Lactating Mother and Environmental Leadership

by Mphatso Chapotera, Malawi, ELP 2015
Written on July 16, 2015.

The reality is: I gave birth to a beautiful girl on May 13th, 2015 and left my six-week old baby with my mother in Malawi to attend a summer course in Sustainable Environmental Management, the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program, at UC Berkeley. I feel that it was one of the most challenging decisions I have ever made in my life. Right now, you may be asking yourself many questions as to why I sacrificed my family priorities for the sake of my career.

I still remember the day, back when I opened my inbox and downloaded a letter of offer for an advanced science training from AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) to come to UC Berkeley. At that time, I was heavily pregnant. After opening the email I did not know what to do. I went home and shared the news with my family in order to get an answer because AWARD was waiting for my acceptance email. Nobody gave me a concrete answer. The next day I took courage and shared the good news with my boss, he was very supportive and wondered how I will manage to attend the course with a baby on my way. After negotiations with my family, I decided to go ahead with my decision of building my career.

During the three weeks of ELP, I have formed bonds, relationships and funny enough, potential collaborators and business partners. We laughed, hugged, cried together and exchanged great ideas with people from all over the world. We did not just learn to be collaborative environmental leaders; we also learned how to be better versions of ourselves. Before ELP, I thought that I had found my passion, my path in life and my destiny, but I was greatly mistaken. I have just awakened the sleeping giant in me. I have been opened up to a “new me.” I am going back a motivated person ready to compete with men for top leadership positions better than before (my profession is male dominated). Last but not least, I would like to thank AWARD for sponsoring me to go to the ELP summer course this year. Though I am excited to hold my beautiful daughter again, I will always remember that “you never really graduate from ELP.” That is why I sacrificed my family priorities for the sake of my career.