December 1, 2020
December 31, 2020
We are delighted to have images to share with you as an exhibition about Malawi and our work there. This exhibition is currently showing at the Undercroft Café at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, George Street, Edinburgh. After this it will go to East Lothian and to Fife. If you are not able to visit any of these venues, you can see it from the comfort of your own home on YouTube – link below
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.
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.
Many of the stay-at-home riders in our recent cycling project, ‘Story-on-Bikes’, were previously unknown to the Mamie Martin Fund. It was wonderful to meet these new friends and supporters, albeit virtually. Through this contact we found many fascinating stories and connections. One of them is about Janet Cormack, the great-aunt of Lesley Clunas, a keen cyclist from the Black Isle.
Janet was born in 1896 and her family folklore has it that she drove from Aberdeen, where the family lived, to Malawi in the 1920s. She got married there in Fort Jameson (now Chipata, Zambia, near the Malawian border) in 1927 so will have overlapped with Mamie Martin, though not in the same part of Malawi. Janet was matron of Blantyre Hospital in Malawi for some of her time there.
Lesley first met her great-aunt in the 1970s when she returned to Aberdeen to die. Needless to say of such a strong spirit, she lived for almost two more decades. Janet died in 1982, aged 96. We are grateful to Lesley for sharing this story and the photos. Clearly Janet and Mamie were kindred spirits, both independent-minded women who lived and worked in Malawi at the same time. They each devoted their lives to others and would both be delighted for us to make these connections now and to work together to support girls’ education in Malawi.
Thanks to a generous donor, we now have a collection of mounted photographs of life and work in Malawi, with an emphasis on girls’ education of course. We are delighted to be able to show some of these photos for the first time as cafés and other venues reopen. The Wonder Spot café in Stockbridge, Edinburgh has made us very welcome and we love how these photos look in their art space. The photos can be seen by those in the café (take-away only just now) but also from the street. We’ve chosen bright and cheery photos from the collection to add positivity to the street as we all emerge from lockdown.
The selection and editing of the photos was achieved only because of the help of our photographic volunteer, Sue Dumbleton. In an organisation with minimal paid staff, the contribution of volunteers like Sue is essential to creative work like this.
On the 6th July, we send our very best wishes to our friends and partners in Malawi. In the early twentieth century Malawi was a British protectorate called Nyasaland and in 1964 after independence it became Malawi, the country we know today. Because of Jack and Mamie’s time in Nyasaland in the 1920s, our friendship goes back a long way. We know from their diaries and letters that Jack and Mamie loved Nyasaland/Malawi. They enjoyed learning the language, making new friends and exploring the beautiful lakeside flora and fauna. The friendships they made were long-lasting and can be traced right through to the network of donors and supporters of the Mamie Martin Fund today. Mamie and Jack would be delighted at the strong links today between our two countries, supported by the Malawi Scotland Partnership and the Scotland Malawi Partnership.
We are delighted to welcome a Masters’ Degree student from the University of Edinburgh on placement with us. Anna introduces herself below. She will help us with researching the evidence for supporting girls’ education in Malawi and will examine our existing data in order to enable us to report on our work more comprehensively.
My name is Anna Freidenfeld and I am lucky enough to be researching for my dissertation with the Mamie Martin Fund from May to August this year. Having graduated from my bachelor’s degree in Geography at the University of Nottingham last year, I am now working towards a master’s degree in International Development at the University of Edinburgh. In the study of development, I am particularly interested in the topics of education and gender.
I am passionate about women’s empowerment and have been involved in several NGO-based societies focusing on this matter. I have also worked in two schools, assisting lessons and tutoring pupils, and I greatly appreciate this opportunity to work in the educational arena in a more academic sense. I am very grateful for this opportunity and I am really looking forward to working with the MMF!
Like everyone else we are adapting to the restrictions in relation to Coronavirus and our Board meeting this month was online. This presented some challenges, of course, but needs must. We got through a lot of work, approving a new policy on data security and reviewing existing policies. We have postponed Mercy’s trip to Scotland, of course, and we won’t be travelling to Malawi this year. Even if restrictions are lifted, the risk to Malawi is such that we will avoid any travel for this year.
The Board meeting looked forward to things we will do after the present crisis. We still hope to go ahead with our ‘Story on Bikes’ cycle project and we are working on a photo exhibition which will travel to at least three venues – let us know if you can offer a venue.
While following guidance and staying safe, we must all remain positive and look to what we will be able to do once this is over. We greatly fear for the consequences of this virus reaching Malawi and other countries without the health services which so many of us are grateful to have.
This is a good time to assess the Board’s digital skills and our volunteer, Kathleen Sargeant, will be sending a survey to our Trustees soon. We are not sure that they are looking forward to this but we all need to stay as up-to-date as possible with technology, particularly during this lockdown and whatever restrictions will be in place once it is lifted. Stay safe everyone!