Nemata Majeks-Walker

7 December, 2009

FROM VALLEY TO HILLTOP

The heights by great men (and women) reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.

I am happy to have this opportunity of sharing my life story for two reasons: the first is to illustrate that apparent disadvantages in one’s early life do not necessarily lead to an inability to achieve in later life; the second is to underscore the fact that in order to succeed one must be prepared to persevere and to strive for definite goals.

I was born in the east end of Freetown to a Muslim family. I was the only child of my mother who tragically passed away when I was only five years old, leaving me to be raised by my great grandmother, relatives and family friends. Of these people, I am particularly grateful to my aunt, Haja Memuna Kallay, who did her best to instil in me strong moral values and ethics.

I began school at the Amaraia and Hoy Trinity Primary Schools. Later, quite understandably, my great grandmother could not cope with the high-spirited teenager that I was, so after a brief spell at the Methodist Girls’ School I was dispatched to the Magburaka Secondary School for Girls in Mathora. Apart from the fact that I was a boarder where I was under stricter supervision, the move took me closer to my dad who worked in Kamakwie.

Our Principal was the late Mrs. Oredola Fewry. It was not long before she noticed this noisy girl from Freetown who found it so difficult to obey instructions. Probably at a loss as to what to do about me even as a senior girl, she set a precedence by appointing me Senior Prefect of the school. She rightly conjectured that doing that would keep me in check. And indeed her ploy played a significant part in helping me to become the first girl from the school to pass the General Certificate of Education Ordinary level Examinations.

After that it was back to Freetown where I was accepted at the Annie Walsh Memorial School to pursue sixth form work. I was also as a boarder there and that again helped me to acquire my A-levels. I have fond memories of my form teacher, the late Mrs. Margaret Greene and my English Language and Literature teacher, Miss Omojowo Lawson. I owe a lot to these two women for their patience and guidance.

The completion of my A-levels enabled me to acquire a government scholarship to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree. At FBC, I encountered tough lecturers like the famous Geography lecturer, Dr. Enid Forde, who was our Hall warden (Warden of Women Students), and Dr. Gladys Harding of the Department of Education.

I had a rather unforgettable encounter with Dr. Gladys Harding when I started teaching practice at the AWMS. On my first day, I didn’t realise that I should have prepared notes for the lesson I was going to teach. As my Observer, Dr. Harding needed to use those notes as a guide as she watched me teach.

As soon she entered the classroom she asked for my lesson notes. I just stood there, dumbfounded. Being the kind of no-nonsense person that she was, she began telling me off in front of the whole class in no uncertain terms. I don’t think I have ever been so ashamed of myself. There I was – me a high and mighty budding teacher all dressed up in my best clothes, looking elegant to impress the girls. I even wore tights in spite of the heat. Instead I was being told off in front of them! It was humiliating and I cannot now remember how I got through that lesson but I remember surreptitiously wiping away my tears and doing the best I could. What is important though is what followed.

Reader, what would you have done if you were in my place? What I did on my return home was decide that to pass my Teaching Practice, I must try to have her on my side. So I rang her up and apologised. She asked me to see her at her office the next day, which I did. There she explained all the Teaching Practice procedures which I had not followed even though she had painstakingly taught them in class. From then on Dr. Gladys Harding became my mentor. The happy ending of that story is that I ended up with a distinction in teaching practice!! The lessons I learnt:
Humility is a virtue!
Pride goeth before a fall!!!

At this stage also, I was blessed by senior friends, notably Professor and Mrs. Eldred Jones, who became my adopted parents and had a positive influence in my life, literally taking over the role of my aunt Haja Memuna Kallay in terms of chiselling my rough edges. In spite of the efforts of these three wonderful people I must confess that, as an undergraduate I was always a member of any group that was organising strikes on campus over one cause or the other. However, when I left Fourah Bay College as a student it was with a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours in English Language and Literature, which I earned in 1972 and a post-graduate Diploma in Education which I received the following year.

In 1973, I left for the United States where I did a Masters Degree in English as a Second Language at the University of Illinois, Champaigne-Urbana. I completed the course in 1975. I returned to Freetown in1976 and worked as a part-time lecturer in Foundation Studies at Fourah Bay College and as Teacher of English Language and Literature at AWMS. I was there till 1981 and during this time I was made Co-Head of the English Department. From there I went to work as a Curriculum Development Officer for English at the Institute of Education in Freetown, organizing in-Service Training for teachers of English, among other activities.

In 1983, I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a PhD. in Distance Education at University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. As part of the course I designed a Distance Education Course on the teaching of English as a second language. Upon graduating from University in 1986, I worked extensively as an Education Officer in London, up until the early 1990s.

In 1994 I was appointed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office on contract to the Government of Ghana as Adviser in English Communications Skills and Distance Education. My duties entailed providing professional assistance to the newly established University College of Education of Winneba, Ghana. During my time in Winneba, I successfully established the Ghana English Studies Association and a home reading scheme which enabled parents teach their children to read and (in the case of illiterate parents), school-going older siblings to teach reading to younger siblings.

By this time Sierra Leone beckoned, and I returned home. In 1998, I was appointed an Education Consultant for PLAN International in Sierra Leone. In this position I was responsible for strengthening the Education system through the rehabilitation, reconstruction and refurbishing of damaged school infrastructure and providing resources as required in PLAN’s operation areas. I was also responsible for drafting the Country Strategic Plan, including Country Program Outlines. This challenging appointment was brought to an abrupt end by the 1999 January 6 rebel incursion into Freetown.

From this time on, my pattern of operation changed in a marked way. I ceased working directly for any single organisation and I established the NEMAYA Education and Training Consultancy in 1999 which marked a significant change in my career. I turned my attention to freelance short-term national and international consultancies. As its Chief Executive, I have undertaken various consultancy assignments for the British Council and other international Agencies.

This new development kept me very active and culminated in vigorous participation in the formation of the 50/50 Group and the empowerment of women in Sierra Leone to become more emancipated and active in public life. The Mission of the non-partisan 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone is to campaign for more women in politics and public life through training and advocacy. We aim to change the public’s perception of women in politics and public life. The motivation for the formation of this group was the recognition, following the final end to our long civil war, that women were essential but missing players in the peace process.

In spite of all the efforts and recognition of the fundamental rights of women and men to participate in political life, in practice inequality in the area of power and decision-making still exists. What do we do to address this problem? The answer to this question is the reason why we are happy to be asking all schools to set up 50/50 clubs which we will sponsor and support. This will enable students to develop awareness of the fact that a woman’s place is as much in the kitchen as in GOVERNANCE and PUBLIC LIFE!! It will give students much needed political knowledge that is not in the schools’ curriculum.

In 2003, I was a Commonwealth observer in the Pakistan elections. In 2005, I was given a consultancy by the United Nations Mission in Liberia to help develop the Liberian Women’s Manifesto and train their candidates. Liberia has in fact produced the first female president in West Africa. I received another international recognition from the Commonwealth when I was sent as one of three experts to observe elections in Belize in February 2007. These exposures to comparable activities in other countries widen my experience and are of benefit to the 50/50 Group as I get new insights from each involvement.

It has not been “all work and no play”. My membership of the Rotary club in Accra, Ghana was transferred to the Rotary Club of Freetown. This is a 64-year old prestigious male-dominated service club in which I was privileged to serve as the first and so far the only female president in 2003.

Throughout the years, I have managed to balance my career and role as a wife and mother. I feel that my greatest achievement in life is the fact that I have been able to balance wife-hood/motherhood and an exciting career life with seeing my daughter and son almost single-handedly through to post graduate degree levels of education. These were very challenging tasks but with the help of God I have been able to succeed in playing the balancing act. The road to success is long; it is hazardous, with many pitfalls along the way. Sometimes I’ve stumbled, at other times fallen flat on my face. The secret was never to give up. When you fail or fall, get up, dust yourself down and keep on keeping on. I now look back with pride at the road down which I have travelled and see my footprints quite clearly on the sands of time.

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