell us about them here.

Lessons from Hadiza Bala-Usman: Why your active participation matters

Attendees with Hadiza Bala Usman (Founder, Bring Back our Girls + Chief of Staff to Kaduna State Governor)-2

Speaking up isn’t easy. For most of us, when there are problems in our community or society, we respond passively because we expect someone else to do something about it.

Hadiza Bala-Usman has stepped up and used her voice to advocate on behalf of women, children, her community and country.  A Nigerian activist and politician, she currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Kaduna State government and is one of the leading voices for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, organising protests on behalf of the families of the kidnapped girls.

At SheHive Abuja, Mrs. Bala-Usman spoke about her career in public service, why she joined it, and how to get people to care about issues that they rather ignore. She expressed that her passion to speak on behalf of people who do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves was birthed from childhood and her desire to live a life that is beyond herself.

She recognised early in life that one doesn’t have to be in ideal situations and positions to add significant value to the society. When the BBOG movement started it did not have a formal structure or strategic plan in place to guide activities, what it did have was a group of people with different skill sets who were willing and passionate enough to congregate and make things work.

Here are some of the lessons we can learn from Hadiza Bala-Usman’s story as an active public servant and advocate.

Get involved with the process

The best way to influence positive change is to make the nitty gritty details that add up to an issue our business.

Using the #BringBackOurGirls movement as an example, she stated that the flawed system of government made it easy for the girls to be kidnapped and finding ways to publicly hold them accountable helped move things forward . It took emails, a series of street marches and social media campaigns for the government of the day to take the situation seriously.

It is one thing to admit there is a problem, another thing to wish for a solution but what really effectuates change is your commitment and involvement in the process.

Keep perspective

It takes little effort to be fatigued and overwhelmed when we do not achieve the desired results from our advocacy endeavors. Hadiza Bala-Usman shared that one way to find inspiration to keep going is to look beyond the immediate results and realities surrounding our work.

Using the #BringBackOurGirls movement as an example, she said that the rescue of the  girls is of utmost importance. However, the campaign has also influenced government policies around the girl child such as early marriage, economic empowerment and access to education.

Furthermore, families that are directly affected have found comfort in the fact that there are people in direct contact with the government who are speaking and fighting on their behalf.

You can add value

Because of the stereotypes women are expected to fit into, most women believe that what they have to offer will add little or no significant value to the big issue.

She emphasized that it is little individual contributions that add value to the bigger goal and encouraged that what matters is the quality your engagement not the quantity.

The take away is this: There is a lot you can do. Resist the temptation to be a spectator in your community and challenge yourself to seek creative ways to add value to people. Move from passive to active, from an onlooker to a participant, your contribution matters.

Creating impact that works: Tips from my start-up experience in Ghana

Eu'Genia Shea - Impact

Naa-Sakle Akuete is the founder of Eu’Genia Shea, the first line of premium shea moisturizers dedicated to using 100% natural ingredients in partnership with female cooperatives in Ghana. She shares what she’s learned from working with rural communities for her natural products.


When my mother founded a shea butter manufacturing company in Ghana in 1999, she had never heard the term “double bottom line.” She did, however, know that if she was going to succeed in business, she wanted to do so in an ethical manner.

By partnering with pickers from female cooperatives, paying them above-market prices, and offering organic and financial training, she was able to ensure that her community thrived along with her business. Her decades of experience inspired me to start my own finished products line last year: Eu’Genia Shea.

As I pore through her life’s work, applying lessons learned and trying to avoid mistakes already made, one point shines through brightly: good intentions do not always yield good results.

Hopefully, some of these points will be helpful to others aiming to make mutually beneficial business partnerships in rural developing communities.

Build Trust

You know yourself, you understand your motives, and without a doubt, your heart is in the right place. But even if you are native to the country/region/community, how can others be assured of this goodwill if they do not know you? SNV is a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to “creating effective solutions with local impact”, in this case facilitating savings. They entered Damongo, Ghana with speeches and promises, but without any connections. The cooperatives with which we work were understandably wary.

How many times have they encountered non-profits who raised their hopes only to disappear, or worse still, people claiming to have their best interests in mind, only to cheat them? They sent the confused SNV away then SNV came to my mother to explain their mission. My mother spoke on their behalf, and now SNV is a valued contributor to these cooperatives.

Bottom line: Understand the legacy of the community and approach accordingly, whether through an intermediary or through years of proving yourself (which takes a bit longer, but Mum can confirm it works!)

Listen

There are thousands of aid organizations flooding millions of dollars into poor communities globally. Most of them have good intentions, but their money still goes to waste. For example, on one visit to our facilities in Damango, Mum occasionally saw workers without shoes. As a westerner, or a native with a westerner’s perspective, this is jarring for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the safety implications.

She spoke with the women and made a point of purchasing shoes for all of the workers on her next trip to the US to ensure that no one was left unprotected. Upon her return, some women again were not wearing shoes. When she inquired about it, she discovered two things: some husbands were absconding with their wives’ shoes and some women found it difficult to maneuver in the new shoes.

Had my mum taken the time to dig a little deeper originally, she would have found that buying local shoes closely fitting each woman would have helped solve both problems.

Encourage them to maintain assets

Now you’re partnering with a community whose needs you understand and are able to address. You’ve suggested ideas and implemented technology where appropriate; they’ve told you why half of your bright ideas aren’t quite so bright, and everything is moving along swimmingly. It’s come time to leave them for a couple weeks, months, or years…

Before you leave operations in their hands, make sure you’ve given them the tools and know-how to maintain (and how often to maintain) any machinery you’ve introduced. The once shiny, now corroded Japan Motorbike rusting by our plot is a great example of something that made life easy for a couple months before falling into disrepair.

Choose the right customers

You’re running a business not a charity. On one end, you have Bill Gates in Microsoft era and on the other, Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Foundation era. You don’t have to be either extreme, but what you have to do is make enough money to keep yourself afloat and to continue the work you’re doing.

If social impact causes your products to be slightly more expensive than competitors, find the customers who care. And make sure your product is worth it! At Eu’Genia Shea, not only do we pay above market wages, provide training, and give 15% of our profits back to our workers, our longevity in the industry helps ensure our products are always of the highest quality.

Our customers get expertly moisturized skin, our partners make a good living, and we get to keep on doing what we love — win/win!

Transparency

Your aim is to do great things, so be open about it. Maybe you’re not doing quite as much as you’d like yet. For example, 15% of profits covers some of the tuition costs of our worker’s children, but not all. I’d love Eu’Genia to be able to give all the children in our communities a free education. I’d love to provide all past and future workers with a pension when they retire. I’d love to offer free daycare to workers whose children are below school age.

The reality, however, is that I’m not in a position to do any of this yet. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try though. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But my mistakes can be learning points for me and other entrepreneurs like me. Being transparent about our goals and processes not only allows others to give us valuable feedback, but also supports the growth of all enterprises looking to make an impact.

We live in a big and complicated world with many societal issues I’ve never heard of or understood. If those who are able can contribute to improve the landscape how best they know, our actions will magnify each other’s. I’m excited to be a small part of this effort.


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