Matt Corr’s Malawian Diary – This is how it really feels to be Celtic

Celtic Star readers, if you can please donate a few quid to the Celtic FC Foundation organised Celtic’s Malawi Adventure 2024, Matt Corr of this parish is there at the moment and here’s day two of his Malawian Diary. Donations via Matt’s Just Giving page HERE…Thank you!

Volunteer James and his new friends

A very special day at Masalani…”We’ll drink from the books and the soil of our library.’”

An emotional rollercoaster of a day as the team visits the school at Masalani where we will be working for the rest of the trip. After a light breakfast, we board the ‘school bus’ and are greeted by Dezie from our host charity organisation Classrooms for Malawi – resplendent in his Celtic scarf!

Volunteers boarding the school bus bound for Masalani
Finn raring to go

Dezie is a former teacher – if such a thing exists – and his passion for education shines through as he describes in some detail the history and current situation in Malawi. He can speak faster than I can listen, far less take notes, but my basic take on some of the key points he made was as follows.

The introduction of a multi-party electoral system brought the promise of free education in 1994, which in turn led to a huge increase in the number of school students in the area from 1.9m to 3.2m and the requirement for additional teachers and facilities to accommodate that.

The natural evolution of those needs would lead to initiatives such as our project, which extended the facilities available at Masalani, the only community secondary school in the educational zone. It was great to hear that the new facilities will be useable as soon as we leave.

There is no automatic progression between primary and secondary education. In Dezie’s words, ‘Only the cream is able to succeed to secondary school.’

He also advised that there are more girls than boys in the lower grades, then it changes completely to being more boys. There are various reasons for that, but two examples he gave are that many girls will take up roles in the home in their early teens to help their families, whilst others will marry, with responsibility for provision then passing to the husband.

And just to complete the educational cycle, he told us that nursery schools are uncommon in Malawi, with less than half of the children attending, and those who do are mainly from urban and suburban areas.

Locals going about their business on the road to Masalani

Dezie has provided some superb context on our 40-minute journey to Masalani, which is in the Chiradzulu district north-east of Blantyre. But there is a light-hearted moment when this hugely intelligent man adds up 6+8 and produces 15, and before the laughter on the bus has subsided he directs Isa the driver to turn left, by indicating right!

As we approach the school, Dezie tells the group that the church and memorial in this area are dedicated to the Reverend John Chilembwe, a local man from Chiradzulu, who led the uprising of unarmed local people against colonialism in 1915.

Passionate about the rights of Africans to education and social status, he gave his life for those beliefs, a sacrifice recognised to this day by his appearance on both the 2000Kwacha and 500Kwacha banknotes and an annual public holiday held in his honour on 15 January.

It was an uprising that was doomed to fail before it began, yet another fact which prompted the description of John Chilembwe as the Malawian James Connolly by one of the group.

The surface of the roads has become progressively poorer as we drive and we’re on a dirt track as we reach the school. There is then the most lovely sight of the schoolchildren welcoming the working party along the roadside with smiles and waves. That will pretty much be the theme for the rest of day.

A roadside welcome at Masalani

The bus has parked up and as we alight from it we are greeted with so much warmth by the teachers and children alike it is quite humbling.

With her long mane of blonde hair, our youngest volunteer Emma becomes our own African Queen with kids cuddling up to her, and wherever you look there are handshakes, fist bumps and smiles as the first introductions and friendships are made between visitors and locals.

Emma our African Queen

We are then led to an open area where some canopies have been set up for the formal welcome. This is something else. The programme for the Partners Reception Ceremony is handed to us and indicates there will be government and educational officials present, as well as speeches, prayers, poetry recitals and songs.

Event Programme for Reception Ceremony

We’re led to the front row seats and the programme gets underway with some beautiful songs of welcome from the school choir, quickly followed by individual kids ‘giving us whatever you have’ in response to the prompts from the teacher acting as master of ceremonies.

The MC does a great job keeping things going as we await the arrival of one of the senior officials, the Educational Division Manager Evelyn Mjima, as does our very own Ross – now known by his new title as Leader of Delegation (Scotland)! – on behalf of Celtic FC Foundation. His speech is on the money, summarising the work done from the east end of Glasgow to the villages of Malawi.

Dezie with his Celtic scarf ahead of the welcome ceremony, with the school choir in the background

MP Joseph Nomale welcomes the group and his emotive words focus on the need for teachers and students to strive for excellence and ensure that the new facilities and accompanying opportunities are grasped. ‘Let’s do our part!’

Volunteer Robert in discussion with Chiradzulu District MP Joseph Nomale
C’mon the Hoops

There is then a surreal moment as our volunteer group give an impromptu rendition of It’s a Grand Old Team as a gesture of our thanks for such an incredible welcome.

‘Hail, hail!’ in the African sunshine
New friends interact at Masalani

Head teacher Joe Sirara is up next and like Dezie earlier, his passion for the school and the education of its students is clear for all to see. He talks about the journey which brought us here today having started some 30 years ago when Bannerman High School on the outskirts of Glasgow got involved in supporting the school. Small world syndrome kicks in again, as my daughter taught at that school earlier in her career. I had no idea that they were involved at Masalani.

Celtic FC Foundation followed and both are now considered to be partners of the school, indeed both names appear on the welcome banner which two of the boys have held upright for the duration of the ceremony, some two hours in the blazing sun. Above and beyond.

Joe outlines the main purposes of the new block, which include the provision of a much-needed Library, an additional classroom for Form 3 Science or Humanities (History and Geography) students – those subjects previously taught concurrently, meaning that one group had to be take the class outside – and an uplift in performance of learners.

There is another highlight as the ceremony draws to a conclusion, a young female student reciting a lengthy verse of poetry with no reference to notes. ‘We’ll drink from the books and the soil of our library.’ Like everything else that has gone before, our hosts are making it clear how much they value the support being offered. It has been the most moving couple of hours in the East African sunshine.

There is a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally open the new block and then it is time for work. Two groups of six volunteers are identified, one allocated to each room in the new block. Rollers and paintbrushes are issued and soon we are underway. The ceiling height is addressed by fixing the rollers to long tree branches, and it is effective if a bit unusual.

Formal opening of new school block at Masalani
Kids admiring the new classroom block
Inside the new classroom block at Masalani
Making progress…
A global game

The kids are lined up at the windows outside observing, and from time to time some of the team will break off to spend time with them. The sound of the children’s’ laughter is a tonic in itself. Finn abandons a short lunch break to get a group involved in a game outside the bus, and watching he and James interact with them naturally is pretty special. A true vocation.

Finn’s a volunteer – get him out of there!
Volunteer James and his new audience

At one point James does a Freddie Mercury-esque Wembley vocal challenge, with the kids responding to his prompts. It is a special moment to witness.

James engaging with the kids

The children for me have been the stars of the day. They are respectful, talented, loving and smiling and it has been a privilege to be here today. Back on the bus, that is a view expressed time and again.

The trip home seems quicker, broken up with a visit to the local football stadium then a shopping centre to refresh supplies, and soon it is time for a much-needed shower before we get together to discuss the most incredible day.

Emma at the football stadium

Hail, Hail!

From the Celtic FC Foundation Volunteers

Under an African Sun

Your support is making an incredible difference.

Without it, these life-changing initiatives just don’t happen.

Please do what you can to raise awareness and/or donate if, what and when you can.

If you have a friend or relative on this trip then you will find their individual pages at Celtic’s Malawi Adventure 2024 – JustGiving.

Matt’s own Just Giving page is Matt Corr is fundraising for Celtic FC Foundation

Thank you.

Matt Corr

Follow Matt @Boola-vogue on Twitter/X

Matt’s Just Giving page is Matt Corr is fundraising for Celtic FC Foundation – just click HERE to donate.


About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

1 Comment

  1. Patrick McCarthy on

    I lived and worked at St John’s Hospital, Mzuzu in Northern Malawi for two amazing years.Our daughter was born there. Kirsty Chimwemwe The Malawian middle name means JOY. A 2 doctor hospital catering for 250,000 patients. What ever arrived had to be addressed. That’s when I lost all fear. Fear can easily be your enemy. Why worry?