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Maria Chale, ​Malawi

What do you do in your home country and what do you hope to do upon your return? In particular, with the integration of your experiences here?

Currently I was working in partnership with Save the Children Federation, UK based NGO. My responsibilities included ensuring that primary schools are using inclusive practises, assessing the learning environment; training regular teachers and monitoring and evaluating their progress in teaching diverse learners with disabilities; conducting community sensitization awareness programs with parents, traditional authorities; reviewing the curriculum for teaching learners with disabilities; facilitating outreach screening of children with several learning disabilities and refer them to hospitals for further assessment; I collaborate with different stakeholders such as the Malawi National Examination Board, Malawi Institute of Education and the Ministry of Education in identifying assessment methods for learners with severe learning disabilities.
In addition, I run my own personal mentor programs involving the deaf. I run a peer to peer mentor program involving deaf students and the community. The program addresses health, education, social and economic issues that impact on the lives of the deaf. I also sponsor a number of deaf learners and youths in a wide range of issues such as small loans, school fees and the like.I am also at the forefront in advocating against child marriages which have been on the rise recently. Girls as young as 13 years old are being married off by their parents at the price of a single cow (about $80) due to poverty. These girls are barely able to take care of themselves, let alone bear a child and if they do, they are at risk of health complications and death. I work hand in hand with local authorities to impress upon the parents the rights of the girl child and the value of education.
My experience with the fellowship has placed me in a place where I can clearly visualise a more professional Maria and a greater life for marginalized groups. I cannot begin to fathom how much this fellowship has impacted on my personal and professional life. To begin with, the first course of action when I go back home is to improve my image and develop my own personal brand that truly defines my role. From the materials in class, I have discovered the importance of marketing my image and professionalism to get the maximum attention from the public as a whole. I have also seen the need to establish a definite leadership style that will put me in a place where I can reach and influence masses of people. One of my core objectives includes training interpreters so that they can be readily available for the deaf to access services such as health, education and finance. There is a large shortage of interpreters in Malawi due to lack of financial aid aimed at training interpreters. As a former board member of the Malawi National Association of the Deaf, I am a constantly looking for means and resources for training interpreters and of late this has been a huge challenge for me and the lesson on ‘Closing the Deal’ has been quite the eye opener for me. It has enabled me to pinpoint what I was doing wrong all these times when I was writing and submitting proposals for grants. I also had the privilege of interviewing two professional interpreters from Deaf Hearing Communication Centre (DHCC) who shared their experience on what it takes to be trained as an interpreter and this has been valuable information for me. The site visits to health centres such as the Philadelphia FIGHT and the connections I made has provided me with an insight on how to address the issues of Young marginalized adults living with HIV. I have always been a person who shied away from leadership roles and responsibilities but the Lecturers by Christian Resick, Mark Stehr, Professor Vakharia and Mr Almonte have provided me with a great insight on how I can make the best decisions in the face of obstacles and have impressed upon me the value of relying on team members rather than taking up all responsibility myself. Granted, I work with individuals whose qualifications are below par and it is for this reason that I always took it upon myself to take on the toughest responsibility. These lessons have taught me to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses as a leader and pinpoint which areas I should improvise and how to improve the management component of my organization.
Just as it has been all along, it is my overall objective to continue on the same career path and the MWF has helped pave a way for me to improve the academic welfare of marginalized groups.

What is your favorite thing about your home country? How about Philadelphia?

My favorite thing about my country are the people. Wherever I go, I always meet interesting people who leave both positive and negative impression on me. For instance, many people are often surprised and impressed with my tenacity and passion about disability rights. They are always under the impression that I am a timid person until I open my mouth. I love seeing their expressions. It is hilarious on many levels but it also leaves me with a good feeling that I have succeeded in disabusing them of certain notions about persons with disabilities and this eventually prompts a positive change in their attitude towards persons with disabilities.  The negative implications are that they always assume that I need communication service around the clock. They assume that they need to know sign language to be able to communicate with me all the time. And this is what proves to be a major challenge for me as the potential people I feel I can connect with shy away because they reckon they cannot communicate with me or that I am not up to the challenge regardless of the evidence of my professionalism. Still, this is what makes the whole process interesting as it is part and parcel of my job to make them aware of the limitless capabilities of persons with disabilities.
My favorite thing about Philadelphia are my Interpreters. Not only are they my eyes and ears, they are a mine of information and always put up with my lack of knowledge in American Culture. They never fail to impress upon me the various sources of information and networks I can connect with. They make my life here in Philadelphia a dream come true. I am also impressed with the people of the Drexel community. I always had the impression that Americans were stuffy people but on the contrary, I found everyone I met to be warm and friendly. If they were pretending, I wouldn’t know but what I know is I enjoyed every moment I spent with them and have learnt a great deal from them. I am most appreciative of the Staff at Drexel, especially those managing the Mandela Washington Fellowship. They have shown more patience than anyone before and it is well known that we Africans are not big on time but they have been willing to put up with us and our attitudes. They have been the greatest role models for us so far and I wouldn’t have asked for better supervisors and mentors.

Do you have any hobbies or an interesting fact you wish to share about yourself?

Do you have any interests or hobbies that you haven’t mentioned? Something you would like to share about yourself?
My primary interests and hobbies include traveling, reading, hiking and art. I am also a keen martial arts enthusiast. I also enjoy networking with people and I enjoy doing academic research in areas of interest.

If I were to come to your home country, what is the first thing I should eat?

Well, I wouldn’t recommend Nsima as that is our traditional food. It has been known to upset the stomachs of Americans of several occasions. I however, recommend our fruits such as mangos. They are on a different taste from those of ordinary states. I would also recommend plantains with a side dish of meat or eggs. They are fantastic and a delicacy. Then we have Chambo, which is the source of attraction of tourists. This breed of fish is quite the delicacy and a favourite of Americans in Malawi.