Everything Was Against Her—But She Still Became a CEO

04/29/21

Ireen’s life should have turned out differently.

 
Everything in her life was working against her: her poverty, her gender, her family’s situation, even the time and place in which she was born. Her life could have been defined by the hardship she experienced.
And yet—it wasn’t.

 

Growing up, Ireen’s stomach was always empty. She grew up in a poor community in Malawi and both of her parents were sick. As the oldest child, she had to grow up fast. She had to help take care of her family. 
 
One day, little Ireen strapped her baby brother to her back and began her chores while her mother went to look for food. 
 
                                          
Throughout the day, Ireen noticed her brother wasn’t crying. She figured he was asleep. When her mother returned that night, she untied her brother from her back. Her brother still wasn’t crying. That’s when she learned the truth—her brother wasn’t asleep. He was dead.
 
It’s a moment Ireen will never forget. “I grew up my whole childhood thinking I had killed my little brother.” Her father even accused her of killing him. 
 
She now knows he was simply too young to survive the long days their mother was gone looking for food, too little to survive off the scraps she brought home. When her brother died, it had been days since they had a proper meal. Her whole family was just fighting to survive. 
 
When Ireen’s father died, she didn’t grieve for him. “I didn’t want to be around my father because he was abusing me.” But after her father’s death, food became even more scarce. Life became even harder. Her mother’s health worsened, and Ireen was often in charge of finding food for her family. 
 
Even though primary school is free in Malawi, Ireen wouldn’t go because she was too hungry to focus in class. Time in class was time she could be looking for food. 
 
Her mother had another son, and Ireen helped care for this brother too. But she couldn’t help but worry that the same thing that had happened to her first brother would happen to this one. 
 
But in 2000, things started to change. Children of the Nations was getting ready to start a new child sponsorship program in the village of Mtsiliza and was serving lunches to the community. Ireen would go there for lunch, but she would save most of the food to bring back to her family. 
 
 
In 2001, Malawi experienced one of the worst famines in its history. A country that already had so much food insecurity was now in an even more desperate situation. 
 
Ireen should have been destined for a life of hunger and poverty. But 2001 was also the year Children of the Nations started their ministry in Mtsiliza—Ireen was one of the first children to join. 
 
She says that at first it was strange to have people taking care of her—she was so used to taking care of everyone else. She was still only eight years old, but she had already been taking care of people for years.                                          
 
 “I didn’t even know that life could be that good. The first day I was part of Children of the Nations, they gave a clothes and food to eat. At that moment I knew something better was on the way.”
 
When you have enough to eat, everything changes. Ireen could finally focus during class. She could learn about a God who loved her. She could work towards a better future.                                      
    
                                   
Ireen after she entered Children of the Nations' care.
 
When Ireen started at Children of the Nations, she was behind in school. But thanks to her determination and the support of her sponsors, she excelled in secondary school and graduated from African Bible College with a degree in mass communications. She then started working for Children of the Nations as Communications and Events Officer.
 
But when she went out on her own after graduating, she experienced housing conditions that left her without electricity, clean water, or indoor plumbing. Most people in Malawi live in homes with mud walls and thatched roofs. It is nearly impossible to keep up with the demand for safe and affordable housing in Malawi. This leaves people like Ireen with dangerous living conditions.
 
   
                         
Instead of trying to be content with her situation, she decided to do something about it. With the help of generous sponsors and with advanced business training at African Bible Institute, she started her own affordable-housing construction company, Tsindwi Housing Company, and is the CEO! 
 
Female CEOs are still rare—out of the top 3,000 companies in the US, only 167 are led by women—and they are especially rare in a male-dominated industry like construction. 
 
This means Ireen’s job is often difficult. Many of the men who work for her don’t like having a woman tell them what to do. But she doesn’t let this discourage her: “It is very challenging, but I love challenges, so I was happy to take up the role.” 
                                       
Ireen says she didn’t have a proper home until she came to Children of the Nations. With Tsindwi Housing Company, she wants to help give people a home. 
 
With her education and desire to give back to her community, Ireen is in a unique position to make a difference.
 
Many women in Malawi don’t get this opportunity. They are expected to get married early and take care of their husbands and children. Nearly half of girls in Malawi get married before the age of 18. Many others face poverty, teenage pregnancy, or illness. 
 
Ireen is planning to get married later this year, but she gets to do it on her own terms, and not because it is her only option. She doesn’t have to give up on her dreams and passions just to take care of others once again. 
 
                                           
Ireen graduated from college and business school and became a CEO!
 
So many events in Ireen’s life could have stopped her from becoming the person she was meant to be: the hunger and poverty she experienced daily, the 2001 famine, the expectations for women in Malawi, the deaths of her father and brother, and later on the death of her mother. 
 
But instead, Ireen’s passion, drive, and faith in God is transforming her nation.