08 Nov
  • By Isaac Msiska
  • Cause in

Burning the forest to rescue the environmentalist

He talks about the environment with such lit passion that it is easy to see how he loves the field of environmental conservation. When he goes into precise details explaining with clear examples how lots of local forests are becoming endangered and the accelerating rates of uncontrolled pollution in rivers, one can note a thin veil of anger in his sentiments – proof that he is really keen on preserving the nature. He is on his way to becoming the Malawian version of Al Gore!

His name is Manuel Chimwaza. He is currently pursuing a diploma in Environmental Management and it is no surprise that he is a staunch environmental activist who is determined to see change. Manuel is also one of the students under our university scholarship programme. He is proudly pursuing a course he has a deep passion for but two years ago his future was murky.

“My father raised us – my siblings and I – as a single parent,” Manuel said. His mother, he explained, passed on when he was three years old. “father is unemployed and what he relied on to support us was a very small piece of land where he cultivated just enough to keep the family going.” The piece of land Manuel referred to was so small that it was not even enough to produce crops which his father could sell to make an income on the side. Due to that, Manuel and his siblings struggled financially and the struggles trickled down to threaten their education.

“I’ll be honest with you. My father was really having a hard time putting us through school. He had no one else to help him with the financial burden. He had no job and that was hard for the family.” The situation got so bad that two of his siblings had to drop out of school. Manuel’s sister was the first to leave while she was still in primary school.

“It was the only solution.” Manuel said “it did not make sense to stay in school when it was clear there were no school fees.” Manuel was the only one privileged enough, amidst the financial hiccups, to persevere until he completed his secondary school and was selected to attend a public university.

Tuition fees in Malawian public universities are so expensive that each year 5,000 students in public colleges fail to pay the fees. Manuel, unfortunately, was among the number. He discovered that his new school fees were 20 times higher than what he had paid back in secondary school. For someone whose parent found it hard to pay his secondary school fees, it was utterly impossible for Manuel to afford the triple digit tuition fees.

“I desperately needed help.” Manuel said. With no idea where his fees would come from, Manuel just went ahead and registered for classes and commenced his studies. As he noted, he was very distracted because he was simply pushing his luck and it was like searching for a lost coin in a dark forest without a flashlight. Manuel was living off a grace period and the thought that he would be kicked out if he failed to payhis fees when the grace period ended, worried him sick. Manuel’s future at the college was hanging by a frayed thread.

“I stayed in limbo like that until the start of my end of semester examinations.” That was risky because students who fail to settle their tuition fees are barred from sitting for their final examinations. This means that the students either have to withdraw, take a deferred examination or repeat a class but only upon payment of the full fees.

Time was rushing out and so was his optimism.

“I thought, well, this is it. Everything ends here!” He recalled. However, just a day before he was about to take his end of semester examinations, Manuel was selected as one of the beneficiaries of our 2018 university scholarship programme. He was among the 16 students we supported this year. His future was suddenly back online.

“It was the best day of my life,” Manuel beamed. The scholarship was the last piece that completed the puzzle and with everything falling into place, Manuel could now focus on his vision of rescuing the environment. His plan is firm and he said he strives to be unique – different from the negative mindsets of some of his fellow students.

“A lot of students study to pass. I want to study to bring change.” Manuel observed and actually he has a perfect idea of what sort of change he wants to make.

“Look at the environment around us. We are not doing enough to conserve nature. There is pollution everywhere, rampant cases of deforestation and our environment is in a state of disarray.” Manuel noted. He said even in the community he hails from, most people are ignorant about the value of conserving the environment and this is causing massive damage to natural forests and high cases of unmanaged disposal of waste.

“They don’t even understand the value of waste management and this is what is causing various disease outbreaks.” Manuel says and he believes he has a solution to the problems.

“We need to enforce strong laws to help manage the environment otherwise we will wake up to the realization that certain species of animals or natural habitats have become extinct.” Manuel observed, adding;

“We have a long way to go but we can do it. I want to see that change happen.” he ended.