With Sitabene Malange-Majamanda
Eye of the Child 1997 – 2003
Director of Programmes
There are stories of passion that are told every day. Every person has a kind of thing they do so passionately that even in the face of insurmountable opposition, one clings on to that which they so much love. When you listen to Sitabene Malange-Majamanda, and the drive she poses about the welfare of children in Malawi, not even a mountain would move her to think to the contrary. She demonstrates a rare passion for children and the youth. She gave her life, her money and her time into youth activities expecting no monetary return. She was driven by the power to make a difference to the life of the under-privileged, the marginalized, and the impoverished youth.
Sitabene has been one of the forces behind the success story of Eye of the Child. She ventured into youth work, literally by accident. She grew up in a privileged family. She used to spend time enjoying basketball some 20 years ago at the Blantyre Youth Centre, playing the game and coaching rural urban kids in the basketball game. That is when the center was vibrant! And that’s where she met Maxwell Matewere, then the Executive Director of Eye of the Child.
“Maxwell was a young boy with big ideas. He told me he was concerned about the future of many young people who didn’t know what the next day would bring for them. He wanted to start an organization to give a future to such kind of people. That is how Eye of the Child was born” she explained.
Using sports and basketball in particular, the two started mobilizing young people, most of them came from poor families in Ndirande, Bangwe and surrounding similar settings. Sport was all they imagined for their future.
“We started teaching them about their rights. Right to education was critical here. We encouraged them to go to school and to believe in God. Divinity has so much power to change people. We had to use Christ to shape and change the way these young people looked at life. And it worked miracles,” she said.
The youthful Sitabene and Maxwell started working with local and international organizations. The organizations were inspired by what these young people were doing. The sport reach out program even landed with a Juvenile Justice program, managing a once off league tournaments for young boys detained in juvenile centers to motivate a change of behavior through the UNICEF Child Protection Trophy program.
Mobilizing young people through sports was unique and we were winning. We taught them life skills against substance abuse, behavioral change, and the power of salvation, social congruence and many more. She however says, all this was not without challenges. “I gave my life to Christ while I was still very young. Coming from a privileged home, my family was rather shocked and surprised why I pursued my spirituality and my involvement with the less-privileged so hard and with so much conviction. So I had to battle with my belief as well as my passion. And that was not the only thing.”
“I would have been in big trouble with my parents had they known I was travelling to Ntcheu on risky public transport, often in a crammed minibus or on top of crammed pick-up trucks sitting on top of bags. Eventually, my parents came to appreciate the leadership and servant hood spirit in me whilst living in glasshouse. And that I once survived on cerelac (infant cereal food) for one week living in a shack as food was a bit tricky in the areas I served and water was drawn from near water streams so the best was to use water that was boiled and cerelac and boiled water for 10 days did the trick for me. It was at such a time Eye of the Child was assisting in the ESSP project that required us to conduct mapping for future building of primary schools in Ntcheu. Today over 68 schools have been constructed in Ntcheu because of that sacrifice about 20 years ago,” she recollected.
Sitabene has been involved in rescuing young people from child labour (ILO Project, redeeming child laborers from tobacco farms), prisons, streets and sensitization programs with ECPAT International in child trafficking. She has been a fierce advocate for policy formulation and legislation that aims at protecting children.
“Eye of the Child has made me what I am today. I am now a Development Finance Specialist from Stellenbosch University, an accomplished Corporate and Investment Banker for almost 18 years having worked with Standard Bank, FDH Bank and Mybucks Banking Corporation and highest attained position being a Head the Corporate Banking Division. To date she is still pursuing financial inclusion and deepening mandate work by profession. I have worked as Head of Corporate Banking at FDH Bank. However, whatever decision I have made in my career path, or any other institution I have worked before, I do not forget about the youth as the important human capital to propel the country’s economic capital and growth.
We need to invest more in young people. We have not done enough as a country,” she observes. In her career path, Sitabene also had a stint as National Coordinator for a Secretariat of 54 Human Rights NGOs, a project championed with the help of a Norwegian Embassy funding in the year 2004. All this being done in between her successful career in the financial services sector… Sitabene likes to joke doing child rights work is like everyone’s love for soccer games, weekend parties.
She says Eye of the Child has changed the lives of many people in Malawi. Through what is known as Service Learning trainings, the Child Rights organization has inspired young people to engage in entrepreneurship, leadership in political or social institutions, and that many have been successful.
“I am a proud living example of the product of Eye of the Child. There are hundreds others. Despite my work, I am still a force behind Eye of the Child. I encourage those who can, the young people, University graduates, Form Four graduates and other young people to pursue goals that are relevant in life. Through organizations such as Eye of the Child, they can change their lives for the better,” she says.
Sitabene says her involvement with Eye of the Child has been inspirational and rewarding. While she did not pursue financial gains in her work, she received two scholarships because of her work with young people.
“In 2005 I received an IVLP 2005 Scholarship from the US Embassy to visit America on an International Visitors Leadership Program. And before the IVLP program, she had another opportunity through a scholarship from the International Olympics Committee (IOC, Switzerland) to study a Diploma in Educational & Sports Science at Semmelweis University, Budapest Basket Certificate in Hungary and specialized as a basketball coach. She has held leadership role (First Female President to hold a position in the Southern Basketball Zone Association. On return she taught basketball in Blantyre and neighboring districts and held several sport promotion gatherings at the Gymkana Club in Zomba. We change the lives of many. Most of them are successful in life today.”
This year, as Eye of the Child celebrates 20 years anniversary, she sits back with contentment for her contribution to the nation. She however says, many people do not value youth programs. “Investment into youth programs that are relevant is the way to go,” she concludes. Sitabene journey continues aside her professional career, she is running The Mentorship & Philanthropic Center (TMPC) in collaboration tithe the MUBAS Innovation Hub, focusing on human capital development for the disadvantaged university students from Malawi University of Business & Applied Sciences (MUBAS), Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES)and Malawi College of Health Sciences, equipping them with research assignment, data management and analysis skill set to enable them engage in economic activity within research institutions or universities research projects whist still in university and during school holidays to support and fend for themselves. And I continue to raise my children and teach them the spirit of volunteerism, servant hood and shared value.