Cal Poly welcomed back yesterday an alumna and ambassador of the Republic of Zambia to the United States to give the keynote address for International Education Week in Chumash Auditorium.
Her Excellency Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika spoke about her experiences growing up in her home country of Zambia and how they shaped her view of the world today, in her speech entitled “Training to Take on the World.”
According to a press release, “Mbikusita-Lewanika received a Bachelor of Science in home economics and education in 1964, and a master’s degree in education psychology in 1965, both from Cal Poly. She received a doctoral degree in early childhood education from NYU.”
Mbikusita-Lewanika started with an overview of Zambia, including its southwestern location in Africa, and surrounding countries. She explained that this location allowed her to absorb many different languages, including four by the time she started school at age seven. She now speaks seven, including Swahili and French.
She also emphasized that names are “very meaningful” in Africa, and hers is quite appropriate for someone so involved in world politics. Her name “Lewanika” was passed down to her through her family and means “someone who unites nations,” she said.
She arrived in the United States at age 17, and was a self-described “complete mature woman,” as she had been running the household since age eight. Mbikusita-Lewanika has strong ties with her family, and she credits her father for starting the sequence of events that led to her education at Cal Poly.
He had been interested in the predominantly African-American universities in the South, and so her siblings attended them, but Mbikusita-Lewanika said that he was also “intrigued” by the community college system.
“I was the experiment for community college,” she said. She decided to come to a local community college, and said “it was so close, I went to Cal Poly.”
A particularly interesting point in the speech came when she described why she is in her line of work. She grew up with a strong family and an “enabling environment,” as she called it, and feels she has an obligation to “support, especially girls,” and has “a contribution to make, to help other people.”
She is a very personable woman, and before her presentation looked every person in the eye as she warmly shook their hand. This is no surprise; she said she enjoys traveling and meeting people in her everyday life. “My motto in life is to learn to say ‘hello,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’ in as many languages as possible,” she said.
Mbikusita-Lewanika has worked with many distinguished organizations in her quest for positive global relations. According to a press release, she “has taught at the University of Zambia, worked for UNICEF and served two terms as a member of Zambian Parliament. In 2002 she was appointed ambassador and Special Envoy for the president of the Republic of Zambia covering African Affairs and overseeing the transition from the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.”
Her message to the audience was clear: “There is no limit to you taking on the world,” she said. She emphasized that everything people do, no matter how small, can have an impact on the world.
At the conclusion of her speech, University President Warren Baker presented Mbikusita-Lewanika with a check from the university to be used for orphanages in Zambia.