During the summer break a group of twenty-nine students and five staff travelled to Malawi, Central Africa, for three weeks. This was to be the eighth consecutive year that a group from NSB had gone to work with the local community of the central lakeshore region. Prior to their arrival, the group had spent most of the year engaged in a variety of fund raising activities which raised the record sum of £10,000. Some of this money had been donated by the charity week fund, to which the whole school had contributed in the week before the Christmas holiday.
Last year, we identified Kapuku primary school as having very few facilities and in need of support. It lay some 20 kilometers from our base along rather inaccessible dirt roads in the sugar cane and tobacco growing hills. If we could get a bus up those hills, we would be able to return this summer.
In the year that followed, the money raised afforded the planning and construction of a block of four new classrooms and a teacher’s office. Prior to this, the eight classes shared the existing four rooms on a rotational basis. The reality of this was that pupils would walk several kilometres to get to school in the morning only to be sent home again before lunch to make way for the next class. One year group had all its classes under a mango tree, except in the rainy season where there were no classes at all. Therefore, the impact of doubling the physical size of the school was immense and this was a cause of much celebration amongst the community when we returned this summer to witness the work NSB students had paid for.
On discovering that no hill is too steep for our driver to tackle, the group arrived at the school and set about completing the remaining project: to whitewash all eight classrooms and the office, inside and outside, before decorating the classrooms with educational pictures and diagrams. There was a lot to be done in a short space of time, a concept which the majority of the group appreciated and responded to, and we set about the laborious daily task of mixing and applying limewash to the walls.
Work at the school was interrupted by a three day Safari expedition to Liwonde Game Reserve, roughly 250 km south of our base near Dwangwa. During our stay we experienced a large group of elephants pass through the camp at night, as well a witness Kudu, Impala, Cape Buffalo, Warthog,Waterbuck, Sable and Hippo on the jeep, boat and canoe excursions offered. The range of birds in Liwonde is outstanding and rivals anywhere in Africa for diversity.
Returning refreshed, work continued on the school in Kapuku. Students who expressed an interest in a medical career had the opportunity to visit the local Hospital located in the grounds of the large sugar plantation. Some students got to administer innoculations, some weighed babies and one student who plans to do Pharmacy at university got to administer prescription drugs. He described his day as boring. Good luck with the next forty years! Some of the group also visited the rural Health Clinic at Chidebwe which NSB funded and decorated in 2012. They were delighted to see us again and it was satisfying to see it running a packed mother and baby clinic on the day we arrived. We were greeted with singing and the doctor there told us that as a result of the new building, infant mortality had been reduced, fewer new HIV cases reported and more Malaria victims treated. It was very satisfying to see how NSB was having a lasting effect on the community and the benefits of continual support of a number of years.
Whilst on the trip, the school was challenged to two football matches against local teams. This was an opportunity to hand over the new kit that we had brought over courtesy of Sir Michael Griffifths and Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. The games were competitively played in a great spirit and while we were soundly thrashed in the first game, we fared better in the second against a more youthful side (average age 12) and NSB pride was restored.
The work was eventually completed at the school on time. Some students really pulled out all the stops in the last few days to ensure each classroom looked its best and some of the paintings and diagrams were the best we have done to date. Before leaving, we had a ceremony at the school in which speeches were given and gifts were exchanged. The clothing, stationary and educational equipment that had been donated to NSB throughout the year was given and in return we received and enormous bunch of bananas. One of our students gave as a gift the guitar he had grown up learning on, with spare strings and a chord book. His hope was that if it gave one other person as much joy as it had given him, it would have been worth giving. A nice gesture.
Back at the lodge, the group handed out the gifts they had saved for the local friends they had made on the beach. There were some tearful goodbyes amongst the locals and our girls before some dancing around the bonfire later that final night. Malawi again proved to be a challenging yet rewarding trip. Quite a few students struggled with sickness and dodgy stomachs for some of the time. The weather was hot and tiring and there are few of the creature comforts of home. However, the more you put into this trip, the more you will get in return. Hard work brings satisfaction and pride in what you have achieved. Team work and co-operation enables more to be achieved and actively building relations with local people helps us understand cultural differences and make genuine friendships. Most of all, the fundraising and work we do as a school makes a significant difference to the community we support.