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St Michael's Academy, Kilwinning
St Peter's Secondary School, Mzuzu

A huge achievement in the closing years of St Michael’s, and a superb example of Christianity in action, has been the link between the school and its wider community in North Ayrshire and St Peter’s Secondary in Mzuzu, northern Malawi, and its wider community.

Over five years, there has been a tremendous amount of practical assistance and personal contact, all arising from the year spent in that poor but warm-hearted country by Maths teacher Bernadette McFadden (on left in lakeside photo) and the projects she has inspired and assisted since.

North Ayrshire has taken the cause to its heart, with support coming also from feeder primaries, from other primary schools, from churches of other denominations, and from private individuals. Achievements have included the building of a new classroom block, a toilet block without which the school might have had to close, many boxes of useful things from chalk and textbooks to three laptop computers and a fax machine, and support for the education of orphans.

Exchange visit June 2005
Return visit March 2006

Five staff – Mr Allan, Mrs Taylor (left), Miss McFadden, Miss O’Donnell, and Mr Dickson – with four pupils – Chris Bradley, Louise Cullinane, Paul Harvey & Kevin Murphy – and Mrs Dickson and Rotary President Bobby Campbell – visited Mzuzu. Highlights included the welcome concert, seeing Mr Allan teaching, visiting the village in the Rotary project (where Bobby Campbell had to accept a live bullock for our lunch), a day at the lakeside (pictured), and the safari in Zambia afterwards (when Mrs T. came face to face with an elephant in the dark, on her way back from the toilet). An Internet diary log allowed everyone at home to share this humbling and rewarding experience on a daily basis.

Our guests from Malawi were (in the order they are pictured) Winnie Mwamsamali, Mrs Nhlane, Mercy Wowa, Mr Ziba (HT), Maxwell Lungu, and Dennis Mbewe (also below, with his snowman). The pupils stayed with the families of Orla Brown, Louise McGinness, Louise Cullinane and Kevin Murphy, and the two staff with Miss McFadden and Mr Allan. Highlights of their visit included sub-zero temperatures, snow, sledging, the ceilidh at St Michael’s, and visiting David Livingstone’s birthplace. They were amazed at the range of food and being able to eat when they wanted and how we had enough to have likes and dislikes, and we started to think twice about our waste of food and water. They marvelled at our many (natural) hair colours, and at our straight hair! Louise (McGinness) and Orla visited their 2006 guests in Malawi in summer 2007.

The Rotary connection: Miss McFadden’s 15-min. talk to the Rotary Club of Irvine Seagate prompted the Club to organise a ZipSlide across the river in Irvine (photo: Fr Nazarius ready to descend, in 2004), and, with matching grants and other funds, to undertake a Malawi project, directed by Mr Dickson, their International Chairman at the time. The £20,000 project has given four water boreholes to a rural village and fully equipped two science labs at St Peter’s Secondary. Also, Mrs Dickson designed a badge and banners for St Peter’s, and fifteen computers have gone to the University of Mzuzu. Mr Dickson, as 2007/08 Club President, officially opened the science labs in July 2007.

Project Awards, etc: St Peter’s opened in 2001 in derelict buildings, with few resources and 60 pupils. The assistance led by St Michael’s has helped it grow. North Ayrshire Council has given ongoing support, and gave a reception at Perceton House for the Malawi visitors. RKT Harris Charitable Trust gave a donation. The Homework Diary Company awarded St Michael’s their Foundation Award. The British Council International School gave us its Intermediate Level (Developing Internationalism) Award. We won the NAC Quality Award for Excellence in International Education. The experience we have gained through Malawi links and visits have led to several approaches from other schools needing advice.

Other groups who have benefitted: Our projects have also assisted other groups. The Women’s Development Centre makes the uniforms for the pupils supported by the Orphan Scholarship Scheme. The craftspeople of the Delia Arts Centre have enjoyed extra sales. The villagers of Galamala received food during the 2005 famine. Two orphan centres, Mary Martha and St Peter’s, have had support. Three primaries have had extra books.

Benefits to the pupils of St Michael's:The benefits of the links have been felt throughout the school. The regular updates sent by Miss McFadden during 2002-03 prompted much interest from the pupils, interest which increased as our envoys went out, and even more as our Malawi friends arrived in Scotland, standing at assemblies to tell of life in Malawi, or just as they took part in the daily life of a Scottish secondary. In Modern Studies, Malawi has been used as a case study for the topics of International Aid and Development. In Religious Studies, the partnership raises awareness of world poverty and encourages respect for other cultures, beliefs and races. For the visitors, not one of whom had previously been outside their country, travelling on an aeroplane and seeing snow were firsts. Many of our pupils are now much more aware of the need to make the world a better place for all.

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