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?

Creative volunteers

At the end of Volunteers’ Week, we share a collage of some of the tulip photos that our volunteer, Sue Dumbleton, created as part of her #Pledge100. From their earliest peeking out at the beginning of the year, to the final ones in early June, Sue’s photography has brightened our days and weeks. Thanks Sue.

Welcome Max, #Bike2Malawi social media volunteer

In #VolunteerWeek, we are delighted to welcome Max Conway to our team of volunteers. Max will help us with social media for the Bike2Malawi adventure between now and August. Max is a Politics and Social Policy student at the University of Strathclyde and is a member of the Youth Committee of the Scotland-Malawi Partnership. He has visited Malawi twice and so he brings that valuable perspective to our social media strategy and content.

Currently, I am a sitting member of the Scotland Malawi Partnership Youth Committee which has recently had its Youth Festival. I am a member of the social media team and contributed to content-writing and publicity, this included live broadcasts and discussion forums. We successfully reached a quarter of a million people during the festival week, making this an extremely successful event. Although it was very challenging to also keep up with the fast-paced work of my university semester, it was a very exciting and rewarding experience. As a new member of the Committee, I look forward to increasing contributions to the team and help it to reach further in terms of awareness-raising and informing.

Max is also a cyclist which is, of course, a great bonus!

I am studying Politics and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde. My degree course has covered a wide range of social topics, such as health, education, energy and the environment. I have also further developed the theory and research skills and worked on different fields of research. I am happy to be part of Bike2Malawi and I hope that my awareness of Scotland-Malawi relationships and my social media skills will benefit the work of the Mamie Martin Fund.

Our research student introduces herself

My name is Maeve Rafferty and I am very excited to be working with the Mamie Martin Fund to conduct research for my dissertation looking at how MMF-supported women navigate their careers, tertiary education, and sexual and reproductive health after graduating from secondary school. I am an MSc student in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh.

My interest in international development stems from a desire to see equal opportunities afforded to everyone worldwide regardless of their background and characteristics. Specifically, I am interested in how sustainable development can be achieved in East and Southern Africa through political-economy means. On a macro-level I enjoy exploring what this means for governance both on the continent and internationally. From a more micro-perspective I am particularly interested in the intersectionalities of development with gender, displacement and business. Since completing my BA in Business and Political Science at Trinity College I have worked in development firstly, with GOAL as a Development Education Officer in Dublin and latterly, with Viatores Christi as a Project Support Officer in Kampala and, post-Covid, remotely in Dublin.

Pledge100: an active and creative success!

We are already four months into our Mamie Martin Fund #Pledge100, celebrating the centenary of Jack and Mamie’s marriage and the start of their time in Malawi. We now have over 30 global pledgers, who have embarked on a wonderful range of active and creative endeavours to help raise awareness of the work done by Mamie Martin Fund.

Some of our creative pledgers have already completed their challenge and have received their very special certificate of completion. Jan, who is based in Sweden, has completed 100 beautiful black and white drawings, and has even embarked on her second challenge. Elizabeth has embroidered 100 lovely, intricate cards which sold out almost immediately! You can see her beautiful designs here. The proceeds from the sale of these cards have added a real boost to our #Pledge100 fund-raising efforts –so a huge thank you to Elizabeth for her creative contribution and to everyone who was quick enough to buy her cards!

Jean is swimming 100 swims for Mamie Martin Fund’s #Pledge100

Our #Pledge100 awareness raising and fundraising efforts have been so successful that we have already reached and passed our fundraising target. That calls for a huge thank you to all our pledgers and everyone who has contributed. Let’s not stop here! We still have eight action-packed months to go, so let’s set our sights higher. This is really challenging time in Malawi, with disruptions to education caused by Covid-19. Fundraising for the Mamie Martin Fund means that we can continue to help girls return to school and complete their secondary education.

Here is Kate Jere making the case for helping get girls back to school: “As schools re-open again in Malawi following COVD-19 closures, ensuring girls get back to school has never been more important. Lessons from the Ebola crisis in West Africa have shown that extended school closures increase girls’ risk of early and unintended pregnancies, and result in permanent exit from education.”

Mamie Martin Fund provides an important safety net for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing vital support with school costs, transport and other necessities –greatly increasing their chances of staying in school and completing their education.It’s easy to join #Pledge100.Just find something you can pledge to do 100 times during the remainder of 2021 and register here.

We would love to have you on board! All sponsorships and donations are also welcome here.

Michelle kiltwalked a marathon

The Kiltwalk went virtual again this Spring. People could choose their own challenge and complete it over the weekend 23 – 25 April. Michelle only learned about the Kiltwalk the week before. When she had checked that she had not misheard (‘so you wear some tartan and walk?’), she went for it, aiming to walk 20 miles around Edinburgh on Saturday 24th. She plotted a route which included Arthur’s Seat, Water of Leith and Cramond and set off from Newhaven.

Her preparation including buying some tartan; if she was to be a kiltwalker, there had to be tartan. She excelled herself in a few days, with tartan leggings and a skirt. Teamed up with an MMF tee-shirt and some Malawi-Scotland chitenjie, she was the picture of a true kiltwalker.

Supported by her sister Heidi and Moira from MMF, both on bikes, Michelle set a pace of 18 minutes a mile and she held that pace all day. We had a few rest and food stops and the occasional ‘tourist’ stop. The team met some other kiltwalkers but not as many as expected.

It was a lovely sunny day but there was a vicious North-Easterly wind which felt hard walking by the sea from Cramond to Granton. However, at Granton, hot tea and home baking was provided by an MMF friend and Michelle turned to the last few miles with renewed energy. It was after the home baking that she decided to go for the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles and she completed 26.3 miles on Newhaven pier as the sun went down. What an achievement!

In the meantime friends and family donated to her fund-raising page. All donations will be topped up by 50% this year by the Tom Hunter Foundation, so Michelle is, at the time of writing, well on the way to raising enough money to support two girls at boarding school in Malawi for a whole year. Double-achievement. Thanks Michelle!

Colonialism, the Mamie Martin Fund and the future

Mamie Martin Fund volunteer, Richard Robinson, has been thinking about decolonisation from the perspective of organisations like ours. He has published his thoughts on Medium and we share some snippets here and encourage you to read the whole piece.

“In the light of recent debate in the UK I have been thinking about the past links between Scotland and Africa, about how we frame them now, and what that should mean for the future

For many of us our own education and cultural background mean that our ways of thinking and unconscious attitudes carry vestiges of colonialism. We must inspect what we do and how we do it to ensure we compensate as well as we can. We should do this openly, which will offer opportunities to make our contribution more visible in Scotland and more effective in Malawi. We strive for our work and our relationships to be conducted in the spirit of respectful partnership but there is no fixed standard for this. It will always be a progressive process in which MMF must be clear about its rôle.

There is still a power imbalance between Scotland and Malawi, particularly stark in wealth and social capital, and this is partly a result of extractive colonialisation. But poring over the balance sheets of a century ago is less helpful than looking at what is happening today: Malawi is still suffering economic disadvantage from global taxation and trade regimes.

The MMF website already has great stories from girls and women whose education has been supported. It could also play a part in seeking out, promoting, and publishing personal evidence about colonialism.

For readers who haven’t heard of the Mamie Martin Fund before, please investigate! Allowing girls full access to education, and empowering women, is work that is not even finished in Scotland. In Malawi it has huge potential to contribute to economic well-being and quality of life, and I will soon be out on my bike helping to play whatever small part I can.”

The Captain Tom 100 challenge – a smaller #Pledge100 option

We are pleased to tell you about the Captain Tom 100 challenge which fits so neatly into our #Pledge100. MMF’s #Pledge100 runs all through 2021 to celebrate the centenary of Jack and Mamie Martin’s marriage and journey to Malawi.

Friday 30th April would have been Captain Sir Tom Moore’s 101st birthday and the one-year anniversary of the extraordinary celebrations following the conclusion of his famous 100 laps of his garden that raised an incredible £38.9 million for NHS charities. To celebrate his achievements and mark his birthday, his family and VirginMoneyGiving has set people a challenge to choose any activity that involves the number 100 and raise money for charity.

This CaptainTom100 project is an opportunity for you to think about a shorter version of our #Pledge100. The CaptainTom100 runs from Friday 30th April through to Bank Holiday Monday 3rd May. Your pledge could be walking 100 steps or running 100 metres, scoring 100 goals, baking 100 cakes, climbing 100 stairs, hopping 100 laps of the garden, building 100 sandcastles, writing a 100-word poem, flipping 100 pancakes – anything at all, inside or outside.

All you need to do is dream up your Captain Tom 100, fundraise or donate to the Mamie Martin Fund on our personalised page. If you are a social media user, share your 100 on social media, using #CaptainTom100

Book Review: Spirit of Malawi by Susan Dalgety

In the Preface to Spirit of Malawi, Susan Dalgety states her ‘ambition [was] to write a book that captured the essence of contemporary Malawi through the stories of its people.’ She achieves this, and more.

Susan Dalgety, a Scottish journalist and local politician, clearly loves Malawi, which she has visited many times since 2005. She interviewed a wide range of Malawians of different ages and backgrounds, from village chiefs and small farmers to government ministers, from a taxi driver and hospital porter to a fashion designer and social media professional. She writes in a clear accessible style and with a journalist’s eye for a good story.

There are five sections: ‘The cycle of life’ (possibly my favourite section covering birth, health, early and teenage years, adulthood, family life and growing old); ‘All in a day’s work’; ‘The people’s culture’; ‘A young democracy’; and finally ‘Whither Malawi?’ There are several pages of Susan’s own colour photographs, all featuring people at work, school and play.

I didn’t find many gaps. Maybe the book could have covered music and musicians a little more. Music is everywhere in Malawi: from traditional dances and drumming to the creative improvisation of instruments (amateur recordings of musicians who create their own instruments make up the most listened-to programmes on Malawi radio) to the many live bands that do the urban music circuit.

This is an unsentimental book which charts people’s daily frustrations and worries and the curse of corruption that affects most levels of life now. It demonstrates stark inequalities in income, education and life chances, which in some ways are worse now than in the aftermath of colonialism. But it also captures the spirit, hard work and entrepreneurialism of ordinary people, and larger successes, for example in fighting AIDS. Above all, it’s a hopeful book.

I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for an up-to-date understanding of Malawi.

Jean Bareham lives in Edinburgh. She worked in Malawi as a VSO Training Librarian at Chancellor College, Zomba from 1978 – 1980, and has visited several times since, the last as a tourist in 2017.