I had the opportunity to drive three of the graduate students into Sheboygan last Friday evening to attend a concert of the African Children’s Choir at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. The choir was from Uganda and was on a grand tour of the United States. The children, most of them orphans, were wonderful singers and dancers, full of talent, vitality, and smiles. The whole experience was very uplifting, and it was good to do something away from campus with Ndamyo Mwanyongo, Margaret Mulaga, and Bertha Singini, the subject of today’s profile. I think the three graduate students had a good time listening to familiar music from Africa, as I occasionally heard quiet singing coming from Bertha, who was sitting next to me in the pew.
Meet Bertha Singini
Bertha was born in Mzuzu, in northern Malawi and lives now in Blantyre, in the south, where she has worked at the Teacher Training College (TTC) there for five years. Before that, she taught for eleven years at the TTC in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Prior to Lilongwe she was working on her bachelor’s degree at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College.
Bertha is married and has two teenage daughters, ages 19 and 14. She misses them enormously and tries to speak to them every day. When she first told her family that she wanted to apply to Lakeland to pursue her master’s degree in early grade reading instruction, her husband (who works for a tobacco company) said, “This is your chance, Bertha. Don’t miss it!”
Bertha has traveled some in her life already and besides the three students who attended Lakeland as undergraduates, she is the only other person in the cohort who previously visited the United States. In 2011, she was an attendee at a “Women Aglow” Christian conference held in Houston,Texas. Before that, she traveled to Freiburg, Germany (along with fellow graduate student Ndamyo Mwanyongo and many other teachers representing all the public Teacher Training Colleges in Malawi) to attend a conference on "Learner Centered Education" sponsored by GIZ, or Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (Society for International Cooperation.)
Bertha, along with several of her fellow M.Ed. students, would like to see discussions opened up with the Ministry of Education back home to create an office strictly dedicated to issues related to teaching reading. She also has a vision that more books could be made available for children to take home with them to read during their free time. Her graduate thesis will examine how literacy skills can be used in other content areas in the primary school curriculum, for example, in social studies.
Bertha still thinks about her visit to Bookworm Gardens that took place during the first two weeks that the Malawians were here, and it remains one of her favorite experiences in Wisconsin to date. Although she knows that resources would be an issue in building a similar activity center in Malawi, and that a Bookworm Gardens there would be very different from the one here in Sheboygan, she can imagine something like it back home. “We just need to identify a place,” she said.
One of the most striking things to me about Bertha is that she is full of laughter. While she can be quite serious when talking about the important things that matter to her, her words are often prefaced by laughter, which seems to burst out at times in a cascade of joy. Being able to laugh easily no doubt serves her well, when days become stressful and there is so much important work to be done.