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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Pat Hiddleston

24 November, 2009

‘Being a mathematician I am not good on spin, but this is my story.’

 I was born and raised in Troon, Scotland – and was one of the few women to study mathematics as it was a male dominated field at that time.  For over 50 years I have worked in mathematics in different parts of the world as a school teacher, a school principal a university lecturer and an international education consultant. Now at the age of 76 I am still consulting on curricula and textbook development and teacher training programmes, mainly in maths education. I have worked since 1958 in 19 countries altogether including seven Commonwealth countries – Bangladesh, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia.

 As a girl I was lucky I guess as Scottish schools, apart from the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, had mainly coed, comprehensive schools. I went with my school bag and blazer like everyone else in Troon to the “Wee school”, then the “Big school” and finally Marr College – we were lucky as a Troon man, called Marr, had made a fortune and donated it to build a school for the children of Troon.

 There were 5 streams and my 5 best girl friends and I were in the “A” stream. No-one ever suggested that girls couldn’t do maths. I worked hard and was always top of the class – and liked it that way! We also had a very good maths teacher, Mr Peebles, at Marr College. We all went on to university and didn’t think this was special. It was what everyone in the A stream did whether boy or girl. We six are still friendly (more than 50 years later) and go holidays together every second year. Of the 6 of us, 2 studied medicine, 1 pharmacy, 1 accountancy, 1 primary teaching and I chose the field I had always been so interested in: pure maths.

 University was strange looking back for I went through it in a daze of mathematics and hardly did anything else.  I was absolutely besotted with maths.  My friends commuted  to Glasgow University but I went to Edinburgh University as I didn’t want to travel and somehow had heard it was better for maths. I had also spent my sixth form serving in the bar of my parents’ hotel and had enough sense to get further away.

 I was the only girl in the final maths honours class of 15 and was awarded nearly all the medals including the final big one, the Napier medal, just accepting it all as down to my hard work.  Like most of us I graduated in July and got married in the same month! At that time many young people were leaving the UK and though we thought of emigrating to Canada, opted instead for the Colonial office. I accompanied my husband who was posted to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. 

 And that is where I spent my longest time in any one country.  I started working in 1958 when Zambia was still Northern Rhodesia. My husband, George, and I taught at the only government secondary school in the country, Munali. George just accepted I would always work and didn’t think it strange. If you are in a country with few maths or physics teachers and can teach, you do! I didn’t choose to teach school but until 1965, when the University of Zambia opened, there was no other option. Whilst teaching I did my PhD through the University of South Africa by distance learning and went by train from Lusaka to Pretoria – then, the 1960’s, a journey of about two days – to see my supervisor and use their library. I graduated in 1965, 3 weeks after my fourth child was born!

 Munali was a school for boys in what was called “African Education”.  African Education was the responsibility of the United Kingdom Colonial Office while the other, “European Education”, was the responsibility of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. At Munali there were about 500 boys who had been highly selected from all over the country and it was run like a pukka English boarding school. The boys sat A level exams and went on to universities in Southern Rhodesia, South Africa or the UK.  There were two other secondary schools at that time for black children both church run. The girls went to Chipembi School which was either Methodist or Church of Scotland run and is still going strong, and the boys went to one run by the White Fathers. Our Colonial Office contract determined where we worked.  As my husband was in the Colonial service we had long leave of 6 months every 3 years and were posted to a new job on each return. After Munali I had a time lecturing at a Teachers’ Training College near Lusaka called Chalimbana TTC, followed by teaching at a new secondary school in Ndola and finally was appointed as the first member of the academic staff of the new University of Zambia. I lectured there for 5 years from 1965 -1970. During our time we saw the transition of Northern Rhodesia from being a colony to becoming the independent state of Zambia – and my transition to being a mother of four children, all born in Zambia, as well as an academic. We returned to Scotland in 1970 for their higher education.

 Later I moved back to Africa, first as Principal of Durban Girls’ College in South Africa and then to the University of Malawi in Zomba.  The seven years in Malawi from 1989-96 were very happy and rewarding. It was an exciting time for it saw the introduction of democracy to Malawi and the end of the Dr Hastings Banda era. The University had excellent staff, mainly local Malawians and a few expats. I was employed initially by ODA/DfID and then by the Government of Malawi and worked with two first class Malawian women who after graduating themselves from the University of Malawi have obtained first their Masters and then their PhDs with grants from the British Council and the Commonwealth Office.

 Since 1996 I have been working as an independent education consultant throughout the developing world.  This very satisfying work usually involves working in the respective Governments’ Ministry of Education along with local experts.  I visit schools and training colleges and interact with teachers and students. It is exciting to realize that through the Commonwealth there are strong links between the Commonwealth countries themselves and with Britain. Unlike other countries I work in I seldom need an interpreter when I work in a Commonwealth country. Whilst not ignoring the arguments about early years’ local language teaching, the universal use of English in higher education and Government in these countries is such a boon.

 In 2008 Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Conference (whilst I was there) and for months before the whole country looked forward to this great event. With the Queen coming there was great excitement and preparation – the road from Entebbe to Kampala was upgraded, everything she would see was cleaned up and painted. No wonder the people said ”This Queen should come every year”.