Written by Mark Cameron
Having arrived in Blantyre late on Monday night, 18 volunteers were split into two groups and I was in the second group who would visit My Journer under six centre in Area 5 of Blantyre, Malawi.
This is a small diary of our first three days…
When we arrived a few days ago we were met by nearly 100 children, all dressed in their new uniform – half in the Celtic home top and the remainder in the away strip. All these children looked splendid. As we entered the school playground – a barren patch of land with a small water fountain to one side the group quickly realised how little the families in this part of the world actually have. All the kids played with a burst football and they looked like they were having the time of their lives. It was truly heart breaking to see. I remembered thinking back to the article I had seen by the World Bank which recorded Malawi as the third poorest country in the world.
Despite the poverty and lack of facilities it quickly became apparent that these kids were happy – all had smiles and were making the most of what they had. The beautiful smiles on their little faces as we entered the classroom is something that will live with this group of volunteers long after we return home.
The school room for all these kids was 4m x 4.5m – probably the size of an average bedroom. Yes, nearly 100 children being educated in a room that small, it was just incredible. To our amazement the school board have ambitious plans to increase the number of children attending this centre.
The school also contained a small store room where the essential supplies to keep the school functioning were stored. Maize and beans for lunch and as this was an under six centre the feeding part of the wonderful work of Mary’s Meals also supports porridge for breakfast.
The kids welcomed us with a rendition of their favourite song – “We are happy today” and for me at least it was time to take a deep breath and realise that this visit to an area of extreme poverty was going to be an emotional rollercoaster.
The kids spent the remainder of the day in the playground being educated by the schoolteacher with the support of a handful of school committee members who came in particularly handy at feeding time.
We quickly set about the process of transforming the room with some paint supplied by Mary’s Meals and a lot of imagination from the group. A couple of our volunteers had been on similar projects before with Celtic FC Foundation and quickly took the lead in organising the team and prioritising the days’ tasks. I realised that a small dark school class can quickly be transformed into something more appealing to the children.
It wasn’t all hard work though – we did get the opportunity to spend a little time with the children, probably the best part of our first three days and certainly made the fundraising and gruelling 30+ hour journey from Glasgow worthwhile.
A simple game of “high 5’s” and kicking round that burst football gave the volunteers some realisation of what daily life is like in Blantyre. For the children it was an opportunity for them to interact for the first time with people from another part of the world and they seemed genuinely excited that we wanted to share their playtime with them.
The feeding programme which Mary’s Meals fund is another example of how a small group of people can make a measurable difference. A handful of volunteers quickly cook and feed those children with only two small wood fired stove and the most basic of cooking utensils. Children sitting quietly and patiently on a tarpaulin sheet in their playground are fed a daily meal of maize and beans. As the food is passed to the children on plastic plates they wait respectfully until all the class has their food before they start eating. The respect and close relationship these children have for each other is obvious.
Within three days we managed to complete the project which was a fair achievement and the volunteers were pleased with their efforts especially as we suffered from delays in getting paint and other items needed. The highlight being the Foundation logo at the heart of the class, a fitting reminder for the children of the work that their friends from Celtic FC Foundation have given them and we gladly do so in the hope that it can help inspire them into a brighter future.
On day three we were surprised with a visit from Magnus MacFarlane the founder of Mary’s Meals who made a short visit to see the work to date on the centre and also to address the school committee who have kept the school open for more than a decade. It was pleasant to listen to Magnus and understand the role that Mary’s Meal play in feeding 920,000 children in Malawi every day.
We finished off the day with some well-earned recreational time – handing out lollipops to all the children before spending time playing skipping, hula hooping and Frisbee. It was the perfect way to end a tiring and emotionally challenging three days but an experience that fills our hearts with pride that this Celtic FC Foundation group have already made a measurable difference with our work at My Journer under 6 centre in Blantyre, Malawi.