Moira Dunworth: Girls who find it difficult to get into school are grateful for Mercy
Mamie Martin understood the economic and social importance of giving young women a good education. She was a woman ahead of her time: an enthusiastic teacher from Tarbet, Loch Lomond, who strove to make a difference.
Mamie’s passion began when she visited what became northern Malawi in 1921 with her husband Jack, where she found that few Malawian women had educational opportunities beyond primary school. So she set out to improve education for girls by establishing classes and personally tutoring women to help them prepare for school exams.
Mamie died at a tragically young age in 1928 but her passion and dedication to female education lives on through the Mamie Martin Fund which was established in 1993 by her daughter Margaret. By re-establishing a partnership with the Central Church of Africa, Presbyterian, the charity has been able to provide money for fees and other educational necessities to girls in secondary schools in the north of Malawi for the last 27 years.
Mamie’s ideals also live on through individuals like Mercy Moyo Sibande, who now leads the Mamie Martin Fund in Malawi. Mercy is a young woman for whom Mamie’s story resonates strongly.
Born to a family of six, Mercy’s father died when she was only in primary school. As a field assistant, her father had limited income and her mother didn’t work, instead focusing on raising their six children. Despite their financial pressures, Mercy was lucky and was able to afford education to the age of 17, even after her father’s death.
As a secretary, it was her sister who was able to pay for Mercy’s school fees. It is because of this that she considers herself amongst the most privileged in her community. Gaining a place at Mzuzu University, Mercy continued to face financial adversity and, as many women in Malawi do, struggled to find employment until 2016 when she started working for the Mamie Martin Fund.
Mercy is greatly inspired by Mamie Martin and is proud to be walking in her footsteps. It is remarkable how two people, born 100 years and 5,000 miles apart, can be united with the same sense of purpose and passion.
Today, Mercy provides essential support for the 138 girls currently supported by the Mamie Martin Fund, across six schools in northern Malawi. She takes genuine joy in being able to offer precisely the sort of support, advice and encouragement which she lacked in her own formal education.
“I would fight tooth and nail to see that no girl should have to miss an education opportunity because of fees,” said Mercy when I last saw her in Malawi. She is genuinely passionate about supporting young girls across northern Malawi in their education, and continuing the work of Mamie Martin.
The Mamie Martin Fund has so far supported more than 650 girls through their secondary education in Malawi, and will continue to raise money for girls who have gained a place at one of its partner schools but cannot afford the fees.
This is just one of the 1,225 different dignified two-way partnerships which unite Scotland and Malawi – part of a bilateral relationship, defined by friendship and solidarity, which dates back more than 160 years to the travels of Dr David Livingstone.
The education of women is essential to the wellbeing of any nation, and so it is hard to overstate the importance of the work of Mamie and Mercy – two inspiring women, 100 years apart, who share the same vision for the future.
The Mamie Martin Fund is a member of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, the national network coordinating, representing and supporting the many civic links between our two nations.
To learn more and get involved in the Mamie Martin Fund, and to help continue Mamie’s vision and Mercy’s work, please visit mamiemartin.org To learn more about all the many different people-to-people and community-to-community links that connect Scotland and Malawi, please visit scotland-malawipartnership.org
Moira Dunworth, co-convener for The Mamie Martin Fund.