Carol Chidothe is a Community Solutions Program participant from Malawi who was selected to work with the Girls Empowerment Network for several months this fall. We sat down with Carol to learn a bit more about her background, the work she does in Malawi, and her passion for girls’ issues.
Carol: “Working in a US organization has been my desire for a long time. I have always wanted to experience how girl empowerment programs are run in the US and gain skills to advance my work back in Malawi.”
Question 1: Where’s home for you?
I come from Malawi, a small country in the South Eastern Africa neighboring Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Our capital city is Lilongwe, but I was born and grew up in the second largest city called Blantyre.
2. What work were you doing prior to coming to GEN?
I founded an organization called Center for Women and Girls Empowerment to advance girls education by eliminating child marriages and sexual exploitation among girls through advocacy and sustainable education practices. This is achieved through girls empowerment clubs we establish in different community schools where girls are taught curriculum in areas of career and leadership, science, and sexual/reproductive health. Our organization also has a scholarship and bursary program that currently supports 24 girls in different secondary schools. Through all our programs, girls’ class enrollment for the past five years has tremendously increased and the rate of child marriage in communities where we work has dropped 55%. And we hope to decrease it further.
3. What cultural differences have you experiences/encountered during your time in the US?
What the media says about the US is quite different when you are here! What shocked me the most is the bus system. In Malawi we catch the bus anytime we want with no restriction on time. Anytime you leave home you can find a ride, but here you have to follow procedures to ride a bus – oh my! It took me days to get used to this, and some days I’ve even missed the bus. Dressing is also a bit of culture shock to me as people here dress the way they feel, even at work, where in Malawi it is prohibited to wear clothes at work that somehow expose your body. Technology is also so advanced here – most things are done online, which was a bit hard for me during my first days but I’ve gotten used to it as time has gone by. Let me talk about language shock! Oh my! People speak so fast here and it requires a very good listener to understand!
4. If you could tell your 12-year-old self anything, what would it be?
Born and raised in a family of four boys and two girls (with myself being the last born) has always been exciting, but also a challenge. When you are the youngest in the family it takes courage and wisdom to rise to the top. I was surrounded by a great family that loved me, but was afraid to allow me take some risks in life. But I took on those challenges on my own – that’s why i am here. My advice to a younger me is: don’t look down on yourself. Focus on your vision until you accomplish it. Obstacles will always be there but rise above them!
5. Why do you feel passionately about GEN?
GEN is a wonderful place to be: friendly people and the environment is conducive for learning and sharing. I love GEN programs because they correspond to my work in Malawi – you talk of girls clubs and that’s what exactly I do back home. I just love working with girls, understanding their needs, and working on bringing out the best in them.
6. What do you think is the biggest challenge that girls today are facing?
I feel the biggest challenge girls are facing today is “acceptance”. With an influx of technology and social media, girls are finding it very hard to accept the real them and work on unleashing that great potential in them. Instead they focus on what the media is saying a girl child, which sometimes contradicts who they truly are. I believe if every girl can accept who she is and how God created her, they can become powerful and make a great impact on society. It all begins with acceptance.
7. What do you hope to accomplish during your time at GEN?
With the work i am doing in Malawi on girls’ education and empowerment, coming here to GEN is an opportunity and a wonderful experience to learn about girl empowerment programs here in the US! To learn interactive programs for girls at club meetings, how GEN organizes such a big and exciting We Are Girls Conference, and how to best fundraise for different programs in the organization. All of this information I hope they will enhance my work capacity back home.