It was in 1921 that the young newlyweds, Jack and Mamie Martin, undertook the long and arduous journey to Malawi (then Nyasaland) where Jack was to take up his post as a Church of Scotland missionary. Thirty years ago, in 1991, their daughter Margaret returned to visit the land of her birth and to see her mother’s grave and the church her father built in Mamie’s memory. It was during this visit that the idea of the Mamie Martin Fund was born.
We would like this special year, 2021, to be a bumper fundraising year as girls’ access to secondary education in Malawi is still challenging. This is where you, our lovely supporters, come in. We will have a bike ride, where our friends and supporters and their friends will contribute cycling distances to get us all to Malawi, virtually following the route taken by Mamie and Jack.
As part of ‘Pledge 100‘, we would also like folk to come up with ideas of their own to raise money – e.g. doing 100 walks, swims, cakes made etc Or if 100 seems too much then 30 somethings.
Today we mark the UN Human Rights Day. This is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We share a few paragraphs from the recent MSc dissertation by Anna Freidenfeld who was on placement with us last summer. She makes some comments about how we might work towards the Global Goal of Gender Equality.
“In order to overcome education barriers rooted in patriarchal norms, wider communities need to be educated on the importance of girls’ education (1). Intersectional ‘gender sensitisation education’ could reduce the marginalisation and discrimination faced by girls – especially those with disabilities, young mothers and orphans of HIV/AIDS – which can push them to drop out of school. Furthermore, NGOs need to employ local women in positions of power to mirror the gender equality they are working towards in the wider world within their own structures (2). NGOs should also focus on helping reduce the cultural reproduction of gender hierarchies within schools (3,4). Accordingly, women need to become more involved in the management of schools. Mothers’ Groups are a good example of community collectives that are increasing women’s involvement in educational management. If NGOs work with local women they can better work towards ‘transformative gender mainstreaming’ in education-policy (5).
The best approaches to overcome education-barriers in Northern Malawi tend to be more holistic, combining multiple tactics and recognising the different education-barriers faced by different individuals. Clearly, the operations of NGOs need to be continually examined so they can work to improve their approaches. Notably, more education-barriers are bound to emerge in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, future ethnographic research in Northern Malawi is needed to provide different perspectives and explore further barriers and enablers to education.”
1 Abane, H. (2004) ‘The girls do not learn hard enough so they cannot do certain types of work.’ Experiences from an NGO-sponsored gender sensitization workshop in a Southern Ghanaian community’, Community Development Journal, 39(1), pp. 49–61.
This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is calling for global action to bridge funding gaps, and ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, and includes a strong focus on prevention.
Even before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions. Globally, 243 million women and girls had reported being abused by an intimate partner in the past year. In Malawi, a recent baseline survey for the Tithetse Nkhanza (Let’s Prevent Violence) programme in Malawi found that 75 per cent of adolescent girls had experienced at least one type of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation during the previous year, and girls who were out of school were at higher risk of experiencing violence.
As countries have implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women and girls intensified. In Malawi, economic impacts have made families poorer, and school closures have left girls more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, child marriage, and harassment.
Keeping girls in school is a key strategy for preventing violence and delaying early entry into marriage. Access to quality, inclusive and gender-sensitive education can provide important safe havens and support for girls at risk. Curricula that integrate discussions of gender issues, including violence, rights and healthy relationships, can be particularly effective in empowering girls and helping them to recognise and report violence.
Girls from the poorest families are most at risk of being out of school and missing out on the benefits of education. Across the country, only 59 per cent of girls from low-income households make the transition to secondary education. Even those who get to secondary school often continue to need support in various ways and the MMF ‘Ready to Learn’ fund is a vital part of our support.
One girl, Esther, who was being supported by the MMF ran away from home during a school holiday because her family tried to force her into marriage. She travelled back to school, alone, and has been cared for by a local well-wisher ever since. Esther is in her final term at school now and is a confident, cheerful young woman, so different from the terrified girl whom we first met. We wish her well in her next stage of life. Whatever challenges she still has to face, she has her education and the knowledge that people supsported her in her decisions.
Since early summer Sally Evans has been making face coverings for family and friends in exchange for donations to charity. She has made over 300 so far. The demand continues and masks made from African cloth, called chitenje (singular) or zitenje (plural) in Malawi, are particularly sought-after in Scotland.
Sally is a member of St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church in Edinburgh, who have been friends and supporters of the Mamie Martin Fund for many years. She is now accepting donations to the Mamie Martin Fund for her chitenje masks and has set up a page to make it easy for people to donate.
Sally says, ‘I’m delighted to make some more face coverings to support Mamie Martin’s Back to School in Malawi after Covid fund to address some of the additional challenges in getting female students back to school after such a long interruption. I’ve been given some colourful fabric, normally worn by women in Africa, so will be using this as well as other remnants and recycled material. It’s a WIN WIN situation with fabric from Africa helping to keep us safe and helping to support girls’ education in Malawi!’
We are so grateful for this support and for the good-news aspect of the story. These are challenging times for everyone and Sally is bringing joy and pleasure to so many in her WIN WIN project. Thanks Sally! You can contact Sally directly about this on email@example.com You can also buy these masks at the Undercroft Café at St Andrew’s and St George’s West while our photo exhibition is there from 24th November.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.