Posted: August 8, 2019

Last month staff members Ruby Whitelaw and Mark Heron, alongside a team from Renfrewshire Council visited Malawi in Africa to help build primary school classrooms for local children. Read Ruby’s blog and hear about all the amazing people they met on this journey, along with the incredible experiences.

On Thursday 4th July 2019 at 04.00am I arrived at Glasgow Airport with two hefty suitcases and a petite hand luggage bag housing all that I’d need for the trip ahead to Malawi. The two large cases were laden with clothes, medical supplies, shoes, spectacles and some bits and bobs for those I would meet. I kept a blog of my travels but for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I wanted to provide a snapshot of what has been achieved with a little bit of effort and a lot of love and hard work. Of course, I travelled with my colleague Mark Heron and 14 others who were either employees of Renfrewshire Council or like me, friendly with someone who works there. The journey would not have been possible without the financial and emotional support from our families and friends. Not to mention the practical support from our employers who accommodated our travels and gave us the time and space to make this fabulous adventure possible. A lot of hard work, fun and tears went into the enterprising ventures that helped us to raise our thousands of pounds in funds.

It took more than a day to arrive in Malawi as our flights were changed twice prior to travelling, resulting in an overnight stay in Nairobi. We finally arrived at our destination on Friday the 5th around noon but our movements were restricted by civil unrest due to tampering in the local elections – votes had been tampered with using Tippex. The people had taken to the street, so it was unsafe for us to go out.

We were able to visit the site where we would work on day two. I can’t express how special the feeling was returning to William Village. The building we had constructed last year had been well maintained and painted inside. The villagers were also very pleased to see us.

By day three I had a wee jogging group going before breakfast in the morning; if only the Scottish weather encouraged us to do the same while at home.  By the first weekend we were in the training centre painting the classrooms.  The centre has been funded by the Government for Steka, a well-known orphanage currently housing 75 kids. This was run by Godknows Maseko and his wife, with funding coming through generous donations. Steka supports children and young people from birth to early adulthood who have been subjected to trauma including; child sexual exploitation, trafficking, the death of a parent or substance abuse.

This new venture is designed to provide training opportunities to ensure that young people who do not go on to college or university (Steka currently has three females attending university) are able to find gainful employment. There are many similarities with early KibbleWorks – our collection of social enterprises providing youth training and employment. Four of those on the trip with us raise ongoing funds and provide monthly financial support for one of the university students and to Patrick who is shown in the photos.  I am hopeful that along with some colleagues we can do the same to support one or more of the other children.  While 18 of the children receive sponsorship, most of them attend a variety of schools and colleges that require fees.  For example, one of the young people is attending the nursing college requiring fees of £1,200 per year.  Unsurprisingly Godknows philosophy is that God will provide so he is eternally optimistic that things will work out favourably. 

Patrick before and during Steka…  He contracted Malaria after our last visit and had to be taken into care as he was suffering significant neglect.   He has a prosthetic leg now but you can see him playing happily with his peers.

Most of our time in Malawi was spent building a set of three classrooms that would expand the current primary provision of the village. Since the initial school was built the roll call has risen to 814 children. Due to the limited number of classrooms and volume of children they are only able to attend either mornings or afternoons.

During our last visit in 2017 the village was relatively quiet but the success of the school has resulted in a more dense population and greater prosperity. Goats, pigs and chickens were increasingly common place with the odd guinea fowl and dog running around.

During the 2017 visit I met and had the privilege of being called “friend” of a young girl named Maness. I had planned to pay for her secondary education, but the local tour guide had been unable to locate her after we left so this didn’t amount to anything. Day one on the site and amazingly she found me! This led to me meeting all her family, two or her sisters and her older brother aren’t in the photo. I received a very special gift which I politely declined – with the support of the local interpreter so as not to cause offence. Maness has completed her exams for primary school and at the age of 16 years old she is due to start secondary education.

Mark wasn’t able to curb his dancing feet during the leaving ceremony much to the delight of the locals.

It wasn’t all work in Malawi and I spent two days at the weekend taking it easy and recharging the batteries, well deserved after climbing ‘scaffolding’ to lay bricks, paint and labour for more days than I can even remember.

So what’s next? With the continued support of Kibble…

  • I’ve definitely got the Malawi bug and can’t wait to go back
  • More Stars in their Eyes fundraising events to help raise money whether this is for further trips or to support Steka, I’m not sure at this stage
  • I’ll continue to work with my colleagues at Renfrewshire Council raising awareness and putting together fundraising events
  • I’ll continue to work with Mark and John Austin to raise awareness at Kibble and generate interest in supporting and promoting education opportunities for the children and young people at Steka
  • I’m pursuing opportunities to promote Maness attending secondary school and look forward to a time when she will be able to attend university.
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