All of the graduate students in the current cohort know someone who was a student in Cohort 1 because they all work together at Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) throughout Malawi. In fact, some of the students in the current cohort were even trained by someone from a previous cohort. Also, there are individuals from the very first cohort at Lakeland in 1999 who have had a lasting effect on the students who are pursuing their master’s degrees now. Who knew that these first individuals, who came to Lakeland more than 15 years ago to receive their bachelor’s degrees, would play such a lasting role in the development of Malawi’s corps of teachers? Two of the four current students who received B.A. degrees at Lakeland are Alemekezeke Chitanje and Elizer Kalilombe.
Alemekezeke Chitanje (LC ’12)
Alemekezeke Chitanje (Aleme) graduated from Lakeland with a degree in general education and two minors, one in history and the other in gender and ethnic studies. She lives in Lilongwe and is employed at the TTC there. Her husband is a chaplain for the Malawi Prison Service and was recently transferred to Blantyre. They have one fourteen-year-old son who is in boarding school in Lilongwe.
Aleme began her teaching career as a primary school teacher in 2000. During her eight years in the field, she moved around a lot because of her husband’s changing work assignments. She told me about her first teaching post. “It was in a rural area,” she recalled. “It was challenging. I was employed as a temporary teacher. I had a two-week orientation and then I was sent to teach. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I would look at the teacher guides at night and try to figure it out.” She was fortunate to have manageable class sizes in standard 3 (the equivalent of third grade), but most of the children could not read. “I was not trained to teach reading at that time. I used the books and tried to do the best I could.”
She knew she wanted to improve her skills as a teacher, so she pursued her certification at the TTC in Kasungu, where she was trained by Ndamyo Mwanyongo (a member of graduate Cohort 1 and ’08 LC grad) and her husband, Andy Mwanyongo (a member of that very first Malawian cohort in 1999). When the opportunity came to apply for a bachelor’s degree from Lakeland College, Aleme jumped at the chance. “Andy was a very big inspiration to me. He and Ndamyo both were.”
When Aleme graduated from Lakeland in 2012, she remembers wishing that she might return someday to pursue a master’s degree, although she wasn’t quite sure how that would happen. “Lakeland College is like my second home. Being here again is a dream fulfilled."
“My goal,” she said, “is to be equipped with strategies to teach second language acquisition teachers to teach children how to read. I have high hopes that [what I learn here] is going to work."
Elizer Kalilombe (LC ’11)
Elizer Kalilombe lives in Blantyre and works at the TTC there. She has three children: a boy who is 18, a daughter 13, and the youngest, a boy age two and a half. Elizer taught primary school from 1997 to 2006 at three different schools in Malawi’s central region. She then entered the bachelor’s program at Domasi College of Education, but after her first year there, she learned that she had been awarded a scholarship to come to Lakeland. She arrived on campus in 2008. Upon returning home, Elizer started teaching, first in a high school in Blantyre and then as a teacher trainer at the TTC there in May 2014. “When I graduated in 2011, I hoped I would come back to the U.S. for my master’s degree someday, but I did not imagine it would be at Lakeland College.” She is very pleased to be back at her alma mater.
Like Aleme, Elizer talked about the inspiration provided by Andy Mwanyongo, especially because of his incorporation of music into the TTC curriculum. In addition, she referred to another important Lakeland alumni mentor from that long ago first cohort, Dr. Sellina Kanyerere-Mkweteza. “She taught me at Kasungu TTC,” Elizer shared, “and the way she was teaching, the way she spoke, she was the best. Her methods, her manner.” Then Elizer added, “They both inspired me and encouraged me. I try to model myself after them for my students."
When I asked what she feels needs to happen to improve early grade reading in Malawi, Elizer said, “After finishing just our first two courses here, I can see that it is reading strategies we need to work on. I can see now that one problem in Malawi is that we do not do content-based reading. We must incorporate reading strategies into every subject area. We also need to work on assessment. We need to know [and monitor] the reading levels of our learners."
Elizer and the other women faced quite a challenge during their first week at Lakeland. A cooking fire started in their kitchen, and despite their best efforts, the fire quickly got out of control and destroyed the residence hall. Thankfully, everyone got out of the building unharmed, although Elizer did have burns on her hand and ankle, and they lost all of their personal possessions, including new laptops and textbooks. I asked her how she was feeling about all this.
“We are adjusting. We ask ourselves, ‘why did this happen?’ but there is no good answer. It happened. People have been very kind. We have learned a lot about the goodness of people in America, and here at Lakeland College. They are very supportive. When a person is in trouble, the faculty, staff, and students, everyone comes together to help. We are very grateful."
In closing, Elizer said regarding her hopes for her time at Lakeland, “I will work hard. I will make sure I bring the best things back with me to improve reading in Malawi."
This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.