A Celebration of Scotland: Malawi Youth Links

Thursday 3rd January 2013


By Janine Ewen, MSc Health Improvement/Health Promotion

This November, a celebratory event took place at the Scottish Parliament to acknowledge the existing relationship between Malawi and Scotland. The evening was organised by the Scotland Malawi Partnership. The relationship exists through the help of volunteers and also because of the superb work of Dr David Livingstone from many years ago. Determined Scots have worked with the people of Malawi for 150 years; in doing so, they have helped them to develop and maintain fundamental services for a rightful and adequate standard of living. Those rights include things that we all take for granted – such as basic education and health care.

Around 200 people attended what was an insightful and inspiring event, including MSPs, young Scots and Malawians, and youth organisations. Many questions were asked, and the room was filled with energy from those organisations which have worked and built fantastic opportunities in the developing world, in particular in Malawi. The panel, consisting of young politicians from Malawi and MSPs, was chaired by Sam Abraham, who has worked extensively to build the charity “First Aid Africa”.

On the same day of the event, Humza Yousaf, International Development Minister for the Scottish Government, announced £1.2 million in funding for projects aimed at helping poor people in Malawi International. Humza is encouraging invitations from Scottish-based organisations to bid for the money. From a health and wellbeing perspective, combating global challenges is so much more than finding the right people, but also developing the right way of working. The Scottish Government is working well to develop support and build alliances. The Scottish Government will be, therefore, helping to secure a better future for people in Africa.

There is always room for improvement, however, and I believe that doing the “good” can be done better in terms of giving aid and providing humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian aid organisations which touch down on war or disaster- ravaged countries are helping with the best of intentions, driven by the eagerness to help in anyway. The main problem with the aid from those organisations is that the outcomes of its impact are “invisible” to us, because nothing sustainable in the longer-term is produced – no built water delivery systems, housing that will not last, and poor infrastructure for program delivery – but the aid is used by many in the developing world. It is used mainly to keep people alive through medical treatment.

“First Aid Africa” is a great example of a rural healthcare project teaching overseas sustainable First Aid, standing by strong principles that First Aid should never be about the resources you do not have around you, but the ones you do, encouraging use of sanitary towels and natural resources, which is an effective way of combating the huge number of minor and major injuries now overtaking the huge rates of tropical diseases. In many ways, the NGO community has created an “alternate economy”, and much of the money is spent on the delivery of emergency services, which are also needed. The emergency aid acts as a means of rapid assistance to those in immediate disastrous environments to relieve suffering; this will help to answer the question of those who ask, “Where did all the money go? The very term “humanitarian” denotes caring and compassion. It is intrinsic to our nature that many of us will want to help those less fortunate; this is why organisations applying for the 1.2 million fund are crucial for further enhancement of the developing world countries. Those organisations are heavily involved in supporting education and community development both of which can help to improve long-term prospects for all.

No other investment has such a lasting effect as education. For most of Africa’s children, education represents the only way out of a life of entrenched poverty. Community development has its role in building confidence, cohesiveness and community resilience.

That said however, polling consistently shows that the public would rather governments cut aid budgets rather than domestic ones; so it is fantastic that the Scottish Government have not cut their commitment to Malawi. It will be exciting to see how the funding will develop over the next few years. I believe it will make a huge difference.

Why does Scotland play such a recognised role in International Development? The Scottish Government’s International Development Policy sees Scotland’s place in the world as that of a small nation, committed to addressing the challenges faced by the world. The government gives a sense of strong unity in combating the troubles faced by other countries, and hopes to actively engage with this global agenda. Most of all, the policy hopes to build upon both the relationships that exist between Scotland and the developing world.

In 2004, Malawi’s health system was described as ‘dangerously close to collapse’ due to inequitable distribution of health workers and an inappropriate mix of different skills. The Malawian Ministry of Health embarked on a six-year plan to revive it, with funds from the UK Department for International Development. I believe that with Scotland’s close links, we can play a huge a role in protecting those vital systems in order for the people of Malawi to maintain healthy lives. Education has also been recognised as a fundamental right that needs continued support on. In 2012, 50,000 books went to schoolchildren in the Eastern Cape of South Africa – all part of the international celebrations to mark Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday.

Malawi has a lot to offer. The name Malawi means ‘reflected light of bright haze’, a most apt description of this country whose area is one fifth covered by water. Besides its magnificent lake, Malawi has five National Parks, beautiful scenery and sunshine all year round. It is a great country for anyone to visit and embrace its beauty and culture.

The Scottish Government also supports projects in Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The Scottish Government has a lot to be proud of.

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