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Mrs Vera Chirwa – a tribute on Independence Day

On Malawi Independence Day, we honour our Malawian Patron, Vera Chirwa. She was born in Malawi (then Nyasaland) in 1932, the decade after Mamie and Jack’s time. Vera was the only girl at her primary and secondary school and went on to train as a teacher and lawyer. She was the first Malawian woman to qualify as a lawyer. Throughout her life she campaigned and worked for human rights. When we campaign today for the education of girls, we talk and write freely and seldom face personal danger as a result. Vera and Orton Chirwa, her husband, campaigned for Malawian independence in the 1950s, eventually facing a death sentence and years of exile and imprisonment. Vera was later released but Orton died in prison.

Vera’s autobiography Fearless Fighter tells her story and the story of Malawian independence. It’s a great book. Let’s remember that at the beginning of her great achievements and adventures, there was a grandmother who insisted that Vera was a girl who should go to school. In the Mamie Martin Fund, we are committed to helping girls in Malawi go to school, so that they can play their part in the development of their communities and their country.

Photo: Vera on her 90th birthday

Cross-border support for girls’ education in Malawi

This past week saw another group of MMF cyclists, in their yellow tee-shirts, cycling the Scotland-England border. At the end of the 91-mile ride (they were not able to start at Annan because of transport difficulties) they reached Berwick-upon-Tweed. There, the local library hosted a book reading and signing. Dr Alasdair Allan MSP read from this book, Tweed rins tae the OceanAll royalties are donated to charity, the Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative and the Mamie Martin Fund.

This book is a fascinating exploration on the history, culture and literature of the border area. Alasdair walked the border but it’s not a walking book and certainly not a guide book to that route, as he himself stresses.

The next day, Alasdair joined a circular bike ride around the border. There are many places of interest very close to Berwick and it was wonderful to hear stories about Paxton House, Ladykirk and Norham from Alasdair. Like so many stately homes, Paxton House’s history includes money from plantations worked by slaves.

Ninian (Ninian Home, the then owner of Paxton House) was the British Governor of Grenada. Despite his various assertions that he (somehow) managed to be an enlightened or benevolent slave owner, most of those best qualified to judge took a different view. He was captured and executed during the great uprising of Grenada’s slaves in 1795.” (p.60)

Alasdair reading about Paxton House from his book

A more cheerful story at Paxton House was that of the glove. Read the book!

The cycling group were ‘delayed’ by an art event and tea/cakes at Norham. It was that kind of cycle ride. Their final stop was at the Chain Bridge Honey Farm. The Chain or Union Bridge, which should cross the Tweed is still under refurbishment. It was the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world when it was built in 1820 (p.62). Even in semi-completed mode, it is impressive. The honey farm is a ‘must visit’ place. We gratefully accepted a donation from them towards our fundraising.

They criss-crossed the border several times that week

Sally walked the Berlin Wall in #Borders22

One of the participants for Borders22, Sally Macpherson, shared her 106-mile walk in her blog. She completed a virtual walk along the route of the Berlin Wall, remembering what happened at various points and paying homage to those who suffered there as she walked in Edinburgh.

For this walk, she used a guidebook, published in 2002, ‘Cycling along the Berlin Wall Trail Germany’ by Michael Cromer, one time chair of Berlin City Transportation Committee. He campaigned to keep the remnants of the Wall and to make this trail. 

Sally walked the 106-mile route in 14 stages based on the guidebook. She made a connection across time and place for each stage. She researched it all thoroughly, using not only the guidebook but also the internet for the most valid information so that she could introduce and share the stories in her blog.  

The trail starts and ends at Potsdamer Platz and goes right around the route of the Wall. Stage 6 includes this interesting information, giving you a flavour of the blog,  

This is a longer stage of about twelve miles, again through countryside. Perhaps this is why many escape attempts were made here. Sadly several were unsuccessful as shown by the memorial markers that we pass. One memorial is dedicated to “all the victims of the division of Germany”. 

The last entry in the blog is a contribution from her sister, Bridget Smeall, who shared her experience of living and working in Germany in the 1970s. 

Thanks Sally for your work and Bridget for your contribution. We hope you all enjoy her blog as much we did! 

Border cycling, Scotland-England continues

Inspired by Alasdair Allan’s book, Tweed rins tae the Ocean, Moira and Liz set out to recce a cycle route along the Scotland-England border. Moira writes: “Wearing our MMF tee-shirts, our first hitch was a cancelled train at Carlisle. We had meant to start at Annan, where the land border ends. But we cycled to Longtown instead and set off along the border the next day. The scenery all along the border is breath-taking. So are the hills.

The first full cycling day was through Newcastleton, via the Olive Tree café, up the hill to Bonchester Bridge. The hill is high and fairly steep so the downhills are exhilarating. Too much speed over a rough bit of road resulted in a broken mudguard. No bike shop (no shop of any kind) in Bonchester Bridge, so we asked the garage for help. The kind owner effected a repair with superglue and cable ties. Great meal and sleep at the Horse and Hound Hotel.

Next day was also very hilly but shorter – 30 miles, including a detour to Morebattle where there is a wonderful community shop. The scenery on this leg of the trip was glorious, as was the weather once the wind was behind us. That night we stayed in the little hostel in Kirk Yetholm. It is small and very old but the facilities are great – everything you could need.

Kirk Yetholm to Berwick-upon-Tweed was easy going, again with a following wind. We went through Ladykirk where the kirk is worth a visit. We had been criss-crossing the border, often without signs. The crossings at Coldstream and Norham are at impressive bridges over the Tweed. After Norham, we went to look at the work on the Union Chain Bridge, which is being restored. Then into Berwick along some stretches of busy road but a bike trip can’t be all idyllic.”

All royalties from the book are going to charity. MMF is delighted to be one of those. Alasdair is being very supportive of our Borders22 project, to the extent of cycling one of the border rides with us on 25th June.

Celebration of MMF partnership in Lancashire

Our partnership with Lancashire West Methodist Circuit is coming to the end of its first year. This group of churches is supporting six MMF girls at St Mary’s Karonga which is in the North of Malawi. It was a pleasure to share stories and information with them in person after all this restricted time.  Moira, MMF Trustee, gave a presentation which included videos from Mariot Dallas, as co-convenor, one from the Head Teacher of St Mary’s school and one from Mercy Sibande, our  Malawian Manager. Mercy told the story of one of the girls supported by the Circuit in St Mary’s . She spoke eloquently about the impact of poverty on the education of girls and how important the support of the Circuit is to these girls. 

This event was part of a celebration in Trinity Church Skelmersdale. The church has been refurbished and visitors admired the new doors, windows and audio -visual equipment. We provided an exhibition of photos of our work and people seemed to like them too. About 70 people attended throughout the day. Much tea was drunk. Much cake was eaten. A wonderful day all round.

Donations to the partnership funding come in various ways; donations are welcome through this fundraising page. 

Kiltwalk success

We are so proud of our Glasgow Kiltwalkers. Seven people and Toffee walked 14.37 miles on April 22nd – from Clydebank to Balloch. For most of them, including Toffee the Dog, this was their first Kiltwalk. But it won’t be their last. They are now established ‘Kilties’.

The team raised £1,000.00 in donations and this is being topped up by the Hunter Foundation to bring our total neatly to our target of £1,500.00. This will pay for a girl’s fees at secondary school (boarding) for all of her secondary education (4 years). What a result!

Toffee got a medal and a certificate and really was the star of the show. He did so well, in spite of it being quite warm for a husky on that particular day. Sa’ad was mentioned on social media by his school who were very proud of him and quite rightly too.

Gift Aid is a win-win arrangement

We really appreciate all donations and those which are gift-aided provide an extra boost to our funds. As we start a new tax year, we thought it might be helpful to remind you of what Gift Aid is and what the rules are.

Adding Gift Aid to your donations means that, as a charity, we can claim an extra 25p for every £1 you give. It will not cost you any extra. Free money. What is not to like?

You can only do gift-aid on donations for which you receive no benefit, so it can’t be a payment for goods or services. We can claim it on donations for our gift cards because you, the donor, are not getting the school uniform or pens, etc..

You need to make a Gift Aid declaration for us to be able to claim. As long as you tick a box about future donations, you only need to make the declaration once. Our gift aid declaration is now online, though we can always send you a paper form. If you are a regular donor, it is most likely that we already have a completed declaration from you – you could always get in touch to check if you wish. When you donate through JustGiving, they collect the Gift Aid on our behalf.

Do I pay enough tax to Gift Aid donations?

Your donations will qualify as long as they’re not more than 4 times what you have paid in tax in that tax year (6 April to 5 April). The tax could have been paid on income tax or capital gains but no other form of tax applies.

If you pay tax at a rate above the basic rate, you can claim the difference between the rate you pay and the basic rate on your donation. Win-win.

Thanks to all our donors for their loyal support, whether they can include gift aid or not. Without you we would not be able to support girls at school in North Malawi.

Brian’s first Borders22 adventure

MMF Trustee and Chair of The Soko Fund, Brian Kerr, cycled from Stranraer to Berwick-upon-Tweed last week. He covered 199 miles and most of that was into a strong headwind. It is widely accepted that no matter the direction of the prevailing wind, it will be in your face when cycling. Brian sent us pictures and comments along the way and now shares this reflection on the trip.

“I am riding down this flat road nearing journey’s end, sun on my back, plenty juice in the battery, westerly wind blowing me along .. all just about as good as it gets.

And I am thinking-just how lucky am I …what did I do that I get all this fun and freedom, fulfilment etc etc etc …?

And when it’s this good I also find I am thinking of all the MMF /Soko girls (and the rest) who have to fight and struggle, on and on, just to get a decent education, and some better life chances.

So I’m thinking : go straight to that Justgiving page and give them a wee boost, just as soon as you get home! Think about doing the same – even though you haven’t had all the fun (oh, and pain btw) that I have had these last few days.”

While Brian writes about the final day in good weather and with a following wind, his other days where quite hard in terms of sleet and a very cold headwind. You can give him a shout-out with a small donation here.

The Mamie Martin Collection at Stirling University Library

The Mamie Martin Fund Trustees are always aware of the legacy of Mamie and Jack Martin and their experiences in Malawi in the 1920s. It was their letters and diaries that prompted Margaret Sinclair to write Salt and Light and, together with her husband John and their enthusiastic and hard-working friends, set up the Mamie Martin Fund in 1993.

Recently, Mariot, one of Mamie and Jack’s grand-daughters, delivered the first batch of Mamie Martin papers to the Archive and Special Collections team at the University of Stirling.  Reflecting on this decision, Mariot said ‘This collection is a fascinating glimpse into the lives and times of our grandparents. We are glad that they are now safely in the care of the Archives, where they can be preserved and made available for research’.

Rosie Al-Mullah , Stirling University Archivist  explained ‘We are delighted to take in the papers of Mamie Martin which detail a time little explored in the rest of our African History collections.  These collections have been consulted by researchers across the world and Mamie’s archive will add a valuable outlook on 1920s Malawi and missionary work. As with our other African History collections, we will be keen to digitise Mamie’s papers so that we can make them as accessible as possible, across the UK and beyond, notably adding them to JSTOR’s Struggles For Freedom online resource which provides free access to their African History collections to all higher education institutions across Africa.’

Borders22 launched today

Today we launch our 2022 fundraiser – Borders22. Find your national, local, county, district, country, provincial BORDER and off you go – all in support of girls’ education in Malawi, your good health and, most of all, having some fun.

We are delighted to be one of the two beneficiaries of the royalties from Dr Alasdair Allan’s book about the Scotland-England border. That lovely gesture sparked the idea for Borders22.

From today you can upload your trips along with any stories or photos. You can email them to Moira if you prefer. The project runs until 30th September so you have plenty of time to plan adventures!

People are already planning walks, both on location and virtual, cycle rides, scoots and all sorts. Join in the fun. Let us know what you are planning and we will help you to publicise it.

You can set up a fundraising page here. Donations to the Borders22 fund are always welcome too.