Malawi’s Vanessa Phekani has been nominated for the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board position for her volunteering exploits in the country. In this exclusive interview, Vanessa Phekani (VP) talks to Nyasa Times’ Senior Sub Editor Pius Nyondo (PN) about her life, volunteering escapades and her nomination. Excerpts.
PN: Thank you for taking time off your campaign to talk to us. As you may have noted, following the news item we carried about your candidature, people want to know who you are. This is why we sought this interview. Let us begin with your education.
Vanessa Phekani (VP): I started my high school education at the International School of South Africa http://www.issa.co.za/ (2002- 2004) before returning home to Saint Andrews International High School www.saints.mw where I wrote my IGCSE’s and A levels (2005-2008).
Whilst in high school I served as a school prefect, house prefect, Netball captain, also achieved netball colours which is the highest award one can attain in sports and was once sports woman of the year. Netball definitely holds a special place in my heart and I am happy that our Netball Queens are making a mark on the globe.
PN: Tell us about the Academics, any favourite subjects?
VP: My favorite subjects were History, English Literature and Business Studies and these are the subject I sat for at “A” levels.
PN: And after High School, what came next?
VP: After completing high school (2009), I took a gap year and ventured into the world of work and volunteerism. I served as a Teaching Assistant at Saint Andrews High School (teaching extra English and helping with Business Studies and Sports Department). I also volunteered as a Sunday School Teacher at my Church and made some exploratory steps in activism.
PN: You want to elaborate?
VP: I participated in a girls’ self-defense program in a project called “SAY NO TO ABUSE” by the Center for Alternatives for Victimized Women and Children (CAVWOC).
It was however a book that really set me on to the current course. In that same year (2009) I read a book that changed my life and thinking. “Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence” by Ben
Carson gave me a deeper understanding of life, opportunity and hard work. I would recommend this book to everyone anytime.
By 2010, I was ready to continue with education and I started my first year of University at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University www.nmmu.ac.za where I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts with a double major in Public Administration (credit) and Sociology (distinction). I graduated in April 2013.
PN: Whilst at University did you have any extracurricular activities worth talking about?
VP: Yes. Throughout my University time I tried to invest in using time wisely. Instead of just “chilling”, I worked part-time first as a waitress at a high-end restaurant called Port Captains House (in Port Elizabeth, South Africa) and later at a Clothing Boutique called Diva.
PN: Any lessons?
VP: Plenty. These opportunities afforded me the luxury of experiencing the world of work, sharpened my people skills especially in customer service, and enlightened me about the ways of the world. Again, partly due to this experience, upon graduating, I was able to secure a job faster than most graduates.
PN: Tell us about it.
VP: On return to Malawi, I worked for Wilderness Safaris which is now known as Central African Wilderness Safaris as a Travel Consultant. The one and half year I spent there earned me a lot in terms of understanding Malawi’s huge potential in tourism better. I also learnt a lot on office discipline and time management.
PN: The name Phekani is not a strange name in Malawi especially Blantyre. Has the name been helpful or a challenge?
VP: This is a difficult one because most people expect that when your parents are well to do, like my father who owns Chitawira Shopping Centre, everything simply falls in place without you doing anything.
This is a big misconception, is totally incorrect and changing this mindset is something I never stop doing in my interaction with fellow youths.
Look here, in our societies we have thousands of people born with a golden spoon who have not even gone past MSCE (O Levels) – which is a pity. Family resources aside, everyone should have their own agenda to advance themselves. This means working.
But having said that, having a father who is a self-made man, was and remains a huge boost because we (the children) were and are all encouraged to work hard following his example, and learn the ropes at a tender age.
This is why, at the age of 18, I registered my first company called LAWI Marketing and Media Consultants. It was dealing with Corporate Image Consulting and offering IT solutions. This venture ended when I left the country for further studies.
Years later my thirst and thrill for business was once again awoken when I travelled to Kenya where I recognized the infusion of Arts and Fashion and felt it a great channel of expressing my love for fashion and business.
I then launched BUTAFLY EFFECT Inc. This company makes customized shoes and accessories allowing its customers to fully express their taste in fashion through different colors of fabrics and different styles and designs.
So yes, having a successful parent can be a boost, but one needs to rise to the challenge. Sikadza kokha kamawopa kulawula.
PN: Interesting. Now let’s move on to the present. How did you get into this race to earn the nomination for the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board?
VP: In May 2014 I was accepted to intern for 6 months at UN Habitats Youth Unit (Nairobi-Kenya). While there I supported in capacity building of youth-led projects aimed at economic empowerment and economically sustainable initiatives for the youth and their communities.
This opportunity firstly, amplified my passion for youth Development and secondly showed me the underdeveloped potential of the youth and how IF Africa is to develop, it must give the Youths a role, a meaningful role in society. This was the starting point.
PN: Go on.
VP: While I was in Kenya, is when I started noticing the youth related vibes in Dedza East on social media. I volunteered to work for Dedza East Trust http://dedzaeast.org where I lead on the Youth Development front.
Working for Dedza East Trust with its virtual /international team of experts has definitely been a fond, enlightening experience.
I have been truly empowered, supported, challenged and propelled into a position where I am able to make decisions and formulate agendas that would impact youth not only in Dedza but Malawi as a nation and Africa as a continent.
PN: Final remarks?
VP:A friend of mine once posed the question “What have you done with your 20’s?” I am still processing this question but I can also safely say that this far I haven’t done too badly, but I have a lot more to do and I hope fellow Youths of Africa will accord me the chance by voting for me on http://unhabitat.org/yab-2015-voting/
Again, I have a website now, where my CV and projects are now available to the public. The link is: http://yab2015.wix.com/vanessaphekani
When all has been said and done, my desire is to be a good custodian of the opportunities I have been afforded and be a known as the person who took the extra mile not only meet personal goals but to make a difference in the world we are living in.
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