Interview with Maya Kafuwa, joint-CEO of Perivoli Schools Trust

Read the story of Maya Kafuwa, who was appointed joint-CEO of the Perivoli Schools Trust, alongside her husband, having joined the charity as the first teacher trainer in Malawi in 2017.

The Perivoli Schools Trust delivers a unique nursery school training programme to children in Sub-Saharan Africa, setting them up for primary and secondary education by stimulating their minds with play at an early age.

What’s your career background?

My background is quite humble and interesting at the same time. I did a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Eastern Africa-Baraton, majoring in Management and graduating with a Cum laude. I then did my internship with two organisations as an administrative officer.

When Perivoli Schools Trust first offered me a volunteer post I had already been offered another job as an operations manager, but I turned this down to become a Perivoli trainer.

When did you start at The Perivoli Schools Trust?

I started in January 2017, becoming the organisation’s first trainer in Malawi. I then progressed through the ranks and now oversee a team of 175 trainers across five countries. That number is expected to be over 200 by the end of 2022 now that the program is also expanding rapidly in Botswana and Uganda.

What’s the aim of The Perivoli Schools Trust? 

The main aim of the Perivoli Schools Trust is to address extremely high dropout rates that African children face once they reach state-funded primary school. Children who aren’t encouraged to learn and play in their early years find it very hard to cope with formal education when they reach primary school.

It is particularly challenging for girls, who tend to fall pregnant once they reach puberty at 13 or 14 if they struggle at school. Studies show that a girl who can read has two children on average, whereas a girl who can’t has five. Our goal is to get the girls to read before they leave nursery school.

How does it achieve this? 

We have created a unique training programme which shows nursery school teachers how to make educational activities and games out of recyclable waste materials. Perivoli gives African nursery school teachers the tools to be able to teach children with a lack of resources and funding, giving more children access to the education they deserve. 

The program is a highly scalable, affordable and transforming way of addressing the needs of nursery school teachers and children alike in Sub-Saharan Africa, both much overlooked constituencies.

We employ trainers to show the nursery school teachers how to make games and educational activities out of recyclable waste materials. They tend to have no money or training themselves, so this helps them to create play activities at no cost.

What has the trust achieved to date? 

Over the past seven years, the Trust has trained over 10,000 nursery school teachers in three countries, Namibia, Malawi and Zambia, and is currently launching in Uganda and Botswana. It will target 200,000 more teachers across nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa over the coming decades. It has already reached about 250,000 pre-school children in the two to seven age bracket, with 5 million being the target. 

Why do you personally enjoy working for it?

There are a lot of reasons but above everything else it’s the passion for education, helping children and creating a better future. Perivoli gives me the golden opportunity to shape the future of Africa through education. It is satisfying to see children learn better and hope for a bright future. 

You were recently appointed joint-CEO, having joined the charity as the first teacher trainer in Malawi in 2017. How did you achieve your success?

It’s tough to know what other people see in you, but I think doing what you enjoy makes it easy to produce good results. I owe it to my passion, the support I get from the people around me and my belief in God that makes me always want to do things well and better. 

I think it started with having a very successful group of teachers, then trainers and coordinators, to manage. I happen to be a person that people relate easily to and take counsel from, given my strong people management skills. In short, happy managers encourage hard work from their subordinates and make a happy work environment, which in turn brings about better results.

I think one of my greatest skills is that I make people happy and so they happily follow my guidance and in turn achieve their goals. Maybe that’s how I became a CEO. 

What’s your aim for the trust, now you are in charge?

My main aim is reaching out to more disadvantaged children whose parents cannot afford the exorbitant fees most private schools charge. Even the teachers who are trying their best to teach children and impart essential skills for development can’t reach those most in need. I would say that I want us to take education to the places it’s needed the most, which are also the places it never gets to be taken to. 

What is it like working with your husband?

It’s fun, energising, thrilling, less stressful but challenging of course. It’s also great because we work together, so I don’t miss him when I have to travel for work. Essentially, it is a lifetime opportunity to get to do all things together, from our family life to work life. It helps me get all the support I need be it physical, emotional or otherwise. We get to set goals and work together to achieve them. We face our challenges together and deal with them together.  

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Making the decision to let go of a job that promised me a good pay so I could follow my passion with Perivoli. It was like walking so far into the dark I could see stars but risk falling into a pit. It was not easy, but it paid off.

And your proudest moment so far?

Working hard and rising through the ranks with my husband, while getting all the support we need from family.

Why is work so important to you?

It is very important as it helps me support and raise the children I have, while helping other Malawian, Zambian, Namibian, Ugandan and other African children. For me it is not just work, or meeting the agreed targets, but more the satisfaction I get every evening when I go to bed that I contributed to make life for African children better. I helped to secure their future and I made a few hundred be able to smile.  

Who inspires you?

My mother. She has always strived for perfection and held her standards high, even when it was an extremely difficult challenge to bear.

What advice would you share with other ambitious women?

There is time for everything. While it’s important to go to school and learn essential skills, hard work and passion fuel your journey. Set challenging goals and make sure you achieve them – giving up is not an option. But above all you must be honest, have integrity and respect for yourself and others. 

Give to those who need what you have, more than you do.

Find out more about the Perivoli Schools Trust.