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18/07/2013: ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY STEVE D. MATENJE, S.C. AMBASSADOR OF MALAWI TO THE UNITED STATES AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS (UTSA) AT SAN ANTONIO, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2012

 

 

Greetings, President Romo, Administrators, Deans, Instructors, Families,

Friends and Graduates!


Let me begin by saying how deeply grateful I am for being invited to speak on this auspicious occasion.  I do not take this honor for granted.

I come to you from Washington, DC, the official representative of the country of Malawi. Malawi is known as the "Warm Heart of Africa" because of the warmth of its people and unparallel beauty of the country. I bring you greetings from the Warm Heart of Africa.

Malawi is a land-locked country in the southeastern area of the African continent. It is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. Just like many other African countries we have many development challenges particularly in the education sector, including large class sizes, high dropout rates especially amongst girls and inadequate numbers of teachers, but mainly we are a country of resilient people and of hope. We hope for a better tomorrow for our children, just as the parents and families in this audience have hoped for a better tomorrow for you, Graduates.

You may wonder why the Ambassador from a country on the African continent is here tonight with you. It’s simple—UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development and my country have been working together for three years now. I’m here tonight because I feel as if I am a member of the UTSA family. I am proud and greatly honored to stand before you and to congratulate you on your accomplishments. In my country, such an accomplishment is noteworthy of the hard work of the individual and the family as well as the community. This noteworthiness is explained by an African ideology known in my language, Chichewa, as umunthu or ubuntu as they call it in South Africa.

Please allow me to explain this ideology in the hopes that you may recognize some of it and may take this as your last lesson at UTSA. Perhaps, even, you will see how you are part of a larger, more globalized family.

Umunthu portrays the essence of humanity and emphasizes the importance of turning to the principles of compassion, sharing and cooperation in efforts to resolve human conflict and promote human development. According to retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, umunthu or ubuntu recognizes the interconnectedness of life. Tutu states, and I quote:

"My humanity is bound up with your humanity. One consequence of ubuntu is that we recognize that we all need to live our lives in ways that ensure that others may live well. Our [personal] flourishing should enhance the lives of others not detract from them; more succinctly stated, 'A person is a person only through other persons.” End of quote

Put simply, the concept of umunthu in the African worldview can be condensed in one sentence: “I am because we are” or as the Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, puts it: “I am what I am because of who we all are”.  Indeed, as we say in my language of Chichewa: “Kalikokha nkanyama, tili awiri ntiwanthu” which literally translates into English as “When you are on your own, you are as good as a wild animal; when there are two of you, you form a community”.

What does that mean for us tonight? It means two things. First, it means that the caring of children is a collective responsibility and that the caring of children is not vested in one or two individuals, but in the whole community. I want to use your college as an example.

For the past three years, your college has led an effort to reform primary education in Malawi -- your administrators, staff, professors and students have all been involved in one way or another.  It's true. Since 2009, this college has worked with Malawian educators to develop, print and distribute over 5 million reading books for young children as part of my Government’s efforts to promote early childhood development in Malawi.

Those books were quite unique, you know. They were not traditional books that were designed in the USA and shipped by boat to Malawi. No, those books were written by Malawian teachers for children in their classrooms under the careful direction of your college. Teachers and children have welcomed those books-- so much in fact, the Malawian/UTSA research team documented an increase in attendance and an increase in the reading achievement of children in the schools where the books were placed.

Not only did they develop books, your college trained over 8,000 teachers across the country on how to use those books. Your college also trained school principals and more than 390,000 community members on how to support teachers during the implementation of those books. The numbers may impress you, but more impressively—you played a role in this, too, Graduates.

In fact, while you were having conversations about educational topics here at UTSA with your professors, your professors were taking what they were learning from you when they traveled to Malawi to work with Malawian teachers and Malawian children. That makes children in Malawi YOUR children as much as they are MY children. Collectively, the children in my country are now OUR children.  Both Malawi and the United States are bound to benefit from their success in the future because together we have cared for them. I thank you for your contribution to the advancement of education in Malawi.

What else does umunthu mean for us tonight? Umunthu also recognizes that the relationship between the community and the individual is an important one.  Whilst it is clear that individuals get their identity within a community, it is in the best interest of a community that an individual is developed towards his or her own potential and ability. This is where you come in, Graduates. As educators, you must know that you will be able to see the direct influence you will have on those with whom you will be working, be they children, young adults, teachers or other school personnel. And, according to umunthu, you will also directly influence everyone those children come into contact with for years to come.

Let's say I do something for you today and my actions influence you (good or bad) in the way you interact with the next person, and your actions influence the way he/she interacts with the next person. The pattern continues without end. Do you see what I'm saying? That makes you as an educator and your profession an undeniably influential one—one that must develop the fullest potential of those with whom we work. No other profession can boast this type of influence on individuals, communities, society and the world.  And that is why I hold teachers at all levels of our education systems in very high esteem.

So, I ask you today-- how will you reach out to your community of San Antonio and make it a better place through how you interact with those around you? How will you reach out to your larger community, known as the USA, and make it a better place to live? And, finally, how will you (undeniably) have a direct and indirect influence on our globalized society? That, I believe, is what is most important about educators—you can change the world, one child at a time.

You have that power and the power to make this world a better place for all to live. I understand that the vast majority of you will enter the educational profession.  I ask you to kindly consider unleashing that power by practicing your profession in Africa in order to share the knowledge and experiences you have gained here at UTSA with less privileged children within the spirit of umunthu.

The best way to do that is probably to join the United States Peace Corps and come to teach in Malawi.  Your university has already made an impressive start by helping my Government to promote early childhood development and uplift the lives of thousands of school children in Malawi.  I salute UTSA for its contribution and please know that you will be most welcome if you decide to come to work in Malawi.

 

Thank you for your attention and once again congratulations on your accomplishments!