Eliza’s Story: Building a Better Future for Her Village

Amy Krzyzek is a buildOn trek coordinator who has led school building trips across the globe. Amy recently broke ground on a new primary school in Malawi with an international team of HSBC employees who built a new school with the community of Chikoza. She captured this story that embodies the spirit of International Women’s Day and buildOn’s work to empower women across the globe. Follow Amy on Instagram for more stories from the field (@amy_buildOn).

The first thing our school building team notices about Eliza is her huge, infectious smile. Eliza lives in the village of Chikoza, Malawi and she is one of the loudest singers, one of the best dancers, and one of the hardest workers on the worksite. Her enthusiasm is contagious, but Eliza hasn’t always had a lot to smile about.

“When I was young, I thought I would be educated,” she says, with sadness in her voice, explaining that at that time, primary school students were required to pay school fees. “My parents could not manage the fees. I wanted to be educated, but I had no fees to go, so I didn’t go to any level of school. I could have had a very good life if I would have been educated. I would have lived in a city, I would have had a better job and more money… I would be healthier, and I would be more attractive. But I try to be content with what I have.”

Today, though, Eliza is smiling and the whole village is celebrating and sharing her joy. “We’re all smiling because we’re having this school built,” she tells us.

Eliza is passionate about the school, because she wants the children of Chikoza to have more educational opportunities than she had. She recognizes that even though schooling is free for children, there are still many challenges — such as poor infrastructure and lack of qualified teachers — to getting a quality education in Malawi. “We should love all children. We can’t say, ‘those are not my children’, and instead we need to love each and every person as our own children. That’s the most important part about being a leader.”

Pictured: Eliza’s infectious smile; The children of Chikoza village in front of their new school

Eliza, whose primary occupation is farming, is also one of the few women in the region who holds a village leadership position. In Chikoza and surrounding communities, there are only six female chiefs out of 34 total leaders in the region. Eliza is a senior chief and the village’s head woman, which means she has two other chiefs (both men) report to her. The villagers in Chikoza admire and respect her, which was evident in her day-to-day interactions on the worksite. “I was chosen for my position because I stay at peace with people,” she explains. “That means I try to be humble and patient, and to listen. If I am talking too much, I could hurt other people and damage their spirits.”

It is very important to Eliza to have women’s perspectives in community decision-making. She believes women make good leaders because they are trustworthy and they unite members of the community. “And most importantly, women are more likely to discuss issues of community development” she says, pointing to the piles of cement, bricks, and rocks being used to construct the school.

The project in Chikoza allows for Grade One and Grade Two students to have new classrooms, inside a secure building out of the elements. These classes were previously held outdoors and were often cancelled when there was too much rain or wind. During Malawi’s rainy season (December through March) this can be nearly every day. “I am always thinking about the little kids who are growing, the ones who will use this new school. I am working hard because I am passionate about this project,” Eliza says.

In addition to focusing on education for children, she is also focusing on encouraging more young girls to be leaders. “I am telling them how to behave so they are suitable candidates. I am teaching them how to be honest, trustworthy, and polite.” Then, she continued confidently, “It’s up to women like me to make change. We need to step up. We cannot wait for men to let women to be leaders.”