Theresa Kachindamoto, the chief of the Dedza district in Malawi who has been steadfast in her stance against child marriage, has been named the recipient of the 2016 Jesse & Helen Kalisher Humanitarian Award.
Over a decade ago, Kachindamoto was made chief of Dedza, responsible for oversight of 900,000 people. Since then, she has made education a top priority, insisting—in spite of common cultural traditions—that children must finish school. One of the primary obstacles to
completing an education has been the prevalence of child marriage, which curtails school attendance and often hastens parenthood.
Kachindamoto is changing the priorities for her tribe.
Five years ago, the Kalishers created their Humanitarian Award to recognize someone who has made a positive impact on humanity at great risk to themselves and reward him or her with the gift of art. “This is our small way of thanking the world’s bravest actors of change,” Jesse Kalisher said. Chief Kachindamoto will receive one of Jesse’s limited edition, hand-signed and numbered fine art photographs and a $2,000 donation, which will cover school fees for 144 girls in Dedza.
According to UN Women, the United Nations’ Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, “in Malawi in 2012, one in every two girls was married before the age of 18 and…it has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, ranked 8th out of 20 countries considered to have the highest rates.” Cultural customs and financial pressures are often the cause of child marriages in Malawi, notwithstanding a national law that bans marriage before the age of 18. Despite stiff resistance from her own community, Kachindamoto has remained resolute in her determination to eliminate child marriage, even going door-to-door to convince her constituents that education should be the priority for the district’s children.
Thanks to Kachindamoto, several hundred customary child marriages—both of boys and girls—have been annulled in the past three years. She has obtained commitments to ban future child marriages and to annul existing ones. To further the community’s dedication to this cause, she has installed a parent network to ensure that education remains the priority.
Generating support from the community, Kachindamoto is improving the future of thousands of children in Dedza. Kachindamoto has made headlines across global news outlets and non-governmental organizations, including Al Jazeera, the New York Times, and the United Nations.
“I am honored to receive this Humanitarian Award,” Kachindamoto said from her home in Malawi. “Art plays a critical role in Malawi and in the world and I appreciate that artists are taking a stand to support what we’re doing here. When artists speak out, the world is a better place. I thank Jesse and Helen for recognizing the importance of giving children the opportunity to be children—to learn, to grow. Thank you for joining me in my commitment to allow the children of Dedza district to do that.”
In bestowing the award, Jesse Kalisher pointed out that Chief Kachindamoto has made significant contributions to humanity, starting with her district in Malawi. “Just as education is important to every child, art is important to our progress as a society,” he said. “Chief Kachindamoto is making a remarkable statement against child marriage in her country—and, critically, doing something to effect change. We’re honored to know that the Humanitarian Award donation will go toward educating 144 girls.”
Previous recipients of the Jesse & Helen Kalisher Humanitarian Award include: Susana Trimarco, an Argentinian activist who has dedicated her life to fighting human trafficking; Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, who was instrumental in exposing fraud within the American tobacco industry; Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who successfully led a peace movement in Liberia; Urmi Basu, a champion for at-risk girls and young women in Kolkata, India; and Ann Cotton, a British woman who is revolutionizing the lives of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Jesse and Helen Kalisher own a pioneering company that creates and curates art for hospitality and corporate clients globally. Helen is an artist and graduate of London’s Chelsea School of Art. Jesse is an award-winning fine art photographer with work in private and museum collections worldwide. Two of his collections have been published as books—if you find the Buddha (Chronicle Books, 2004) and One World (Bramwell Publishing 2014).