October 08, 2007

Former Malawian official to visit campus

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Frank M. Chipasula, associate professor of Black American Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, welcomes Catherine M. Ajizinga Chipembere for a special visit to campus Oct. 9-10.

Chipembere will give a presentation to students from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, in the Fourth Floor Video Lounge of the SIUC Student Center. She is the special guest at a social mixer from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the Old Main Lounge at the SIUC Student Center.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews may interview Catherine Chipembere after the presentation or during the mixer. Call Frank Chipasula at 618/453-7147 for more information.

Chipembere is a hero in her native Malawi, both for her association with her near-legendary husband, Henry B. Masauko Chipembere, and for her own accomplishments, Chipasula said.

Chipembere was born in Malawi in 1935. She attended secondary school during a time when education was not a priority for girls in her country, and she won a scholarship to study domestic science in England. When she returned to Malawi, she married Henry Masauko Chipembere.

Chipasula explained that Masauko Chipembere participated in dangerous political activity for the sake of Malawian independence and in the "Cabinet Crisis" immediately following the nation's independence. He and Catherine Chipembere and their seven children fled to the United States after the dictatorial Kamuzu Banda declared that he wanted Masauko Chipembere dead. Masauko Chipembere died in 1975, but from diabetes rather than from assassination.

Catherine Chipembere went on to earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from the University of California at Los Angeles while she was busy raising her children and operating a childcare facility in her home.

She returned to Malawi in 1994, where she was welcomed as a hero by a newly democratic society. She was a member of the Malawian parliament, and served as the first deputy minister of education, science and technology and then as deputy minister of health and population. Her duties included overseeing primary and secondary schools throughout the country. Chipasula said Chipembere took special note of women's and children's issues, making personal visits to remote areas to understand the special needs in those places.

She retired from politics in 1998 and started the "Women's Initiative Network." Now, at 72 years old, she continues to run 12 pre-schools that serve more than 1,000 AIDS orphans. She also holds empowerment workshops for young women.

Her visit to SIUC coincides with a fund-raising tour. Tax-deductible donations may be made to New Visions Partners, care of Natasha Gordon-Chipembere, 472 Sterling Place, Brooklyn, N.Y., 11238.

Chipasula said he hopes the connections between SIUC, Southern Illinois and Malawi will generate interest in Chipembere's visit. He referred to Ella Phillips Lacey, a Carbondale civic leader recently honored by the SIU Alumni Association as a "Distinguished Alumni." Lacey spent two years in Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer specializing in child survival. In addition, Chipasula mentioned the Marion Medical Mission, a group of Marion, Ill., Christians, whose outreach includes a shallow well program in Malawi. And then there is Alfred Mtenje, SIUC alum and now a professor with the Department of African Languages and Linguistics at Chancellor College in the University of Malawi. Finally, Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, who will participate in the SIUC Department of Theater's joint venture with the St. Louis Black Repertory Theater Company, the production of "Death and the King's Horsemen," wrote about Masauko Chipembere in his play, "Kongi's Harvest."