Working together

It’s so important that organisations working in similar areas share ideas and resources, where possible. We have been pleased to get to know Maura’s Mission, another small Scottish charity which supports education in Malawi. Maura’s Mission is run by nurses and teachers who work with two schools in Malawi to identify the most academically gifted pupils from the poorest families in Malawi and then support them through school.

That is a slightly different approach than we take with MMF girls; we ask schools to identify the neediest girls for our support. However, we both support secondary school education and are committed to helping these children reach their potential. The schools Maura’s Mission supports are in the same geographical area as two of our schools so we have much in common in terms of the transport and communication challenges. We have enjoyed sharing our stories and information.

We manage our work locally through Mercy Sibande, our Malawi Manager. Mercy does termly visits to each of the schools which we support. We find this contact hugely valuable and are so pleased that Maura’s Mission have also engaged Mercy to do similar work for them. They will benefit from Mercy’s experience and expertise and we are glad to have this connection with the work of Maura’s Mission.

We can all learn from each other and we don’t need to waste our scarce resources inventing new ways of doing things when we can share information and connections like this.

Alloway rebuilds hostel in Bandawe

Many years ago we were able to build a hostel at Bandawe Girls’ Secondary School in Malawi, by the lakeshore. Over the years the hostel fell into disrepair but we had neither the funds nor the management capacity to address this problem. Trustees from Scotland saw the poor state of the hostel on their visits. 

This hostel has now been completely refurbished. This has been funded and managed by Murray Hutchison and friends at Alloway Parish Church in Ayrshire, Scotland. Funds were donated via coffee mornings, Christmas Fayre and by friends of the Church and the school. The total cost was £23k but the impact on the 102 girls who live there in term time will be immense. To quote from the letter written by the Head Teacher, Mr Denis Kamata:

The hostel project has not just provided accommodation to the girls but it has also:

Improved the health of our learners who will be not contracting skin and respiratory diseases that were the order of the day in the past due to the state of the hostel .

Contributed to the enhancement of unity amongst our girls as the feelings of being discriminated against amongst those that were using the other good hostels will no longer be there.

Enhanced the security of our girls and their property because of the nature of the windows with burglar bars, well fitting window panes and doors.

Added significantly to the infrastructure development programme of the school.

Helped our girls to understand that they are not alone in this global village but that there are people far away from Malawi that care and wish them well.

Before work started on the hostel refurbishment

Murray Hutchison’s report gives a flavour of the urgency of these building works: 

There is no doubt that the 102 girls living in this large hostel have had their lives changed for the better: water no longer pours in through holes in the roof and the toilets and showers (while  not what we enjoy) have been totally replaced and replumbed and  refurbished. The walls had to be taken down further than expected and their height extended to improve ventilation. Windows and doors have been replaced, a new roof constructed, repairs to foundations and rendering and a  total replacement of all electrics. 

The relationship between Alloway Parish Church started in 2006 when Ayr Presbytery made their first visit to Bandawe. The Church entered into a partnership with Bandawe mission station and Thipula Church and with BAGSS in 2008. Alloway’s two primary schools are twinned with Bandawe Primary where the Church undertook a smaller but similar hostel project in late 2019. This is Alloway Parish Church’s fourth building project at BAGSS. They focus on education and training in various ways and these building projects are a significant help to the school.

We are grateful to all those involved in this project – to Murray for masterminding the fundraising and overseeing the work, to Mr Chirwa (previous Head Teacher) and Mr Kamata for oversight of the work in Malawi and to the building company, Chumugogo Building Company.

Black History Month

The Mamie Martin Fund has been honoured to have Vera Chirwa as our Malawian Patron for many years. This Black History Month, we share her remarkable story.

Vera Chirwa

Born in Nyasaland in the 1930s she was encouraged to go to school by her grandmother and was the only girl out of 72 pupils at Livingstonia primary school. At secondary school in Blantyre she was the only girl alongside 24 boys. She trained as a teacher before marrying Orton Chirwa in 1951. Together they campaigned for the independence of Malawi (then Nyasaland) and by the time this was achieved in 1964 both Vera and Orton had trained as lawyers. Vera was Malawi’s first female lawyer.

During the difficult years leading up to independence Vera and Orton were both arrested and imprisoned by the white British authorities on fabricated charges for their political activities with the Nyasaland African Congress. They were eventually released without charge but the experience led Vera with others to found The League of Malawi Women which taught women about their rights, as well as campaigning politically.

Dr Hastings Banda became Malawi’s first president but things started to go wrong when his Cabinet split as he became increasingly dictatorial, eventually declaring Malawi a one party state and making himself President for life. Orton, who was Minister of Justice in the cabinet, did not agree with this and eventually he and Vera and their young family had to flee their beloved Malawi as their lives were in danger.

On Christmas Eve in 1981 on their way to a meeting with other exiled Malawians in Zambia they were kidnapped by armed men and taken across the border into Malawi. There they were detained and imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death on 6th May 1983. Due to pressure from Amnesty International and many friends and supporters around the world they escaped execution but languished in prison for 12 years. Vera was released on 24th January 1993 but tragically her husband Orton died in prison under suspicious circumstances just prior to this.

Despite this blow, Vera continued to work and fight for human rights and the empowerment of women. The Mamie Martin Fund (founded in 1993, the year Vera was released from prison) supports poor girls in North Malawi to attend secondary school and hopefully empowers them to become strong women in their communities and in Malawi.

Vera is now 88years old and in poor health but her story continues to inspire young women around the world. Fearless Fighter is the title of her autobiography.

International Day of the Girl Child 2020

On Sunday 11th October we celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. The girl child is fundamental to our mission and our work. We believe that the education of girls and women is essential to the well-being and development of any nation. On this day we are pleased to launch a new report on the subject of girls’ education and the contribution which the Mamie Martin Fund makes. 

The report is based on the research of Anna Freidenfeld as part of her MSc in International Development at the University of Edinburgh. It sets out the current situation relating to girls’ education and summarises the literature about it.

While we can only ever support a small number of girls at school (138 this year) Anna’s research found that 81% of MMF-supported girls successfully completed secondary school. This figure compares very favourably with the most recent Malawi-wide data from UNESCO which recorded that school completion in Malawi stood at just 21% in 2013. Anna also found that MMF’s work is effective in supporting girls with day-to-day expenses. This is because we take a holistic view, providing some money for the necessities which the girls cannot afford and without which they could not remain at school. 

We can only support the girl child with your help and are grateful to all our donors and supporters. The best thing that you can do to help us continue this work for girls’ education is to sign up to a regular donation, however small. It is our small, regular donors who are our financial backbone. On behalf of the girl child in Malawi, thanks for all your support.  

Research student outcomes

We’ve been delighted to have hosted an MSc research student from the University of Edinburgh. Anna Freidenfeld was studying International Development and has now completed her dissertation on ‘Barriers and Enablers to Girls’ Secondary School Education in Northern Malawi.’ Supervised for MMF by Moira Dunworth and Jean Gordon, both of whom are established researchers, Anna produced an insightful piece of work about girls’ education, why it is important and how work like ours makes a real difference. 

As well as looking at the barriers to girls’ education in Malawi, Anna critiqued some other approaches and found that our ‘Ready to Learn’ (R2L) fund, which helps the girls with necessities they can’t otherwise afford, is an enabler, viz., ‘Unlike the […] approaches that champion “just add women and stir” without considering the gendered dimensions of poverty, initiatives like the R2L fund can better ‘level the playing field’ with boys by helping to dismantle gender related education-barriers, such as that of period poverty.’ The needs with which the MMF girls have asked for help are illustrated in the image. Culturally it is difficult for them to ask for help with sanitary wear so it does not feature highly in the data. However, it is a serious need and so we now provide reusable sanitary pads for all MMF girls from a local business, Supreme Malawi.

Anna concluded that our inclusive approach to supporting girls at secondary school leads to a much higher retention rate than the national average. 81% of MMF pupils (2014 – 2020) completed their secondary education and this contrasts starkly with the national average of 21% (UNESCO, 2013)

It is helpful to us to have an updated list of resources about girls’ education which we can and will use to support our argument that girls’ education is one of the most important areas in the development of a nation. By doing our little bit, we are making a real difference to the girls we support and, by extension, to the development of Malawi. Thanks for your help in enabling us to continue this work year on year. 

International week of the Deaf

We come to the end of International Week of the Deaf 2020 and congratulate the World Federation of the Deaf for valuable events and posts during the week. This year’s theme is ‘Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights’. We endorse the need to secure and promote the human rights of deaf people everywhere. We are privileged to support six deaf girls at secondary school in North Malawi. Embangweni Secondary School for Deaf Children is run by our partners, the CCAP Synod of Lvingstonia. 

Two of these girls are supported by the Scottish Government as part of the Cameron Endowment Fund which we manage on their behalf. Three others are supported through our Thompson Fund, established in the memory of Jack and Phyllis Thompson who lived and worked in Malawi most of their lives. The girl that we have supported the longest is now in her final months at school and wrote her story to give to us. We share it on our website here

For many reasons education is a greater challenge for deaf children in Malawi than for hearing children. Our contribution is small but very important to these girls. Our Malawi Manager, Mercy Sibande, is learning sign language so as to improve her communication with them. We invite you to watch our short video of the Thompson girls newly starting their secondary school education in 2019.

Connections discovered through Story-on-Bikes

Many of the stay-at-home riders in our recent cycling project, ‘Story-on-Bikes’, were previously unknown to the Mamie Martin Fund. It was wonderful to meet these new friends and supporters, albeit virtually. Through this contact we found many fascinating stories and connections. One of them is about Janet Cormack, the great-aunt of Lesley Clunas, a keen cyclist from the Black Isle.  

Janet was born in 1896 and her family folklore has it that she drove from Aberdeen, where the family lived, to Malawi in the 1920s. She got married there in Fort Jameson (now Chipata, Zambia, near the Malawian border) in 1927 so will have overlapped with Mamie Martin, though not in the same part of Malawi. Janet was matron of Blantyre Hospital in Malawi for some of her time there. 

Janet Cormack at Blantyre Hospital

Lesley first met her great-aunt in the 1970s when she returned to Aberdeen to die. Needless to say of such a strong spirit, she lived for almost two more decades. Janet died in 1982, aged 96. We are grateful to Lesley for sharing this story and the photos. Clearly Janet and Mamie were kindred spirits, both independent-minded women who lived and worked in Malawi at the same time. They each devoted their lives to others and would both be delighted for us to make these connections now and to work together to support girls’ education in Malawi. 

Reflections on a day’s cycle

Monday, 3 August 2020 – Day 4 of the Story on Bikes – Inversnaid Bunkhouse to Killearn

Setting off from Ayrshire to meet up with the riders for the fourth day meant a crack-of-dawn start and a 2-hour drive. The road to Inversnaid from Aberfoyle is the road we would be cycling from Inversnaid to Aberfoyle in just a few minutes. That dull overcast rainy morning drive up and over the hills hadn’t exactly filled me with enthusiasm but after the obligatory photo and video opportunities three cyclists set off: Moira, Shelagh and me (Willie Sinclair, Mamie Martin’s grandson). The gradients seemed more manageable in real life than in anticipation. I was a bit disconcerted, though, while toiling up one hill when a car pulled up beside me. The occupants wanted to know how to get up Ben Lomond! I heard myself say “If I was doing that I wouldn’t start from here!” I suggested they head for Rowardennan, a 35 mile drive away.

The midges were out but pedalling steadily and keeping my mouth shut I avoided the worst of them. However, we had a rendezvous at Kinlochard Boat Club with cyclists from Strathendrick Baptist Church and that meant stopping beside the mirror-flat Loch Ard. The ever-generous Wrights were waiting for us with coffee and the most amazing cycling fuel I’ve ever experienced. We were only 10 miles into our actual day’s plan but it seemed important to share Ian’s load by eating as much of the “snackery” as possible: parkin and flapjack. Mmmmm. While we consumed calories, the midges consumed us. I stopped counting bite-marks after 35 and just kept pacing about trying to avoid them. Meanwhile Moira was interviewing Kathleen for the video that is on here.

We followed the Wrights through the Loch Ard Forest trails over some pretty bumpy surfaces, our skinny-tyred road bikes coping well. Forest rides are great for avoiding the wind but you do need to know where you’re going. Food was a theme of the day. A picnic stop at Lochan Spling (any Gaelic speakers who can shed light on that name?) and a lunch stop at Gartmore Village Hall were the Wrights’ subtle way of preparing us for the Gartmore to Drymen leg of the ride. Childhood memories of journeys from Milton of Buchanan to Aberfoyle by “The Old Gartmore Road”, and the excitement of leaping out to open the gates for my Dad (and whatever bunch of friends/relatives were visiting us) to drive through, didn’t include the hill we had to go up. I suppose in the 1960s we would have been going down North in a car instead of up South under our own steam. The term “unrelenting” could have been invented for this climb. We live in Angus so most of my cycling now involves hills, but the steep ones are short and the long ones are more gradual. Gartmore to Drymen is both steep and long, with many false tops luring the unwary cyclist into a disappointing not-yet-final effort. My usual approach is “head-down-and-grind-away” in the lowest gear possible, ignoring everything and everybody around me. My reward, as I finally reached the top was the glorious view and an Osprey casually checking out the Muir Park reservoir as it flew west towards Loch Lomond. (There’s a nest site at the Lake of Monteith, just a few miles East of Aberfoyle.)

Moira and Shelagh are uphill heroes and downhill demons with well-set-up bikes (Moira’s has disc brakes) while I was riding a 1970s Raleigh Carlton with braking technology that was devised in the 1950s. So, despite my greater mass, gravity got them to Drymen before the rest of us. Part of the final leg from Drymen to Killearn via Gartness was shared with the West Highland Way. Ian warned us about absent-minded walkers. We managed to dodge them. My faulty childhood memory banks had Drymen and Killearn a long way apart so I was delighted to see the rooftops of our destination much sooner than I expected. But it was up one final hill. A spectacular evening meal topped off a memorable day in the saddle and I was exceedingly glad NOT to be doing the next leg to Falkirk: the forecast was for heavy prolonged showers.

The success of this whole Story on Bikes has been a surprise. It had looked like the Pandemic Lockdown had killed the plan but changing and adapting resulted in the participation of many more people in many different ways. I was ‘lucky’ that Eileen volunteered me to do a stage in reality. I also clocked up miles beforehand in the #Stay-at-Home version, as did 42 other people!

Moira spent a lot of time during each ride filming, photographing and interviewing followed by a huge effort editing it all into manageable wee chunks to be uploaded to our YouTube channel. Take the time to watch the video of this day and then please hit the Like button, subscribe to the channel (no cost involved) and SHARE SHARE SHARE!

Thanks to all our stay at home riders and donors!

Thanks are due to:

– all the riders, Stay-at-Home or on-the-day

– Eileen for being my co-driver and for meeting us at the end of the day’s ride

– the un-named friend of the Wrights who delivered them, their amazing food and their bikes to Kinlochard in the morning

– Moira for organising and editing and shepherding the whole project.

And finally.

It wasn’t designed as a fundraiser so much as an awareness-raising event. Thank you, however, to all who donated to the Mamie Martin Fund.

Echoes of the past in Glebe House, Tarbet

The ‘Story on Bikes’ reached Tarbet, Loch Lomond on a sunny Sunday, after a morning cycling up the western side of Loch Lomond. Glebe House is a beautiful guest house now, sitting up the hill in Tarbet looking over the loch to Ben Lomond. In Mamie’s day, it was the manse, occupied by her family while her father was the local minister, and in her letters she describes the frequent visitors. It’s a warm and welcoming house and Bernadette Rainey, the owner, made sure the cyclists were comfortable for their picnic lunch.

Mary Haggerty from the local heritage group, called in for a short visit . She had encouraged Margaret Sinclair in her last writing project, towards the end of her life, a short history of Mamie’s family in the manse. As the sun sparkled on the loch, it was easy to imagine how Mamie and Jack loved the Lake in Malawi . This was a very special lunch stop for the Mamie Martin ‘Story on Bikes’.

Story on Bikes launch

Our ‘Story on Bikes’ bike ride has been a real success. An important aspect of that success has been the connections made or strenghtened with like-minded organisations. We were grateful to be able to launch the ride from the birthplace of David Livingstone in Blantyre, Scotland on Saturday August 1st. Douglas Hay, a Trustee of the David Livingstone Trust, welcomed us to the site where our Scottish Patron, Alison Cameron, sent the riders on their way. They were headed to Tarbet, Loch Lomond, the home of Mamie Martin. 

The site in Blantyre has been sadly neglected during lockdown but we all hope to visit again once it is possible to have volunteers back on site and when the restoration work is complete.

The cyclists had ridden from Edinburgh the previous day and they cycled to Balloch from Blantyre, visiting Tarbet on the Sunday. A warm welcome awaited them there – and look out for that video story. Mamie would be happy to know that connections between Scotland and Malawi are still so strong and that her conviction about the necessity of educating girls is now widely accepted as true around the world. The Story on Bikes project raised more than £5k for the education of girls in Malawi. Thanks to the numerous people who made this possible.