If you sit down and ask Patti DeSante what she’s been up to for the past seven years, be prepared for a long story.
“Ask me what haven’t I done,” she’ll say, and proceed to tell you about the amazing people she’s met and the moments that have been simultaneously excruciating and joyous: like the time she was unjustly accused of a criminal offence and interrogated by machine-gun toting Malawian police officers, or the time she visited a maternity ward and looked into the eyes of babies unlikely to survive due to inadequate pre-natal and maternal care.
As an ordained Zen Buddhist Chaplain, De Sante says these moments have been excruciating because of the fear and sadness of not knowing what was coming next and joyful in that the circumstances and practices of her life have led her to embrace each moment with the capacity to turn towards each moment with “a strong spine and open heart.”
She calls herself a radical peacemaker and says that she wanted to go to Africa ever since early childhood. In December she returned to Bowen Island after being in Malawi in for almost six months, and working with various African led organizations over the past five years.
“Maybe a better question for me is not where have I been but what am I doing here,” she says. “I’m her to do three things over the next five months. The first is to reconnect with my family. The second is to launch a crowdfunding campaign for Chief Kachindamoto who is internationally known for her commitment to ending childhood marriage. And the third is to start a personal business support my life.
“When I was in Southern Malawi early this year, I posted that I wanted to meet Chief Kachindamoto on Facebook. Two days later, I met a mzungu (white person). We were talking and joking and he told me he was taking a film crew up to meet her, and asked me if I wanted to come,” she says. “So I went to meet her. Ten days later, I got a call from the Chief. She asked, can you help me find work for these girls once they graduate from secondary school?”
“These girls” are the first wave of those pulled out of childhood marriages and put back into school by Kachindamoto. A bit of background is necessary here: Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings in a family of traditional rulers and is the mother of five boys. Before being made paramount Chief for the Dezda District in 2003, she worked as a secretary in a local college. She now has informal authority over roughly 900,000 people.
“When she became Chief, there were some things she wanted to put an end to, and childhood marriage was one of them,” explains DeSante. “Kachindamoto, threatened to strip other chiefs in her region of their power if they did not end marriages involving young girls. She sent the girls to school, and promised their parents that the community would benefit more if their girls received a full education. If these girls emerge from school and cannot find jobs, all the work that has been done to stop child-marriages may fall apart. This is a very critical time.”
Chief Kachindamoto is credited with having broken up over a thousand child marriages. Currently it is illegal to marry under the age of 18 in Malawi without parental permission.
DeSante says she will be launching a crowd funding campaign on their behalf alongside her friend Lady Pace (Mwayi Mphande) a Malawian hip hop artist. The business partnership that LP and Patti are initiating, the Campaign and Lady Pace’s recently recorded album, (the first malawian female hiphop album) have all been named NkaziMoto “women of fire.”
DeSante and Lady Pace’s personal business aspiration, which is separate from the campaign, is to expand the use of African fabrics in contemporary fashion and increase market opportunities for other Malawian products including superfoods and beauty products from the Baobab tree and pottery from the Dedza region.
“The First Lady of Malawi is very supportive of women’s rights, and she has said that women must support each other. She is known for her ongoing campaign, “Beautify Malawi.” That is what we are doing,” says DeSante.
“When I introduced Lady Pace and the Chief I knew my work was on the right track. They are two Malawian fire women leading other Malawian women. That is how it is supposed to be. I will never know what gender equality means in Malawi. This movement is led by Malawians for Malawians. I just happen to be connected to places and people that can resource these efforts. That is my role.”
DeSante says the official launch of NkaziMoto will be February 14th, to coincide with the One Billion Rising Campaign’s day of action (this is a mass action to end violence against women). ALL of the resources raised will go to the Chief’s established foundation.
DeSante says she intends to host a dance party, and with the help of others who want to be involved bring both Chief Kachindamoto, some of the girls and Lady Pace to British Columbia for a speaking tour.
In the meantime, DeSante is doing odd jobs around Bowen to earn the money to get her back to Malawi and raise the funds to cover the costs of the campaign and launch of the business. She can be contacted through http://pattidesante.com and facebook.