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Honouring a great author

The name Legson Kayira is not strange in the country let alone to the world.

Kayira is a renowned novelist, who wrote several books including his autobiography I Will Try which was on the New York Times best seller list for 16 weeks after its publication in 1965.

He is a man, who embarked on a journey on foot to United States of America in search of education which he later acquired.

It is because of his tremendous works that Youth of Malawi, a New York State non-profit corporation which is dedicated to enriching the lives of young people in Malawi built a primary school and community centre in Mchinji which they named after him.

One of the members of Youth of Malawi, Jon Biondo said in an exclusive interview that Kayira was an extraordinary man.

“He is among Malawi’s heroes and in honour of his devotion to reading, and his long walk to education we decided to put up a school in Chimphamba Village in Mchinji because the students there were walking long distances to get to school,” Biondo said.

He said that many schools in United States of America are named after great leaders and notable people and that they are in many cities, not just the city of birth of the person.

“We first built the school and only thought of naming it Legson Kayira School (LKS) later. We have benefited a lot from his works and many of us have read his books and we are happy we have structures named after him,” Biondo said.

He revealed that on the day they were officially inaugurating the school, one of the people came and criticised them which he said was regrettable.

“Through this place we want more children to be educated; we want more children to become great authors just like Legson Kayira. We intend to continue honouring him by building in Chimphamba. We are about to complete a playground, a church, clinic and a library,” he said.

He said they had spent $700,000 to develop the village.

“We have encountered several challenges and could have easily given up but just like Legson Kayira did, we kept on walking and today we are happy we have the structures in place,” Biondo said.

He said they were happy that the village has transformed.

“We are talking about a lot of things at this place, we have 10 new water spigots, a movie theatre, standard 1-4 classes, 4,000 books in the library and art programmes,” Biondo said.

He also said that the place has a statue of Kayira and that they were happy to be part of returning Kayira’s ashes to Malawi from England.

Biondo said Kayira’s legacy continues to live and that through the structures they build they want to the world to know that Kayira was a great novelist.

He said the place was also part of promoting arts and culture revealing that during the inaugural, people had time to watch The Lion King movie.

The building of the structures in Mchinji by Biondo and team in honour of a true son of Malawi also saves as a reminder to “our governments” that there is a need to honour “our sons and daughters” in different fields.

Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) President, Sambalikagwa Mvona, recently called upon the government to name some of the roads in honour of “our writers.”

He observed that in most cases naming of roads or structures is reversed politicians.

According to available information, the Kayira was born in 1942.

Soon after his birth, his mother threw him into the Didimu River as she could not afford to feed him.

He was rescued and acquired the name Didimu and he then added the English name Legson when he was in school.

It was at the age of 16 that he decided that the only way to attain a degree was to go to the United States of America and so he set out on foot to do so.

When he reached Kampala, Uganda, he saw the name of Skagit Valley College in Washington in a US information service directory and so he applied and was awarded a place and a scholarship.

The writer, who died in October 2012, then embarked on a journey of over 3,000 kilometres and walked to Khartoum in Sudan where he obtained a visa and people from Skagit Valley raised money to bring him over to Washington.

He arrived at the university two years after setting out and went on to become a graduate student at Cambridge University and subsequently a probation officer and the author of several novels.

Kayira’s other books are The Detainee, Jingala and The Civil Servant.

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