The gathering, at British High Commissioner Holly Tett’s residence in Lilongwe this Thursday evening, September 5 2019, is, contrary to that word, more than a gathering; for, for 13 people chosen for this year’s Chevening Scholarships— the United Kingdom (UK) government’s global scholarship programme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations— it is the stretching of dreams into pleasant reality.
The weather is fair in Lilongwe, after the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services forecast, a day before, that temperatures would oscillate between 10 degrees Celsius and 28 degrees Celsius.
The outside space that is serving as the meeting point is empty of furniture, but the white-tiled floor is scattered with standing figures of people and tables dressed with glasses of soft drinks, alcoholic drinks and snacks.
How, at the beckoning of time, dreams have stretched into reality for 13 Malawians who work for civil society organisations, media, law firms, the government, among others!
For others, like Blessings Phumisa, Felix Chisoni and five others, it is another tale: their dreams, which stretched into their [dreams’] version of reality in the 2017/18 academic year, are now reality because they are back home.
Today, as they belong to the 2017/18 Chevening Scholars Cohort, the task of Tett is to simply welcome them back to Malawi, of course by giving them certificates. They are ready to put to good use the knowledge they have acquired outside the country.
The pillar of their absence from Malawi just stood for one year and now it [the pillar] has collapsed and lost its relevance.
It is moments like these that make diplomats like Tett, who is also bidding farewell to Malawian Chevening Scholars for 2019/20 academic year, happy.
That is why, every year, her government keeps on sending a group of Malawians to the UK, where they enroll into reputable universities to study different fields under the prestigious Chevening Scholarship funded by the British Government.
This year, 13 Malawians have been awarded Chevening Scholarships, which are the FCO’s flagship global scholarship programme aimed at future leaders, influencers and decision-makers.
The scholarships have been running since 1983 and constitute a highly-regarded global network of skilled professionals working in a range of fields, including politics, business, law, media and civil society.
The development comes at a time 13 individuals will also be heading to the UK under Commonwealth Scholarship, of which five are going to do PhD studies and eight master’s degree studies.
Tett says her government is pleased to sponsor another cohort of inspirational future leaders from Malawi, further observing that the scholarships have benefitted hordes of Malawians who end up assuming leadership and influential positions upon their return to the Warm Heart of Africa.
“We are pleased to bid farewell to another group of ambitious, professional and future leaders from diverse backgrounds who are likely to make a real difference professionally or socially upon their return and be part of an alumni network that is full of dynamic influencers,” Tett says.
That said, while dreams might be hatched with comparative ease, nothing short of hard work can train the Chevening scholar in managing the unwieldy weapon of success, Chevening alumnus Joab Chakhaza told the Chevening awardees earlier in the evening.
The awardees, of course, ‘bought’ their way to the UK at a high price and waded through the waters of the tasking Chevening Scholarship application process to be on the road to drowning the idle of ignorance at reputable UK universities they have booked their places in.
That the UK, of all countries, should be in the lead promoting quality education in Malawi by exposing Malawians to universities in its fold comes as no surprise. This is because, although the Union Jack was exiled to the UK on July 6 1964, when Malawi attained independence, Britain’s administrative and political systems remained.
No wonder, in the education sector, the history of Chevening Scholarships is littered with Malawian alumni, a fact which Education, Science and Technology Minister William Susuwele-Banda appreciates:
“It is pleasing that Malawi is one of the beneficiary countries of this auspicious programme. I am greatly impressed to learn that, out of the 48,000 alumni of the Chevening Scholarships world over, 305 are Malawians,” he says.
He has examples: “If the Chief Secretary to the Government, Mr Lloyd Muhara himself, is a graduate of the scholarship, what other proof would one look for to convince oneself that Chevening Scholarships are in their own class? Let me not say much about this for good wine needs no bush.”
The minister says scholarships of this sort feed into the government’s plans to improve access to higher education in the country.
“I should mention that one of the goals of the National Education Sector Plan is to increase access to education at all levels including higher education. This means that the government has an obligation to provide the citizenry with education services. In this vein, the scholarship is very crucial as it relieves the government of the pressure to provide the beneficiaries with alternative routes to higher education.
“As you may all be aware, Malawi and the UK Government have enjoyed bilateral relationship for so long with lots of fraternal endeavours for which Chevening Scholarships are one of the many fruits. On behalf of His Excellency the State President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, and indeed on my own behalf, I would like to thank the UK Government for its continued support to the country,” Susuwele-Banda says, adding that “One could not be wrong to contend that Chevening Scholarships are a springboard of wisdom and intellect which are manifested in the prominence enjoyed by its graduates in their respective countries and in their fields of specialisation”.
Of course, says education specialist Benedicto Kondowe, the creation of education opportunities has, traditionally, been considered the exclusive of the government, the way rainclouds are linked to precipitation, but there are cutoff points because the government cannot do everything on its own.
So, to still ensure that youths are kept away from idling so that their lives can remain unsullied from ill conduct, partners come in to keep the trolley of development going.
“That is why development partners including foreign governments, civil society, non-governmental organisations come in to complement the government’s efforts in, say, the education sector,” he says.
That education is being thrown into the equation comes as no surprise; in fact, it is one of the tools for survival on the competitive labour market.
As expected, the gift of this year’s scholarship the Cheveners have, no doubt, gratefully received.
One of the Chevening scholarship recipients, Peter Yakobe, who is heading to the University of Bradford to study for a master’s degree in international development management, says everything has fallen right in place for him.
“As someone who is already working in the economic development sector, the UK, being one of the most developed nations in the world, is the best place to study development practices and strategies, which I will be able to use back home to develop our people and country.
“So, I look forward to learning from the world’s experts in development work,” Yakobe says.
He is not the only one holding that view as, another scholar, Janet Mtali, who will be studying Msc communication for development at the University of Reading, says:
“Becoming a Chevening scholar is a lifetime opportunity for me. I’m excited to begin my studies in the UK this month. I would recommend the Chevening Scholarship for those who would like to pursue their postgraduate studies. The application journey may be long, but is truly worth it.”
Okay, maybe Yakobe, Mtali and 11 other Cheveners’ tide, having turned, continues to rise, floating awardees’ dreams comfortably into the snug harbour of reality.
But, then, there is one challenge; real success lies in their ability to make Mother Malawi, the UK Government which gets out of its way to open doors of opportunities for Malawians, and family members happy by chalking colourful grades.
Which is why Chakhaza tells the Cheveners: “The journey has just started!”
As such, it may not be long before we hear that anxieties of school life have succeeded the sweet sensation of excitement, which was the prevalent emotion last Thursday.
It is part of the Chevener’s script, if Chakhaza’s sentiments that hard work makes success the sweeter when it comes are anything to go by.