The graduate students are on a short break right now. Classes ended last week and will begin again right after Labor Day. When I informally polled the group about what they are doing during their time off, I learned that they have been relaxing, making trips into Sheboygan to look for winter clothes (yes, it will be winter again one day), watching soccer on television, listening to music, and also reading the education literature on literacy to look for “gaps in the knowledge” that might lead to fruitful thesis topics. Even when on break, these graduate students are never far from their studies, are they? In fact, in an eighteen-month graduate program, there really are few breaks. One of the teachers, a self-described “strong and determined woman,” is a 2008 graduate of Lakeland. She spoke with me about out how happy she is to be back.
Meet Ndamyo Mwanyongo ‘08
Ndamyo Mwanyongo graduated with her bachelor’s degree from Lakeland in 2008, but her connection to the school goes back earlier than that. Her husband, Andy Blessings Mwanyongo ’02 was in the first cohort of five students who came to Lakeland from Malawi in 1999 to earn bachelor's degrees. She fondly remembers visiting the campus when he was a student here, to hear him sing in the choir. “Lakeland is like family to me,” she said.
Several years later, Andy encouraged Ndamyo to apply to Lakeland herself. She still feels deep appreciation for the support her husband gave her. He took care of their home and family during her three-year absence. Their two sons were 16 and 11 when she first left. She said the youngest one, especially, missed his mom.
Now she is back for a second degree and couldn’t be happier to be here. Ndamyo said her youngest son, now 19, assured her, “It’s only one year this time. We’ll manage.”
Ndamyo told me she is pleased to know that her example of being selected to leave Malawi twice to study has inspired many of the younger teachers back home. “It’s an opportunity that I don’t take for granted. I feel like I can make a difference. I think the student teachers respect me and look up to me.”
I have no doubt that Ndamyo is right about this.
Ndaymo teaches at the Teacher Training College in Kasunga, a town 60 miles north of the capital city of Lilongwe. She would like to see reading taught in a broad manner. “I do not want to see it narrowed,” she said. “I teach very widely, using all the expressive arts.” Ndamyo, like her husband Andy, is very interested in music. “We play music as a family a lot.” She has used music, drama, and drawing as a tool in teaching not only young learners, but student-teachers, too.
“In Malawi, we must start with better training for teachers. We need to incorporate other subject areas. And, we need a means for engaging parents. In Malawi, parents are not so involved with children’s education. We need to help them see their role.”
Ndamyo knows first-hand the value of parents’ involvement in a child’s education. She was the fifth of nine children. Her dad was a secondary school teacher and her mom was a primary school teacher. There were books at home and she watched her parents read and her siblings study. She had models for reading at an early age and in-home tutors to help her when she needed help. In sixth grade, she went off to a boarding school that encouraged library use and then, in secondary school, her teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer who strengthened Ndamyo’s developing English with phonetic reading skills.
On a different note, I asked Ndamyo about the interesting middle names that people have in Malawi. Remember, last week, we learned that Elias gave himself the middle name, Ambitious. The parents of her husband, Andy, gave him the middle name Blessings. Ndamyo has a middle name, Kettie, which is the name of her mother’s sister. I asked her the meaning of Ndamyo. Her name means “troubles, challenges.” She said her mom had some troubles when she was pregnant with Ndamyo, hence the given name.
The way I see it, Ndamyo may have been born in challenge, but being strong and determined, as well as open-minded, she has been the recipient of many blessings. She is here now to put all that to good use for the children of Malawi.
Ndamyo (left) with students at the Viyere Primary School in Mzuzu, Malawi,
where she did her student teaching after graduating from Lakeland in 2008.