We were chauffeured to the presidential palace and after being led through ten hallways by a highly decorated major, and then we rose as Her Excellency Joyce Banda entered the room.
Over the next hour, we had an inspiring conversation about everything from politics to personal courage. She spoke of the forty eight hours before she was sworn in after the death of the former president when her life was in danger and many in the government were staging a coup. She bravely conjured up support, and held steadfast to the knowledge that being the president was her job. She signed an oath that should anything happen to Bingu, she would take over, and she was not going to let anyone violently overthrow her.
She spoke passionately about the plight of the village girl. A major advocate of womens rights, when we asked her what we could best do to help her country, she said, without hesitation, "It's all about the girl child, and it starts in the village.". She talked about her history, the way she was abused by the former president, being blocked from parliment, her son was arrested on no charge, her six children who live in Malawi were unemployed becasue the former President Bingu ordered people not to hire them, and several attempts were made on her life, one being when a car hit a car she was supposed to be in (she had luckily taken a different vehicle that day). She later found out the car that hit her vehicle was an official police car. She told us of her plans as president to focus on child and maternal health, and to raise the status of rural women by giving them the means to be successful with cash crops (currently the men posess the means, and she hopes to tilt the balance).
Often her statements began with "as I told Hilary Clinton...", or "when I speak about this at the UN General Assembly in NY...".
We spoke to her for one hour. It felt familial, inspiring, comfortable, and surreal. When we were leaving, she brought us into her office for a photo. "This is the speech I am working on," she said pointing to a stack of papers on her desk. "It is the State of the Union Address.". We thought it time we leave her to her work.
This is no ordinary women we spent the time with. She is a leader, a woman who has risen from the lowest points to the highest office. She was in a ten year abusive relationship, and that gave her glimpses into the plight of the woman who has no power. Remarried to her long time husband, successful, and now president, she runs on passion. She is tireless, personal, and we still don't know how she finds the time to respond to emails from Kevin. In her spare time she has been and continues to be a mother of nine.
Kevin Bergman, WAM Founder and Vice President
Sarah Greenberg, KEEP Director