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Tawonga

CAMFED Association member and Agriculture Program Assistant, Malawi

My name is Tawonga, I am an entrepreneur, agriculture expert and university student from Machinga District, Malawi.

But my story could have been very different. I am the first born in a family of 13, and just like many kids from rural areas who can’t afford private education, I went to a government primary and secondary school. 

My mother owns a small restaurant in our home village and growing up she would wake up very early to prepare food and open the restaurant. On a market day she would wake as early as 4AM to start the fire and boil water for the customers who wanted tea by 5AM, before going to market. Then she would prepare nsima (a type of maize porridge and a staple food in Malawi), rice and meat for the other customers. She was so busy serving customers during the day that she wouldn’t get to eat herself. All her hard work was to get money to support me and my siblings, buying us food, clothes, books and essentials. 

My mother is my biggest inspiration and my role model. She is exceptional and I am very grateful to her.

Even with my mother’s hard work in the restaurant, the first two terms of secondary school were difficult due to the financial status of my family. My parents supported me and encouraged me to study hard, but they were unable to afford fees and basics like school uniform. That was when CAMFED stepped in to support me.

After finishing my secondary school education in 2014, through some help from one of my teachers, I went to African Leadership Academy (ALA) which is a high school in South Africa. At high school, I had a partial scholarship and CAMFED continued supporting me. While I was still at ALA, I applied to EARTH University, and I was admitted under the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

I obtained my high school diploma in July 2017, and later that year began my tertiary studies at EARTH University, Costa Rica. I chose to study Agricultural Sciences because I grew up in a farming family and an agricultural area so I wanted to advance my knowledge and skills to help my family and community.

I started my studies at EARTH University in January 2018, with Spanish as a second language. I graduated in December 2021 with a degree in Agricultural Sciences.

Tawonga Zakeyu, CAMFED Association member, Malawi

On the left, here I am at EARTH University, learning different sustainable farming methods, and on the right at my graduation ceremony from EARTH University, Costa Rica in 2021.

During the fourth year of my studies, I worked with CAMFED Malawi as an intern at district level. I am very interested in girls’ education and women’s empowerment, and working with CAMFED I can turn that passion into action.

Being a CAMFED Association member, working with CAMFED was my way of giving back by helping other girls get educated and see them become empowered and prosper in life.

I then worked with CAMFED Malawi under the Agriculture Guide program as a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program-EARTH University Graduate Fellow. I am helping to expand the Agriculture Guide program in Malawi by creating resources for farmers and helping women get the most out of their small plots of land. My work also involves training and mentoring Agriculture Guides and agripreneurs with climate-smart techniques like water and soil conservation.

My work involves training CAMFED Association Agriculture Guides, especially in climate-smart Agriculture.

The newly trained Agriculture Guides will in turn help other young women to grow their farms into profitable business, increase yields, profits and create jobs for other young people. This way we are reaching thousands more young women with the tools and skills to tackle climate change related problems, poverty, and malnutrition. This will also allow communities to get more involved in philanthropy, and support more girls through school.

As a community we are facing more frequent periods of drought due to climate change, and these climate-smart practices are improving resilience by ensuring farmers can adapt to the changing weather. My family have been personally affected by climate change. We used to keep goats but now our local area is too dry and we have to travel far to find green pasture for grazing. This was difficult so we bought animal feed which is very expensive, and eventually had to sell some of our goats in order to afford feed for the others.

I started my online master’s journey in September at the University of Edinburgh where I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Global Food Security and Nutrition. This degree will enrich my agricultural knowledge and help me address the global challenge of food security. Alongside my work with CAMFED and my master’s studies, I have been developing skills as an entrepreneur by selling clothes.  I have great business ambitions for the future, I want to own a big farm and employ other women. 

They say educating a girl child is educating a nation. I strongly agree because with my education alone I can support my family and I am also independent. I was the first girl in Ngokwe Traditional Authority to get a degree and now I am a role model to many girls from my community. Education gives women the power to become independent and economically empowered, which even gives them more power to make their own decisions. It gives women freedom to be themselves unapologetically.

My advice to other young women out there, is don’t let your background define you, you have the potential to achieve great things in life!

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