Nothing more powerful than education …

Our AGM took place in Stirling last Saturday, 26th October. Sue Dumbleton, an MMF supporter, was at the meeting, and has very kindly given us permission to share her blog about MMF and the power of girls’ education:

“AGMs are often things to be avoided, just in case someone asks you to be treasurer or similar. Not so today though and in fact I was disappointed not be able to stay for the full meeting of the Mamie Martin Fund. The Mamie Martin Fund was founded in 1993 by Margaret and John Sinclair in memory of Margaret’s mother, Mamie, who worked to empower women and girls through education in 1920s Malawi.

I can’t think of anything more powerful than education (I would say that having been involved in education one way or another for the greater part of my working life but, honestly, is there anything more important?). The education of girls and women is still not to be taken for granted and the work of organisations such as Mamie Martin is crucial.”

On the right in the picture is Moira, one of the MMF trustees, and someone I met through our shared work at the Open University. Moira is sporting her Malawi-Scotland Partnership dress. On the left is Esmelda, a Malawian woman who has just completed her Masters degree in Glasgow. Both Esmelda and Moira were speaking at the AGM and I was sorry to have to missed their talks. “

Schools roundup

As Angie and Moira come to the end of their Trustee visit to Malawi, here’s a roundup of the schools they visited. They were able to visit all the schools which we support, four of them are run by the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, one is a Government school and one, the most recent addition, is run by the Diocese of Karonga.

Bandawe Girls’ and Karonga Girls’ are CCAP boarding schools. This year we support 43 pupils (about 10% of the school roll) in each.   Elangeni Secondary is a CCAP co-ed boarding school where we have 24 MMF-supported girls this year. Embangweni Secondary School for Deaf Children is run by the CCAP and we have moved from supporting one girl here to six. Three of those are funded by the new Thompson Fund, two from the new Alison Cameron endowment and one is a core-fund MMF girl, now in her final year.

We are pleased to be in our second year of supporting Mchengautuba Community Day Secondary School, run by the Government and the community. Finally, this is our first year of supporting girls at St Mary’s Karonga, a girls’ boarding school where we now have six girls on Alison Cameron scholarships, funded by the Scottish Government

The girls whom we support at all of these schools are very needy and we have heard heart-rending stories of the obstacles they overcome to even get to school. One 13 year old pupil made her way alone over 450 Kms (not a typo!) to take up her place, with nothing. She ran out of transport money and sat by the road until someone asked what she was doing and gave her a small amount of money to get her to school.

The commitment to education on the part of these girls and their families is breath-taking. We heard more than one story of families selling their land so as to pay fees for their daughters and granddaughters. While our help often feels like a drop in the ocean, it makes a real difference to these girls, their families and their communities. Thank you all for your support.

Optimism and hard work – ‘Arise and Shine’

We visited Mchengautuba Community Day Secondary School (‘Mnchzy High’ to the pupils) and were struck by the upbeat atmosphere there. This is the start of the second year of our partnership with this school which is located in one of the poorest areas of Mzuzu in North Malawi. The pupils choose as their motto ‘Arise and Shine’ and the chant of ‘Mnchzy High/ Rise and Shine’ rings out at every assembly-type situation.

We met the four MMF girls who were supported last year, along with two other ‘core’ MMF girls and the 10 new Form 1 pupils who are being funded for four years by the Alison Cameron Scholarships thanks to the Scottish Government

The school put on a huge welcome party for us and, as always with Malawian children, we were impressed by their poise and their presentation skills. We had two dramatisations of a familiar story – that of a girl who did not have fees but got an MMF bursary to the relief and pleasure of her parents. Then we had poems and dancing – what talent these children display! 

The school recently had a private donation which enabled them to install solar power throughout the school. Given the scale of power cuts in Malawi, the solar power is essential in enabling them to study and work in all situations. They especially appreciate being able to study after dark.

The computer lab is powered completely by solar and we were impressed to see a class working on laptops donated by the Turing Trust, thanks to an introduction by us.

Like us, the Turing Trust has been impressed by the engagement of this school and the constructive use they make of all donations and assistance. We feel privileged to be partners with ‘Mnchzy High’ and to have met their impressive pupils and teachers.

Partnerships in action in Mzuzu

Trustees, Angie and Moira, were happy to be in Mzuzu when the Malawi-Scotland Partnership held one of its regional events there. They write: “we were amazed at how many people were there and how many organisations were represented. Interesting, lot of organisations had sent more than one representative, an indicator, reflecting their commitment to networking and collaboration.”

The focus of the day was the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG2030) and Shadreck Ngulube, Regional Co-ordinator, went through them one by one, noting how we are currently  missing all these goals. 

The meeting broke into groups and Moira and Angie took part in the Education one where the sharing of information was really useful. The session concluded with a useful presentation by James Gondwe of The Centre for Youth and Development about communication. We all need to be clear as to what our organisations do and what our values are. Then we need to use a range of methods to let the world know about our work, ensuring that we are all giving the same message.

New partnership in Malawi

Angie Wynn, Vice-Convener of the Mamie Martin Fund, signed a partnership agreement on Wednesday, 9th October with the Diocese of Karonga. The Diocese has two schools which meet our criteria for funding and we are able to support six girls at St Mary’s Karonga, a girls’ boarding school just south of Karonga in the far north of Malawi. These six girls are ‘Alison girls’ because their funding is part of the second Scottish Government endowment funding to honour the lifetime work of Colin and Alison Cameron in Malawi and Scotland.

The agreement was signed for the Diocese by Mr Remmie W. C.  Kamanga, the Diocesan Education Desk Officer. We are hugely appreciative that Remmie broke his holiday to meet us at St Mary’s for this historic signing.

Until last year we had only worked with the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, with whom we have historic links and a real sense of shared purpose in continuing the work of Mamie Martin. Last year we broadened our remit, signing a Partnership Agreement with Mchengautuba Community Day Secondary School. Now that we have a similar agreement with the Diocese of Karonga, we can work with more sections of Malawian society to support a wider range of girls at secondary school level.

The week that was – school visits in Malawi

Our Trustees have had a busy week in Malawi. With Mercy, our Malawian manager, they visited three schools. They are not used to setting off before breakfast and working right through till lunch, if they are lucky. ‘Let’s grab a coffee’ is simply not part of the schedule – not until the weekend anyway. Every term Mercy visits each of the schools we support. She always addresses the whole group, encouraging them and ensuring that they know to come to her with any problems.

In the first term Mercy also speaks individually to each of the girls who are newly on an MMF bursary. This is an important interview as it establishes the relationship which will last for all of that girl’s schooling and often beyond.

These are long working days; at one school we had 14 new girls this month and 12 in another school. Mercy also manages our small discretionary fund, out of which she gives money for the small necessities which most of the girls lack. They need soap and notebooks; they often need school uniforms and sometimes shoes or schoolbags.

Angie and Moira took the opportunity to chat to the girls when Mercy was conducting her individual sessions. That is always interesting, humbling, shocking (in terms of the hardship and poverty disclosed) and inspiring – all at the same time.

At one of the schools there are new buildings adjacent to the old school but no seats yet. The girls are used to sitting on the ground as there is no alternative outdoors. However, some of the classes are awaiting desks and chairs and sitting on a concrete floor is not good.

The girls are also eagerly awaiting the new hostel which is due to be built in the next year. The present one is so overcrowded that they need to sleep two to a bed. We look forward to seeing that new accommodation on a future visit. 

Supporting deaf pupils in Malawi

We have supported one girl at Embangweni School for Deaf Children for five years. When Trustees Mariot and Moira visited with Mercy, our Malawi Manager, last year, we were struck by the need of this school and its pupils. Happily, thanks to new funding from the Scottish Government and the Thompson Fund, we met five new MMF girls on this visit. Three of these will be supported throughout their secondary education (they are all in Form 1 now) by a fund set up in the memory of Jack and Phyllis Thompson who devoted most of their lives to Malawi and its people. They would have been delighted to meet Mary, Funny and Deborah for whom the funding is making the difference of a lifetime. The other two girls are being funded by the Scottish Government through the Alison Cameron Scholarships.

At the school we heard sad stories of deaf children whose parents abandon them at school, sending no money even for transport home in the holidays. Not all families have this attitude of course but the barriers faced by deaf children in Malawi are huge and our funding makes a difference to our six girls and their families. There is great concern about their future after school and our Form 4 girl is particularly worried about that. We are always sad that we can only meet some of the need which we encounter here in Malawi.

We are glad about the project run by the CCAP and Sense Scotland which will work towards improving access to quality education for all children in Northern Malawi. We hope to see educational opportunities for our girls and all other disabled children improve in the near future.

Malawian girls’ aspirations

We were pleased to be able to record a video with one group of Mamie Martin Fund girls where they spoke about their aspirations. This particular group are ‘Alison Girls’, funded by the Scottish Government as an endowment to honour Alison and Colin Cameron who have contributed so much to Malawi-Scotland relationships over their lifetime. 

The video mention of ‘Alison 1’ and ‘Alison 2’ refers to two separate blocks of ‘Alison’ funding – the bursaries are called ‘The Alison Cameron Scholarships’ and the girls are affectionately called ‘The Alison Girls’. They were keen to make this video in order to send their greetings to Alison herself. Hope she enjoys it.

While we are delighted to encourage the girls in their hopes and dreams, it is already a big challenge for them to be in secondary school. It will be an even bigger challenge to find and fund a university course. We are glad of our partnership with the Soko Fund which gives some of these girls access to some bursaries to study at Malawian universities.

Supreme Malawi

Our Trustees, Moira and Angie, along with Mercy, visited Supreme Malawi this week. Based in Nkhata Bay, this social enterprise makes reusable sanitary products and is expanding into related items. They use materials and equipment sourced in Malawi from other Malawian businesses. They employ a core staff of nine tailors and one operational manager, taking on extra day workers to respond to particular busy times.
Beatrice, Team Leader, and a Malawian woman who has been on the staff from the beginning showed us how the pads are made from cutting the fabric to the finished and packaged product. We are delighted to provide these pads to our girls in schools in North Malawi.

Supreme also provides workshops for schools about menstruation management. Contact them for a quote – they only cover their costs; this is not a profit-making activity.

Trustees in Malawi

Our trustees, Moira and Angie, arrived safely in Malawi on Thursday. Happily, so did all their luggage. Having successfully navigated the sim card process and changed money they had time for some R&R in Lilongwe before heading north on the bus on Saturday.

So Friday was spent shopping in the Old Town Mall where they bought some new Christmas tree decorations for our tree in St Andrew’s and St George’s West in December. Then they went to the Wildlife Conservation Centre which is a must-visit for any visitor to Lilongwe. As well as being able to take a tour of the centre and its animals, there’s a restaurant in the park. Sitting sipping a ‘yummy’ (seasonal fruit smoothie) in the shade surrounded by the sounds of the birds and the smell of the BBQ was bliss.

The guided tour gave lots of information  about the saved animals and the conservation work of the centre. Angie discovered that one of the newly qualified Malawian vets who she recently met during their visit to Scotland had done her placement here at the centre! ‘Tis a small world!

Moira liked the centre’s shiny and strong bicycles which facilitate the staff getting around the park.