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 images you shared.

  • 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

Jenni Barr cycles the Duke’s Pass

Jenni Barr is one of our #Bike2Malawi riders and is also a Trustee of the Dunblane-Likhubula Partnership, another Scottish-Malawi charity. Like so many small charities we team up where we can for mutual support. Jenni, along with Ann Hale, also from the Dunblane-Likhubula Partnership is cycling for #Bike2Malawi and simultaneously fund-raising for the Likhubula community. She has written about her 6-day cycle ride in the Trossachs in Scotland, including the Duke’s Pass which is a difficult hill for a car, never mind a bike, even an e-bike like Jenni’s.

“This has been tough!! I had 5 days clear for cycling and the wonderful offer of a bed in the Trossachs. I persevered through an injured sciatic nerve, thunderstorms and flooded country roads to add 255.5 miles to my #Bike2Malawi total. I’ve loved cycling through the Trossachs while listening to John le Carré on Audiobooks. I was the subject of several heckles but the best was from a 30-year-old as we passed on a hill (me cycling up) – ‘If you can do this, anyone can!!’.

I’ve long loved cycling, though these six consecutive days have taxed me. But I want to thank the challenge of #bike2malawi for pushing me forward to ride the Duke’s Pass in both directions, cycle round Loch Katrine and back three times in a week, commune with deer and foxcubs who didn’t even move off the road. No Pelaton ride could give you the smell of damp greenery or the passing sounds of streams and waterfalls by the roadside – every sense is engaged. When it got tough, I remembered the value of the support to the community at Likhubula. I’ll sleep tonight!”

Mixed cycling weather – report of a friends’ ride

Continuing our series of posts by Bike2Malawi riders, Liz Hall writes:

“It was a grey day when I set out to Waverley train station for a Bike2Malawi biking adventure in Northumberland. My first time on a train for some time, but the train carriage was empty and in a blink I was in Newcastle, and met by yellow t-shirted Moira and Heidi. We made our way to Cycle Hub café to meet Alan and Shelagh. It became clear that unlike Moira, cycling in sandals and bare legs was not going to keep me warm enough in the wind and rain that had just started. What clothing would Jack and Mamie have had I wondered as I pulled on my “waterproof” trousers.

The first day was a challenge cycling North to Amble against 20mph winds … the tail end of a storm from Norway. The biggest drama was turning the corner barely being able to stand in the wind and Moira’s bike pannier cover taking off and flying over the road being rescued by a young lad who darted across to fetch it before it took off for ever. We were in this together, made slow progress and abandoned all idea of visiting the art installation at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea; at least the wind dried our clothes. Relief to reach the hostel in Amble which was so comfortable and well equipped. Nothing beats pasta.

The wind had halved the next day but we got drenched, not before spotting yellowhammers and stonechats amongst other wildlife. Blyth was a welcome break with hot food but we were too wet to admire the scenery and carried on to Seahouses – a beautiful fishing village where we managed to nearly dry out (stuffing newspapers into our shoes). Nothing beats pasta. We could sit outside in the morning for breakfast in sunshine. Then we had a glorious day of cycling from Seahouses to Berwick upon Tweed with some sunshine and a fair wind. We could see the Farne Islands and had magnificent views of Bamburgh Castle. A highlight was cycling across the causeway to Lindisfarne and back. We finished the day arriving in Berwick at the pristine YHA hostel with approx 115 miles on the clock. Time for a rest, a day’s exploration of the town and a chance to walk the walls and have a curry. Nothing beats pasta but pashwari naan with cream came close.

Berwick to Tweedbank was the last day of our adventure passing by Paxton House and stopping for soup and lunch at Floors Castle. What stands out for me on this trip was the camaraderie, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, the chance to stop and stare at the poppies in the fields and when somebody’s bike played up there was no question …we look after each other, go the speed that suits us all and have fun on the way clocking up the miles to Malawi, hopefully raising awareness of the lack of opportunity for girls to have a decent education in Malawi.”

Violet reports on Lancaster ride

Continuing our series of posts by Bike2Malawi riders, Violet Hejazi writes:

“I am a law student who is also a former refugee. I come from Syria, and I am one of the riders of the #Bike2Malawi team organised by the Mamie Martin Fund in support of girls’ education in Malawi.

After a long time spent at home in lockdown doing things I had to do, it was finally the time to do the thing I chose to do!

On a sunny, non-lockdown day, and along with very cool friends and for a great cause, I cycled by the coast of Lancaster and had the best chips in Morecambe. We took some photos and ate some cake.

I found a jasmine tree that filled my heart with joy and made me feel at home. We said hello to the wee kid on his tiny bicycle as we pushed our pedals to raise money to help girls in Malawi pursue their education and secure a decent future for themselves and their families. Going up and down semi-hills, which to me felt like proper steep hills, I was reminded of the struggles that young girls in Malawi face daily and the significance of making education accessible and obtainable for them. I reflected on my childhood and, despite all of the obstacles, how lucky I was in having had the opportunity to be in school and not worry about accessing education.

I am taking part in cycling 100 miles to raise awareness and fund this project, hoping that one day no child will be deprived of their right to be educated and can grow up to become independent, successful members of society.

This was the first 16.5 miles of the 100 miles I will be cycling over the summer, which I am very excited to complete and share stories about!”

Violet’s fundraising page can be found here.

Inquisitive cattle

Willie Sinclair is the grandson of Mamie and Jack Martin and a Bike2Malawi rider. He reflects:

The bicycle as a mode of transport was very new and exciting when Jack and Mamie Martin were growing up. It makes me happy to know that the bicycle is now a vehicle for funding the work they, especially Mamie, were so passionate about 100 years ago. Today I was an object of interest to some inquisitive cattle in Glen Clova.

The bicycle shares with the sewing machine a remarkable feature: both designs are essentially the same now as when they were first conceived. (I thank my pal Charlie for that snippet.) The classic diamond-framed bike we all know and love has been with us essentially unchanged since the 1890s. Jack and Mamie were born in the 1890s. Today, while toiling uphill from Dykehead, I reflected on their hardiness. The roads they cycled on were rough, they endured multiple punctures and their big heavy bikes had only one gear. But the bicycle was the Smartphone of its day: an exciting NEW and innovative aid to communication and travel.


In Malawi, as in many other cash-poor-talent-rich countries, riding a bike is not seen as a leisure activity. It is fuel-efficient emissions-free human-powered short-haul transport. Cuba had a potentially catastrophic collapse in oil supply when their main fuel source, the USSR, ceased to exist. Instead of selling their principles for American oil they ordered a million bikes from China. But I digress.


The strength, literally, of the bicycle is its geometry: two steel tubular triangles and two big rotating circles which by gyroscopic means (no, I don’t know how to explain it) resist the tendency to fall over. Wow! Imagine the hoo-hah if it was being invented today.
We tend to think of it as having been around forever but the last few years of the nineteenth century is really not long ago. (I’m starting to sound like an old man!)
The way things are going in the world today I see the bicycle outliving the motor car, which is ironic as many motor manufacturers started as bicycle builders.

Did you see that giraffe?

Bike2Malawi tricyclist, Daphne Loads, writes:

As part of #Bike2Malawi in support of MMF for girls’ education in Malawi, I’m tricycling 420 miles around my corner of beautiful East Lothian. At the same time I’m travelling in my imagination from Cape Town to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) following part of Mamie and Jack Martin’s route from Scotland to Malawi 100 years ago.

I’m having fun imagining that wild roses are proteus flowers and that the weasel streaking across my path the other day was actually a mongoose. My familiar beds and borders have been transformed into the stunning vistas of Stellenbosch and Betty’s Bay, the sites of two of South Africa’s botanical gardens.

This virtual journey reminds me of Michael Marra’s song in which he spells out the consequences “If Dundee was Africa”. Mischievously, he points out that Aberdeen would be at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and that, with a sunnier climate, Broughty Ferry would seem not bad. I think Marra’s hilarious lyrics also highlight the serious difficulty of trying to imagine other lives and other circumstances in different countries.

If East Lothian *were* Africa (sorry, I can’t help being pedantic …) it’s unlikely that I would have gone to university, or indeed survived into my sixties. Statistics for educational participation and life expectancy are relatively easy to compare. I find it more difficult to think about how these differences came about, why they continue and what we should do to tackle them. I can’t imagine what it’s like to miss out on schooling for lack of basic items. I don’t know what it feels like to have my education financed by a stranger on a bike.

Difficult as it is to imagine other people’s realities, I’m convinced it’s worth the effort, even if we sometimes get things wrong.

Did you see those giraffes?