Features

Pamela Banda’s journey to her PhD

KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
SHORTLY after completing her high school, she fell pregnant. At that time, it is probably the last thing she needed.
Even her family did not need that.
Like most families whose parents were working for the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), life was fairly comfortable for Pamela Chirwa Banda, whose father was working for the mining conglomerate. Fortunes only changed for her and her family when her father was discharged from the mines.
“Everything turned upside down,” says Pamela, who is a senior education officer for open and distance learning in the Ministry of Education.
“Mum was the one taking care of us; she was a fulltime housewife… Dad left us at that time. We shifted from the mine house in Kamenza to a three-room house in Kakoso township which had no power. It was just mum taking care of us. We would go for some time eating anything, even salt was difficult to find.
“Fortunately, my sister [Charity Kateule] finished school and took me to stay with her. I moved from Chililabombwe Secondary School to Luanshya Girls, for my form four. I actually give her credit that I was able to finish school.”
But after completing her secondary school education, she fell pregnant.
“It was a hard time then; I was staying with mum at the time. I had to find ways of sustaining myself,” she says.
Fortunately for her, at that time, there was free education, and she was able to enrol in 1987 at Solwezi Teachers Training College where she pursued a teacher training course. After completing her course, she was posted to Kamenza Basic School in Chililabombwe to teach mathematics to the grade eights and nines.
Now with a job, she was able to atleast support her mother.
Although she had scored good marks in mathematics, her grades in English were not entirely satisfactory. She was advised to resit for English by the headmaster and deputy headmaster at Kamenza Basic School, a Mr Mulenga and Mr Katuka respectively.
After one year, she enrolled as an in-service at the then Copperbelt Secondary Teachers College (COSETCO), which had opened in 1974 in Kitwe to train secondary school teachers of mathematics, Science and home economics at diploma level.
And after getting married, she moved to Kalonga Secondary School in Kabwe. It was during her stay at Kalonga that she was seconded to work at the Provincial Resource Centre to work as a co-ordinator for mathematics on a part-time basis. Her duties included co-ordinating the delivery of in-service teacher education activities for mathematics teachers.
Later, she moved to Caritas Girls Convent School within Kabwe before relocating to Lusaka where she began teaching at Kabulonga Girls Secondary School in Lusaka. In 2003, she became co-ordinator for high schools at the provincial resource centre, this time, on a full-time basis.
Having rewritten her English exam while in Kabwe, Pamela had entered the University of Zambia to study for a Bachelor of Education in mathematics, thanks to government sponsorship.
She would have gone for a Master’s in mathematics but there was no such programme at UNZA at the time. Instead, she enrolled for a Master of Arts in Demography and Population Studies and was the first shoot at UNZA. That was in 2007.
“It was challenging at the beginning but I managed to finish,” she says.
With her Master of Arts in Population Studies done in 2011, she aimed now for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Demography and Population Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.
But even as she went for PhD, she had no money to pay for it.
She credits a family friend Mrs Sabi and Lwenshi Company for the support that enabled her to enrol at Wits. But as a result of her exceptional performance as an international student, she was awarded the post graduate completion grant in December 2014 which paid for her tuition as well as stipend.
Not surprising, she completed and graduated within a record three and half years.
She knows what she has achieved.
“My story shows that you can make it no matter the challenges. I had no support but I was undeterred by the challenges that I faced. Just because I was pregnant, I didn’t condemn myself or get into marriage for the sake of it, I put education first. I decided to improve my education,” she says.
“I encourage the girls and ladies at church [Redeemer Faith Church Ministries in Chilenje] that marriage isn’t a career; it shouldn’t stop one from going to school.”
And she is right; Pamela could have easily thrown-in the towel after becoming a teenage mother.
But she did not, and today, her biographical statement reads as follows: “I work for the Ministry of Education in Lusaka as a senior education officer – Open and Distance Learning. I received my PhD in Demography and Population Studies at University of the Witwatersrand, MA in Population studies and BA in Mathematics Education from the University of Zambia, Secondary Diploma in Mathematics at Copperbelt Secondary Teachers college and Primary Certificate at Solwezi Teachers Training College.
“My main research interests are in policy research and maternal health issues. Have distinct skills in research, policy analysis, monitoring and evaluation, qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis, co-ordinating workshops/seminars, in-service trainings, preparing work plans/budgets/reports and use of computer software prevalent in the commercial sector. Have excellent communication and presentation skills. Am goal oriented, able to work in teams, proven experience in management and research skills, able to adapt and adjust to dynamic working environments.
“I have presented papers and chaired at several population conferences. I have published two papers from my research project and have three under review.”
Her published papers are the Status of Maternal Mortality in Zambia: Use of Routine Data (African Population Studies Journal) and Women at Risk: Gender Inequality and Maternal Health (Women and Health).
The ones under review which she co-wrote with others are Risky sexual behaviour among women in Africa: Does economic empowerment matter? (African Journal of Aids Research); Is community context an overlooked factor in exposure to high risk pregnancy in Zambia? (Demography Journal); and Regional Variations in Risk Factors of Pregnancy Related Deaths in Zambia which was earlier rejected by the BioMed Central (BMC) but has been submitted to the African Journal of Reproductive Health (AJRH).
Pamela has also done a number of conference presentations which include the Living Arrangements and Nutritional Status of Under-Five Children in Sub-Saharan Africa (Family demography and Post-2015 Development Goals conference – June 2016); Is Community Context an overlooked factor in exposure to high risk pregnancy? (Seventh African Population Conference – December 2015); Use of Maternal Death Risk Factor Index to estimate Maternal Mortality in Zambia (10th Population Association of Southern Africa Conference – July 2015); and Regional variations of pregnancy related deaths in Zambia (Sixth Cross-Faculty Graduate Research Symposium – October 2014).
Others are Socio-Economic and Demographics Determinants of Maternal Mortality in Zambia (10th Population Association of Southern Africa Conference – July 2015); Estimation of Levels and Determinants of Maternal Mortality at Provincial Level: A Model Based Method (DPS pop Studies Mini Conference – November 2013); and Maternal Mortality in Zambia: Case of Kafue District 2005 – 2009 (Eighth Population Association of Southern Africa Conference – July 2013).
Pamela also boasts of a number of honours and awards which include being a recipient of Humanities Awaiting Examiners/Awaiting Graduation Doctoral Grant 2016; Post Graduate Merit Award – January to December 2015; Andrew Mellon Foundation Scholarship to attend World Social Sciences Forum 2015; First Position Humanities – Sixth Cross-Faculty Graduate Research Symposium 2015; Post Graduate Completion Grant, December 2014; and Post Graduate Merit Award Merit Award, January – December 2014.
A mother of three, two boys and one daughter; her daughter is working in Malawi while one son is studying economics in India and the other a Master’s in accounts at the University of Lusaka (UNILUS). Her husband used to work for the defence forces.
That is the story of Dr Pamela Chirwa Banda.

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