Focus on Malawi

My retirement from teaching has given me the opportunity to travel to one of the poorest countries in the world. With the help of the Raven Trust, a Christian charity based in Scotland, I was able to travel with a group who have set up eye clinics in northern Malawi, financing the building of clinics and paying for the training of local people to become opthalmic clinicians and opticians. It was great to see all the glasses that many of you donated being supplied to the local people and the joy in their faces when they could see to read - many of them for the first time in many years. One headmistress had to ask her secretary to read everything to her - she was overjoyed at being able to read again.

Although I helped with many of the eye clinics, my main aim was to visit as many schools as possible and see how our schools and students might be able to help in the future. Their teachers need all the praise you can give them and definitely need our support. Primary education is free and all children are supposed to attend school. Classes have between 60-80 children, usually sitting on the floor with no books or pencils. There are no posters on the walls and just a blackboard at the front; in one school there was no chalk! All lessons are taught in English as there are ten different local languages. The children cannot move up to the next class until they have passed an exam so children of 13 and 14 are still in the primary school. Secondary schooling is not free so classes are much smaller but this year the Government has made a real effort to supply maths and science books.


As most of you know, I have a keen interest in sport and I took out with me lots of balls, bats, skipping ropes, parachutes etc, then taught them how to use them, leaving equipment with each school. We also supplied each school with lots of sports clothing, kindly donated by many of our local schools and clubs. One of the most rewarding days was spent with the blind school children, many of whom had no sight at all or who were albino, with very poor sight. I had taken out balls with bells and lots of specialised equipment and the delight in their faces was tremendous.

I also organised a sports day for a VCT Youth Club for children suffering with AIDS when 120 children turned up and we played football, netball and rounders matches and had a great day. Their usual football is a blown-up condom covered in polythene bags and taped!

Over 64% of the population are under 16 years of age and over half of these children are orphans, being looked after by their ‘Gogos’ (grandparents).Unfortunately, AIDS has had a devastating effect on the country, with a whole generation missing. The cost to the hospitals (mostly supported by the Scottish and Irish Presbyterian Churches) is astronomical. Fortunately, with modern medicine and injections it is now possible to prevent babies inheriting the disease, but with a culture of promiscuity it is going to take a long time to bring it under control.

The churches in Malawi are amazing - hundreds of people in the congregations, lots of singing and a real feeling of hope. I would love you to help me answer some of their prayers . . . With the help of yourselves and the Raven Trust, I would like to send more educational materials that I know will make a real difference to children who have so little. The following is a list of items that are most needed: Good News bibles or RSV, dictionaries (adult and picture), world atlas, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Macbeth’, learning to read and count eg ‘Ladybird’ books, story books eg ‘Famous Five’ (but no witches or war stories), educational toys such as dominoes, any balls, rackets, trainers or football boots, spare kit, pens, pencils, chalk etc.

Please ring me for more information or if you need me to collect items, or deliver to 41 Cranfield Road in Woburn Sands. I shall be so grateful.

Valerie Symon

(01908) 583779

More photographs of Val's Malawi Trip can be found by following the link.