THE partnership between Beath High School, and its partner schools in Malawi, Mapanga PS and Njale PS, continues to grow ever stronger.

A group of staff, including some ex-staff from Beath HS, spent most of the October holidays in Malawi working with their colleagues and learners in the two schools.

Nicola Barker-Harrison (Depute) led the group which included current staff Jill Brown (Art), Fiona McNicol (Computing), Ian Mitchell (Science) along with Douglas Young (retired Rector) and his wife, Karen and ex-Art teacher, Karen Jamieson.

As there were no pupils on this visit, the plan was a little different than on previous occasions.

Said Nicola: "Having travelled by different routes, we met up in Blantyre and it was great to be welcomed by Ozzie and Timothy, our guide and driver from last year’s visit. Ozzie was our driver this year and we travelled on to our “usual” base of the Kara O’Mula in Mulanje.

"The next day included a visit to the CCAP church, in Chonde, which is next to Mapanga PS. After the service, the group was able to catch up with two well-known faces, Maevie and Bright, who live in this area. Maevie provided a fine meal which allowed us to relax and catch up on what had been happening since we last met.

"Later that evening, we were able to celebrate a 60th birthday – though not telling who!"

The main focus was still on working with each school and both were ready for the Beath influence! The itinerary was to visit Mapanga on Monday and Tuesday, Njale on Wednesday and Thursday and both schools on the Friday which was to be the last day with the schools.

The welcome from staff and learners on their arrival at Mapanga was overwhelming. The Beath party felt that this showed how much the working partnership meant to their colleagues in Malawi. After the initial formalities, the “three painters” headed off to buy the necessary colours for the art work that the schools had asked them to do. The rest were involved in lessons, both as observers and as the teacher. This was one aspect of the partnership which is both encouraging and challenging.

Added Nicola: "The curriculum is different, the methods of teaching are different and the numbers in each class are certainly not those to which we are accustomed!

"We are always impressed by the way that the Malawi teachers deal with such large numbers in each class and they do have success. Mapanga had 78 out of 80 pupils who sat their final year exams, pass the exam.

"They are equally impressed by the way we are able to interact with their classes, no matter the subject and with limited preparation.

"Mapanga have several student teachers in place this year and they are having to undertake a similar process which student teachers in Scotland would.

"Our second day at Mapanga was based around the painting of murals and blackboards, interspersed with the occasional lesson! It was lovely to share a meal with our colleagues from Mapanga on Tuesday afternoon as another sign of the developing partnership.

"Wednesday saw us make the longer journey to the Thyolo region for our visit to Njale PS. We were met by a sea of humanity as the minibus arrived in the playground. The welcome from staff and learners was just as warm as it had been in Mapanga and it was a great feeling to have the chance to speak to those we see as colleagues and friends again.

"The Beath Malawi Partnership provide support for scholarship pupils from both of our partner schools. Primary education is free for all; secondary education is not.

"Certain learners have been identified by each school for support and we are pleased to help these young people progress in Malawi".

Last year, the group were made aware of three learners at Njale, all from the same family, who were deaf and could not really access the education at the school. Beath was able to help and Fiona McNicol and several Njale staff members visited the youngsters in their special school.

"As with Mapanga, we were asked to take lessons in Maths, Science, Life Skills and English," said Nicola.

"The school roll at Njale is larger than Mapanga, around 1400 compared with 950, and it is quite daunting teaching to 140 learners in the one room.! They do respond and are always appreciative at the end of a lesson. The queue to get jotters marked is getting longer every time we visit!

"Another friend of Beath, Peter Mchenga, has recently moved from Njale to become Headteacher at another school, but we were able to meet up with him. Peter is on the board of the Malawi Scotland Partnership just as Douglas Young is on the board of the Scotland Malawi Partnership and this expertise and commitment is allowing the partnership to flourish.

"More painting in and out of classrooms by everyone and we finished of our day with another meal prepared (mainly!) by our Njale colleagues. The sun was out and it was an excellent opportunity to chat and learn more about each other.

"Friday was a day of observations and farewells as we said cheerio to both schools. We have been able to get involved not only with the schools but also with the communities. The fellowship we have received from both school boards is encouraging and they have indicated how much they appreciate the work we are doing for the young people in Mapanga and Njale.

"One simple case in point is the delivery of girls' underwear to classes at both schools. Nearly all of the girls do not have underwear and it is a humbling, moment of joy when they receive underwear for the first time.

"Amongst the group we managed to take out around 1,500 pairs for distribution. This was supplemented by another 500 pairs which had been provided by the running group of which Karen Young was a part. She was running around various parts of Malawi as part of challenge headed by double Olympic gold medallist, Dame Kelly Holmes. A polite notice on a Facebook page for the running group resulted in the kind gesture of the extra pairs! We had been christened “Team Pants” on our arrival at Johannesburg airport!

"The rest of the trip was a bit of relaxation and retail therapy."

The weekend was spent at the Setemwa Tea and Coffee Plantation in the Chawani Bungalow. The natural beauty of the place was stunning and it was nice for the party to chill out. The main part of the group headed off to Zomba and the Kuchawe Lodge for the last two full days.

This provided an opportunity to visit markets and collect materials which will be used in fund raising projects back in Beath. Whilst at Njale, Jill Brown had some of their learners start on making Christmas cards from recycled paper and chitenje cloth. They had also started painting wooden angels which will be finished off by pupils at Beath HS.

The last day was spent in Blantyre where we are able to take in some of the local evening life. An early rise for the trip to Chileka airport saw us start on the long journey home.

This was a different experience compared with previous visits but the welcome and memories brought back were just the same – a warm welcome form the Warm Heart of Africa!