Project enriches lives of Scots as much as it does those in Malawi

Walking down the steps of the plane at the airport in Blantyre, Malawi, you are instantly hit by the warmth in the air, the smiles all around you and the expectation of things to come. It awakens that feeling in your soul that makes you realise Malawi really is the 'Warm Heart of Africa'. You are overwhelmed by a sense that this really is a special and welcoming place. Once experienced, never forgotten.

Dunblane Likhubula Partnership The friendship between Dunblane and Likhubula is just one of thousands of community-to-community and people-to-people links within the Scotland Malawi Partnership. Arguably now the worlds strongest north-south bilateral civic relationship, Scotlands links with Malawi date back to Dr David Livingstone. Today, an estimated 46% of Scots have a friend or family member with a Malawi connection.

I have been fortunate enough to visit Malawi on three occasions, once as part of a Global Schools Partnership education project and twice as part of a community link. Each time I am overwhelmed by the warmth of the people there, the sacrifices they make within their humble means and their unending positivity and generosity. Each time, as I travel home, I am struck by how much I get out of this partnership – there is no doubt in my mind that my life is greatly enriched by these friendships.

There is a wise Malawian proverb that reads “mutu umodzi susenza denga” – “one head cannot raise a roof alone”. For me, these words capture the vital importance of partnership. Following this proverb, for 12 years now my home town of Dunblane has been working in dignified partnership with the community of Likhubula in southern Malawi to enhance lives in both our communities. I have had the honour of being part of this group for the last eight years. The partnership began in Dunblane Cathedral in January 2004, when the church began to consider how to replace earlier missionary work which had come to an end.

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Celebrating the Year of the Child, the church decided to place young people at the heart of the decision-making process. Groups of young people researched three projects in Africa, evaluated each and pitched the projects to a committee who made the final selection – a community link with Malawi. In the months following this choice, the Cathedral established a steering group and made contact with the village of Likhubula, high in the Mulanje mountain massif in the tea-growing area of Malawi.

Fiona Anderson, Dunblane Likhubula Partnership.

In the early years of the partnership there was a focus on a hierarchy of need, principally water and food. A project to bring clean water to the area developed accessible water around the church and school, and in 2006 we worked with Mary’s Meals to bring the school-feeding programme to the children of Nansato Primary School. What began as a simple link between Dunblane Cathedral and the CCAP church in Likhubula soon grew out to include all aspects of the community in both our towns, including an active partnership between Chambe and Dunblane High Schools.

Recently the community partnership has increasingly focused activities on sustainable income-generating projects. Together, our two communities have developed projects on animal husbandry (goat rearing), tailoring (teaching the community sewing skills), housing (emergency homes) and sanitation (provision of school toilets). Groups, including myself, have regularly travelled to Likhubula to develop the partnership and we are always delighted to welcome members of Likhubula community to Dunblane.

Our partnership has been especially active and impactful supporting education, with a bursary programme supporting 20 young learners to attend high school. The programme is funded from Scotland but managed entirely by the Likhubula community. It is the local committee that sets entrance exams, assesses candidates, monitors progress and assists in the distribution of school supplies and uniforms. The success of the programme has allowed it to now be extended to young adults attending further education courses in teacher training and accountancy.

It is not until you meet the bursars themselves, as I did this summer, that you see how transformative education is and how it lifts them and their communities out of poverty. Hugh Masekela,the famed African musician, said he got to where he was in life not because of something he brought to the world but through something he found – the wealth of African culture. I would contend that my life, and indeed that of my family, is all the richer from the friendships I have found through Dunblane’s connections with Malawi.

Fiona Anderson, Dunblane Likhubula Partnership.

The Dunblane Likhubula Partnership is a member of the Scotland Malawi Partnership.