Tweed rins tae the Ocean – a book review

The Mamie Martin Fund has a particular interest in the new book by Dr Alasdair Allan MSP because the royalties are being donated equally to us and the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative.  Moira Dunworth has read it and writes this short review:

“The book is ostensibly about a walk along the Scotland-England border but is really about the history, literature and culture of the area, the Scottish part anyway. It’s not really about walking at all. It is about how people lived, fought, died and remembered. The border did move a bit but not much in the last 500 years, other than where it is defined by the river bed of the Eden, and that moved in 1976, causing consternation to civil servants on both sides of it. Happily, ‘the Eden went obligingly back to its old southern channel in 1977.’

This very readable book is entertaining and not at all as daunting as it might look. The author’s self-deprecating tone keeps the reader on-side, ‘Alan and I take turns to fall down holes and drag each other out. I give up the pretence of being cheerful.’ He does have some pleasant walking days and he sprinkles the narrative with personal memories and stories, mostly against himself, which is delightful. Did he really once camp on a roundabout by accident?

The book is also littered with quotations from poetry and prose, some in Scots but translated where necessary. So most readers will emerge from this engaging book better-informed about the history of this area and the associated literature. It is highly recommended as a good read and a treasure to keep.”

You can buy Alasdair Allan’s book directly from the publishers, Thunderpoint Ltd.

Girl-child event with the First Lady of Malawi

Mary Coles, long-time supporter of MMF, was one of our representatives at an event in Blantyre, Scotland with Her Excellency Monica Chakwera during COP26.

Mary reports: “I found it a friendly, open and positive atmosphere and felt strongly that the work of MMF is highly focused but in close alignment with the aims of the First Lady’s foundation. I learned a lot from the presentation with its emphasis on Community Day schooling, and on mentoring arrangements to sustain girls in secondary schooling and through to tertiary education. I now have a deeper understanding of the socio/economic and cultural factors which Shaping our Future Foundation and MMF are working to counteract. The relevance of a focus on sexual health and well being in the context of poverty, teenage pregnancies/marriages and violence against women and girls is so much clearer to me now. The First Lady’s speech emphasised how mothers can be key in fighting for opportunities for their daughters and garnering the resources to sustain them through schooling. Also how important it can be to encourage girls back into schooling and later back into work/teaching/health roles after early childbearing.”  

In later discussion with the First Lady, it became apparent to what extent the pandemic has set back progress as girls were not in the safer school environment and much more at risk of greater deprivation and violence – getting them back into school is proving challenging. 

All of this reinforces for me that the ways MMF works in identifying need and meeting wider needs including menstrual health etc. and encouraging those previously helped to take on mentoring roles is the right focus.” 

A ‘global’ AGM and a new trustee

It was a first for MMF as it has been for so many other organisations in these unprecedented times. We held our 2021 AGM on Zoom and livestreamed it on Facebook. Six months ago most of the Board didn’t know what livestreaming is (some still don’t), far less how to do it.

But we did it. We were rewarded by having 25 participants in the Zoom meeting and many others watching on Facebook (reach = 50 and engagements = 36). We had attendees from Scotland, England, France, Portugal and Malawi, and possibly elsewhere too. We had challenges: one chair fell ill the night before, another lost her internet connection as the meeting started and North Malawi experienced poor Airtel connectivity until almost the end of the meeting.

But we overcame all those challenges. We reported to our supporters and donors, which is the main purpose of an AGM. We heard about girls’ education in Malawi from a Malawian woman, Fiddes Msowoya, who is immersed in education there. We also heard about some on-going research by Isa Uny about fuel and cooking in Malawi and Kenya.

When the MMF AGMs return to local events with the much-missed soup, they will certainly retain a global element as we must not lose these wonderful connections which are now established.

The AGM was particularly pleased to welcome another Malawian onto our Board. Remmie Kamanga became known to MMF when we established our partnership with the Diocese of Karonga, where he was the Education Desk Officer. No longer in that post, he is free to join our Board and we are grateful for his engagement. A former teacher, he brings a wealth of experience and understanding to our work. We will learn much from him.

Book launch and royalties donated to charity

MMF trustee, Moira Dunworth, shares some exciting news about a new book…

The Mamie Martin Fund is delighted to be one of two charities that will receive the royalties of Dr Alasdair Allan’s book about the Scotland-England border – Tweed rins tae the Ocean. We first met Alasdair when he was Minister for International Development and Europe. He is from the Scottish Borders but lives in the Western Isles where he is the Constituency MSP.

This book is about his east-to-west walk of the Border; it is more about the history, literature and language of the area than the actual walking, though he did that and is clear about its hardships and joys along the way. Hearing him speak about it at the launch in Blackwell’s Edinburgh, made me eager to get reading.

Alasdair is generously dividing all his royalties between two small Scottish charities, the Mamie Martin Fund and the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative. This means a great deal to us and we plan a project next year which will be loosely based on the book. Start thinking about borders and we will be in touch to frame a plan. It will include, but not be restricted to, navigating some of the route which Alasdair took. Those cyclists among us will be keen to travel west to east, ideally having the prevailing wind to help us on our way.

The book is published by Thunderpoint Publishing and is available from all independent bookshops. I am delighted to own the first copy which Alasdair signed and we are grateful for the good wishes to MMF which he included.

Congratulations to ‘Best Student’ Hannah – MMF ex-pupil

Hannah was an MMF beneficiary at Elangeni Secondary School from 2011 to 2015. Her parents had divorced, her father remarried with new responsibilities and Hannah’s mother could not afford her school fees. The school put Hannah on the MMF list and, with her worries gone, she worked hard and obtained excellent results in her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).


Hannah now is in her final year at the University of Malawi studying BSc in accounting with sponsorship from the Soko Fund. She has dreamed of working as an accountant since she was in Level 5 in primary school. She has always loved solving financial issues and therefore, thinks accounting and she are perfectly suited for one another. She believes that her career will shape her to have wide knowledge in fund management which will be a tool that she will use in giving skills to young Malawian women on how to manage their finances in setting up small scale businesses that would allow them to do their own thing rather than depend on government for employment.


Both MMF and Soko are so proud to learn that Hannah has been awarded a Certificate of Achievement for “outstanding performance in academic excellence” in the 2021 round of ‘Best Student Awards’ made annually by TotalEnergies Malawi, a major company focusing on sustainable energy.

Good news story about the pandemic in Malawi … (REALLY?!)

MMF Trustee and SOKO Fund Chair, Brian Kerr writes:

‘I want to draw people’s attention to a remarkably successful, locally informed, relatively low cost project, designed to respond to a current health crisis- but with unexpected long term benefit!

No, I haven’t lost the plot! When I read about it, amidst all the current glooms, too numerous to list, I just felt a bit heartened, even cheered. See what you think!

Malawi-flag-square

The initiative came from the Scotland – Malawi partnership. That partnership has created a regular and very worthwhile conduit for up to the minute information about the development, impact and consequences of the Covid pandemic in Malawi. Amongst many pressing issues, it became clear that there was a major shortage of working ventilators in Malawi and that this might be something that an appeal in Scotland might address.

 Over £40,000 was raised in relatively short time. How it was spent, and the results, are summarized in a news story on the SMP website

In brief, the original plan was to buy and ship new ventilators. In the event, a much better solution was to identify existing ventilators, in Malawi, and find ways (using local expertise) to repair them and bring them back into use. This had the effect of not only increasing availability for Covid patients in crisis, but in the longer term ensure/improve availability for patients with other conditions. All at relatively low cost-and donors can see exactly the practical benefit of their donations.

Here’s a quote from David Hope Jones, CEO of the Scotland -Malawi partnership which for me sums it up ..

 “I think it’s a really inspiring example of partnership working in action and all credit must go to the leaders and volunteer engineers on the ground ..

As Malawi’s third wave of Covid drops away it seems, sadly, almost inevitable that there will be further waves to come, with vaccination levels still worryingly low.  …(The project).. will continue to work hard in the months and years to come, as further oxygen concentrators are fixed and then better maintained, oxygen saturation monitors allow better treatment decisions, and new oxygen piping allows better treatment outcomes.  All of this will help with further covid outbreaks but, more than this, will also help Malawi treat a whole range of different conditions.”

The whole story is well worth a read. It certainly cheered and motivated me. I hope it does you too! It is also another reason for MMF to be pleased to be associated with the Scotland – Malawi partnership.’

Give a little regularly – make a big difference: Margaret Coutts’ story

Margaret is in her 80s, and (in her words) will talk to anybody. Mariot from MMF met her today in a café for a cup of tea to talk about why she donates £10.00 a month to the Mamie Martin Fund. The meeting today had to be fixed around her other commitments, as she is a volunteer with various local groups and has a busy diary. Margaret donates regularly to three charities working in Malawi: Mary’s Meals, the Raven Trust and Mamie Martin Fund.

She visited Malawi as part of a small group from local churches in 2003 and describes it as a ‘life-changing experience’. She loved meeting and talking with Malawian people but was aware of the extreme poverty and the hardship in many people’s lives. The group visited some schools and Margaret remembers seeing good teaching and enthusiastic learning, in very basic accommodation with minimal resources. They also saw Mary’s Meals at work, providing food for school children.

Margaret came home from Malawi determined to support the organisations working to alleviate poverty and inequality. When she found out that the rebuilding of four Falkirk schools meant that the furniture and equipment from the old buildings was heading to the skip, she had the idea of sending that school furniture to Malawi instead.  Thanks to the support she got from the Raven Trust and local churches, children in Malawi are now using desks & chairs all the way from Falkirk.

She is great fun to talk to and there was a lot of laughter in our chat today. Margaret was in Brownies and Guides in her young days and still attends the Trefoil Guild. She encourages young people today to join youth organisations and sees it as a great way to make friends and learn new skills. Perhaps that helped to develop her zest for life and strong sense of service. In her sixties she sat and passed her Advanced Driving Test.

In summary, Margaret says ‘I’m passionate about education for girls. It opens up their lives and their futures.’

Mariot’s meeting with Margaret Coutts, 3 August 2021

We’ve biked to Malawi

The idea of biking virtually to Malawi didn’t seem all that odd in the context of Covid-related restrictions. We are so grateful to all the people who engaged with the idea and enthusiastically at that. It was fun and people responded in all sorts of ways, increasing their engagement with us and with our work in Malawi.

Livingstonia ahead…

We made it to Bandawe, North Malawi with a few days to spare – 10,679 miles. Bandawe was home to Mamie and Jack Martin for most of their time in Malawi. Having arrived we exuberantly undertook a victory lap of Lake Malawi and completed over 1,000 miles on that extra ride. These miles/kms were made up of short, medium and long trips by our Bike2Malawi riders. Everyone will get a certificate, stating their own total. This is not, and never would be, a competition or race and so no comparative data is being made available. Your distances are your achievements. Well done to you all; here are some of the stats.

  • 67 people registered including two children. 36, more than half, of those riders were new to the Mamie Martin Fund. This expansion of our supporter base is a real achievement for us and we are delighted to engage with so many new people.
  • Those riders live in Scotland, England, Germany and Ireland, in order of the numbers in each country.
  • There were 583 separate logs of distances ridden. These started on the day of the launch and finished after 10 pm on on the final day.
  • 11 riders set up fundraising pages and raised £2,207.18 between them, not counting gift aid.
  • A further 34 people donated to the VirginMoneyGiving (VMG) fundraising page and several others to the main MMF page; funds donated outside of the VMG page were added to the total showing on the VMG page.

Bike2Malawi has been a huge success in terms of engagement and profile-raising. We have also raised more than £7k, a new record for MMF which is likely to be broken this year by the #Pledge100 team. That success could not have been achieved without the help of Andrea Adden during the planning stage; her managing the numbers once we started was also invaluable. Our launch could not have been professional and effective without the generous help of Jade, Craig and David from the Scotland-Malawi Partnership and the video work done by Richard Robinson.

MMF, Soko Fund and David Livingstone Centre come together in a bike ride

Bike2Malawi rider, Brian Kerr is Chair of the Soko Fund and a Trustee of the Mamie Martin Fund. He has a new e-bike and was keen to give it an outing. He also wanted to see the newly-refurbished David Livingstone Birthplace which reopened on 28th July. Closed for four years to undergo major refurbishment, the new museum exhibition re-introduces us to David Livingstone, focusing more than has been previously done on those around him. He was not really the ‘lone explorer’ of the previous versions of that history.  

So Brian set off in the sunshine from Edinburgh to Blantyre. He recalls: “The sun was much too bright for a decent picture (by me anyway). It was a lovely ride-such an interesting variety of countryside and old industrial stuff and the West Lothian mining villages.

Some of the traffic on the roadside paths was not nice – but the canal beyond Coatbridge – you could imagine yourself in La France profonde!! (until the path comes to an abrupt end and you are lost of course!!).  

Dr. Livingstone, who WALKED from his home here in Blantyre to Africa – apart from the sea, obviously – is still revered by many in Malawi. On the day I visited the cafe was only open until 3 pm – imagine my feelings arriving on a very hot day at 2.59. Staff were exceptionally kind to an old man!”

Last year’s MMF biking project, Story on Bikes, was launched at the Centre, even though it was still closed at the time. On #Bike2Malawi we stopped off at Mary Livingstone’s grave – Dr Livingstone’s wife. So we feel a strong bond with this Centre and are glad that Brian made it there and back (just) on the battery of the new e-bike. He has in mind to visit Dunluce Castle in Ireland; Mamie and Jack Martin sailed to Africa in its namesake in 1921. So watch this space for his report on that trip.

Wendy Norman writes about why she is ‘biking to Malawi’

“As a now semi-retired Gynaecologist, I was very privileged, in 2016, to travel to Nkhoma Hospital in Malawi with the Scotland-Malawi team to contribute in a small way to their phenomenal programme of cervical screening and cervical cancer prevention. We have helped to introduce practical but effective treatment of pre-cancer, as originally pioneered by my predecessor, Dr Ian Duncan, in Dundee. I was bowled over by the camaraderie, dedication and expertise of the local Malawian teams who continue to work so effectively under such challenging conditions.

Since my return we have all continued to ‘virtually’ support work in Malawi and worldwide as much as possible but clearly any plans for return visits to that wonderful country have now been deferred and overshadowed by the COVID pandemic.

Meanwhile it is heartbreaking to hear of increasing numbers of young girls now obliged to leave school due to the economic effects of the pandemic. These young girls then become teenage brides and mothers, thus repeating the cycle of inequity. If we are ever going to work our way towards a fairer world, we have to educate girls and young women. Educating girls allows them to make safe choices about their own reproductive health and, in time, that of their children and families. It also allows them to become financially independent and enter the workforce as the hundreds of nurses, teachers, doctors & scientists Malawians need to become equal partners in delivering anywhere near the standards of health care that we in the UK take for granted

I therefore jumped at the chance with #Bike2Malawi to jump on my bike and raise funds for secondary education in Malawi. We have to keep girls in school, and it is something practical I can do to help whilst constrained to the UK. So far, I have cycled almost 300 of my 350 mile target.

I won’t lie – it has been tougher than I thought – 5-6 miles a day sounds fine until you inevitably miss a day then have to do 12…. Then 18…. And I have been on holiday for 3 of the 9 weeks of the fundraiser (not always with a bike) so have had to do some mammoth rides to catch up. We are so lucky though to have such wonderful scenery to cycle through both here in Scotland and across the UK. I have been joined on my rides by both daughters and various friends and family, so it has been good exercise and good fun. I am truly humbled by the response of my family, friends and colleagues to my fund-raising efforts, which I know reflects their understanding of how much this all means to me. Good luck to all those cycling the 10,679 miles and I hope we all meet in person one day. Thank you to the Mamie Martin Fund for making this possible and to all those doing the groundwork to facilitate this fundraising; it is an incredible effort all round.”

Wendy has raised over £500.00 so far and her page is https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WendyNorman