Chiara Cotronei: Scotland-Malawi partnership means finding long-term solutions together

There are some trips that stay with you forever. For me, it will always be my first visit to Malawi.

Chiara Cotronei and Nicola Goldmann, both SMP youth committee members, holding signs in Chichewa, saying . Muli Bwanji meaning 'how are you' and Ndili Bwino meaning 'I am well, thank you'. It is a very friendly greeting that you will hear used a lot in many parts in Malawi.

Since starting at university as a medical student, I developed a passion for global health so I was very excited to travel to Malawi to learn about health systems outside of Scotland. During my six weeks there, I shadowed local staff in hospitals and interned with a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

For a number of years, I have been attracted to the question of how cooperation between countries can improve equity in health and opportunities worldwide, so I was unbelievably excited about this trip. I wanted to better understand how hospitals and clinics deal with the challenge of scarce resources and to explore how international aid supports healthcare.

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It became apparent to me how important two-way respectful dialogue and decision-making between international charities and Malawians is in achieving collaborative goals. It made me question whether the root causes of the disparities were being tackled.

Chiara Cotronei, Scotland Malawi Partnership Youth Committee member

I returned home full of doubt. What was the point of international development if only small gaps in inequality were being addressed without any long-term solutions? Was it sustainable to leave systematic development in the hands of charities and NGOs without putting locals at the heart of important decision-making processes? What could be done from Scotland to address inequalities in a fair, sustainable and just way?

These were the questions I found myself asking and ones I wanted to discuss with anyone who would listen. My longing to find answers extended to the desire of involving more young people in the conversation.

The opportunity for this came when I heard about the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) Youth Committee. The Youth Committee was launched during the 2018 Year of Young People thanks to a grant by the Year of Young People National Lottery Fund. Run by the SMP, it was set up to give young people a platform to plan and coordinate a series of events and competitions and help promote and develop the historic links between young people here in Scotland and in Malawi.

Joining the SMP Youth Committee has been an incredible opportunity for me to try and answer these questions and involve more people in the conversation on how to develop the partnerships between Scotland and Malawi that date back 160 years to Dr David Livingstone.

At SMP-hosted events, I’ve met people who have spent decades working in grassroots movements and initiating sustainable projects. Their work and high standards of reflection on what they have done has shown me that it is possible for two countries to progress as partners, providing each other support and inspiration.

I’ve also been a part of a team which has helped to plan events such as the 2019 Youth Congress, a day full of workshops and activities for over 200 young people across Scotland which focused on celebrating the heritage and cultural links between young people in Scotland and Malawi. Importantly for me, we were involved in every stage of the planning process alongside the staff at the SMP so I truly had input into how the event was planned and delivered.

The event highlighted why cultural exchange is important as a way of developing and deepening the partnership between Scotland and Malawi. It was a fantastic success with young people discussing what this longstanding relationship between the two countries means to them, learning about the language and culture, and thinking about how to develop their own links in the future.

Now halfway through the Youth Committee project, our goal is to continue making the partnership accessible to young people. We’ve brought new ideas and promoted engagement between young people here and in Malawi. I believe we have enticed young Scots to work with Malawi and invited them to see and explore the impacts and complexities of a globalised world and hope this will set about change in the future.

And who is better than young people in continuing a partnership? Young people who are not afraid to dream and change the way things have been done before and who can pioneer innovation.

Although I have not yet found answers to all my questions, I have had the opportunity to engage with my generation around issues I feel so strongly about and continued to grow long after my travels were over. Some trips are unforgettable because they extend beyond a summer experience, and joining the SMP Youth Committee has been an incredible start to an exciting new journey.

Chiara Cotronei, Scotland Malawi Partnership Youth Committee