It’s quite easy to lose sight of just how lucky we are in this country. Sure the weather could be better, yes there are people struggling because of austerity and using foodbanks, and of course we’d all love to have a national football team that actually qualifies for the World Cup. However, we should count ourselves mightily lucky to have been born right here. Why? Well because there are people much, much worse off in the world.
And these people rely heavily on the kindness of complete strangers throughout the world, coming together to help make a difference to the lives of the less fortunate. The community of Highland Perthshire has been doing their bit over the past few years for a small rural community in one of Africa’s poorest countries.
Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, with an extremely low life expectancy and high rates of infant mortality. There is a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the nation, which leaves many young children orphaned from an early age with nobody to rely on apart from the kindness and donations from others.
A community project started in a rural region of northern Malawi just over three years ago called the Wanangwa Community Initiative. It came about because the people living there were looking for some help to assist the old people who were starving, living in mud brick huts and looking after orphaned children whose parents had died from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country.
That caught the attention of The Raven Trust, a Scottish based charity which Perthshire resident Lilian Mackenzie became involved with back in the autumn of 2014. The charity founder, John Challis, convinced Lilian and husband Stewart to join them on a trip to Malawi in 2015. It was through this trip that Lilian was put in touch with Wanangwa’s coordinator, Zebedee Chiumia, and an unlikely link was formed.
“We headed out in September 2015,” Lilian told me, “Stewart, my grandson and I. We went to meet Zebedee who was looking for football strips for the youths in his project. The youths were getting into trouble and underage pregnancies and the spread of HIV and AIDS was increasing all the time, making the poverty and starvation situation worse.
“So our local youth football team Breadalbane and Strathtay kindly donated all of their old strips, along with another youth team down in Edinburgh. And that meant that we arrived in Malawi with 68 football strips in our luggage for Zebedee and the Wanangwa Community.” We arrived in Malawi with 68 football strips in our luggage for Zebedee and the Wanangwa Community.
The word wanagwa means freedom, and the community project covers a rural Malawian area which is roughly 26km in diameter, taking in many villages which are living in absolute poverty. After the first trip, Lilian kept in touch with Zebedee and they continued to work together to help the local people.
“We started to collect more general aid and sent regular donations out to them through my links with The Raven Trust. We became very well known in the area and from here in Perthshire, the aid just kept pouring in.
“Primary schools in the Pitlochry and Aberfeldy area started doing collections, and before we knew it we were averaging 120 boxes of donations being sent every three months, depending on The Raven Trust.”
The response from the people of Highland Perthshire was tremendous and soon Lilian and Stewart were planning their next trip to see the Wanangwa Community, this time with two grandsons and also with a new hefty donation.
Zebedee was looking for clothing for the locals but also for the young girls’ netball team and thanks to Perth’s local sports trust, Live Active Leisure, that was something that Lilian and Stewart were able to provide on their return to Malawi in September 2017.
“It was around July or August time that Live Active had got in touch as they were changing their uniforms and they had collected all of the old ones in and asked if we could send it all to Malawi. I readily accepted and packed the clothing into huge holdalls ahead of our return to see Zebedee on September 18th 2017.
“This time Stewart and I were taking two of our grandsons and thanks to KLM we were awarded a larger luggage allowance. It meant we could take eight 23kg bags with us! Everything we had collected from Live Active up to that point went with us to Wanangwa where much of it was used by the girls’ netball teams, as well as general items of clothing for other locals.
“Most people in the area are poorly dressed and literally wear rags, so it made such a difference. For the netball girls, having proper strips to play netball in has enabled them to play in the leagues now which before was just a dream to them. Thank you to Live Active - they have brought hope, comfort, dignity and identity to so many people in two different countries. This is a country where many children can’t even afford a pencil for school so you can see why the uniform is cherished by them all.”
Lilian has witnessed first-hand the difference that Live Active has made to the people of the Wanangwa Community Initiative and the donations also spread to a second country with Greenfields Africa sending five huge boxes of sweatshirts and hoodies to those affected by the conflict in Syria, for which Lilian is extremely grateful for.
“Live Active has clothed so many people out in our area in Malawi and given the local people dignity and the netball girls an identity. That’s a very rare thing out in the area. We’ve got a further twelve boxes going out this month as well, in a container with Smilawi – the dentists who also work out in the north of Malawi.
“Then there are another six boxes set to go out when a new trust has their containers ready to be shipped. There were also five containers sent directly into Syria by Greenfields Africa, so all I can say is thank you to Live Active. They have brought hope, comfort, dignity and identity to so many people in two different countries.”
Pupils from Dunbarney Primary School are taking part in the Mary's Meals Backpack Project which sees everyday items sent to schoolkids in Malawi.
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