Matt Corr’s Malawian Diary – We’re all off to Malawi in the green

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 one of his Malawian Diary. Donations via Matt’s Just Giving page HERE…Thank you!

Matt’s luggage…

We’re all off to Malawi in the green…t-shirts that is!

Matt Corr’s Malawian Diary

5am. Sunday

It’s an early morning rise to catch the bus at Paradise bound for Heathrow as the tortuous 27-hour trip to our Malawi base begins. I’m part of a team of Celtic FC Foundation volunteers who will be working there for the next week, hopefully bringing the newly constructed classroom block at Masalani up to a standard where increased and improved educational opportunities can be made available there.

Early Sunday morning, Paradise
Heathrow bus
Volunteers Steph, Emma and Lisa pose for photos before boarding…
…and are joined by Celtic FC’s very own volunteer Sarah, with some shady characters in the background!

There is a large fundraising element to the project and each member of the team is tasked with contributing to the tally. Some have organised events or have asked for sponsors, whilst others including myself have set up a Just Giving page. One of my early donors is a head teacher and she makes the striking comment that ‘education is the key to future life chances.’ That feels like a particularly relevant comment in this case.

This also feels like a really worthwhile initiative but there is one potential issue for me. When it comes to home improvement projects, I’m not really your guy. I have two left hands, sadly, but I do have a willing heart and so I’m looking forward to a week where we can contribute and add value in some small way. It’s yet another example of the extraordinary reach of Celtic FC Foundation in its quest to support those most vulnerable wherever they reside on this earth. The spirit of Walfrid is alive and kicking as long as they are doing what they do in our name.

It’s a trip which had been more than four years in the making. I originally signed up for it back in 2019 after my brother Robert returned from the Foundation’s previous visit to Zambia. The 67 Kitchens project is close to our family hearts and it just feels right to do this on so many levels. And then COVID kicked in and plans had to be deferred and perhaps abandoned.

The good folk at the Foundation have been working away in the background since then to make it happen but all to no avail. Each year would pass without a breakthrough, until now, and suddenly we’re on. There are team calls, face-to-face meetings and the dreaded vaccinations before the launch of the fundraising page and a reminder to take my first anti-malaria tablet suggests we’re almost ready. Gifts from the club and from ourselves have to be organised and packed but by the time the Champions League final kicks off on Saturday night I’m good to go.

There are a dozen of us making the trip, most leaving from Celtic Park. My daughter is on taxi duty and unlike me she is always on time so I’m delivered safely to the meeting point. We are all wearing our emerald green t-shirts, which were designed specially for the trip, and there is time for the obligatory team photo with the shirts and the banners on the Celtic Way before we board the coach. Celtic FC Foundation’s mini green army are finally mobilised and heading for Malawi.

The bus layout has provided two natural groups seated together around tables, the boys and the girls. Our talk, as always, is all about the Celtic, old games and trips. You know the drill. I’ve completed a 2.30am shift the night before working on some Father’s Day articles and packaging book orders so I’m already toiling, drifting in and out of the chat between short naps but there are a lot of memories covered in there, most of them positive.

And of course it’s not long before Celtic Small World Syndrome kicks in.

“Do you know big Kevin Smith?” asks one of the guys, James from Edinburgh. I do indeed. Smiddy is part of that fantastic Celtic/Irish band Boolavogue and we first met in – of all places – The Arctic Circle! Long story short, we ended up in the same pub in snowbound Bodo a few years back.

I’m minding my own business with a £12 pint, soaked jeans and a poor phone signal on the periphery of his company when out of the green he asks me if I’m Boolavogue? When I confirm that is the case he replies ‘So am I!’ A friendship is quickly formed over a few beers, photos and laughs which lasts to this day. I was honoured when he recorded a backing track for my Harry Hood biography and more recently when he and bandmate Sean provided the entertainment at our launch event for Majic, Stan and the King of Japan at Celtic Park in October.

Former Celtic defender Peter Goldie was one of our many special guests that night in the Kerrydale and he is also part of that conversation, as a friend of Peter’s son joins us at Preston. Frank is a member of the Preston Emerald CSC and ‘young Peter’ and others from the South Didsbury, Manchester Celts would often meet up to travel to Glasgow on that bus.

Pickups at Stoke and finally Heathrow airport itself follow and now the travelling party is complete.

Time for the flight to Ethiopia

As we join the various queues throughout the terminal, the distinctive green t-shirts are drawing a bit of attention and interest, even amongst the large number of yellow Dortmund tops and the white of Real Madrid, whose supporters are making their way home after the drama of the Champions League final in London the night before. And you see some other sights.

There are two guys staggering to load a massive cardboard covered package onto the luggage carousel but it’s just not happening. Suggestions as to what it is range from a giant television to a snooker table with the smart money being on the former. Elsewhere there is a luxury Porsche car being loaded onto an aeroplane. It’s alright for some!

We’ve arrived quite a bit early for our 9pm departure so there is time for a group meal, photo and a much welcome beer before we head to the gate for our Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Abada, the capital of that country and a major transport hub for the continent.

Under an African sun. Arrival in Addis Ababa

It’s the early hours of the morning before we land in Addis and a quick turnaround before we join the massive queue for the flight to Blantyre in southern Malawi, our final destination. By lunchtime we’re pouring out of the plane into the intense Malawian heat to meet our local host Ozzie and the bus driver Isa. The 6,500 mile trip has gone pretty much like clockwork so far, so I guess there is no huge surprise when we encounter our first real headache.

Nearly there! Arrival in Blantyre Airport, Malawi

I’ve gone through passport control and I’m a bit concerned that the number of luggage items still awaiting collection doesn’t really align with the number of our party still behind me in the passport queue. There are a couple of trolleys stacked high with suitcases so perhaps the local contacts have this in hand but a quick inspection of both confirms that my baggage is not there.

Our incredible host Ozzie and Foundation Lead Ross share a joke on our way from the airport

It soon transpires that several more in our party are missing luggage items and one by one the airport staff take down the details. A suggestion that it may take 48 hours to retrieve our stuff isn’t the best news to hear at the end of such a gruelling journey but in all fairness, the response from the group is pretty measured and low key. It is what it is. Well unless you’re the guy dressed as a Japanese Admiral at dinner that is, as we try to scramble enough clothes and supplies together to keep us going for the next few days.

The short trip from the airport illustrates the contrasts in this part of the world, a variety of fruit vendors approaching the bus as we stop in traffic outside a modern shopping centre which enables us to pick up some of the missing items we need.

Then we make the journey through the town centre with its street names which highlight some of the characters from the country’s past, Napoleon, Victoria and Haile Selassie all getting a mention. Finally we reach our destination, a gated complex called Kabula Lodge, which will be home for the next week.

Kabula Lodge…
…has some stunning views
Finally…it’s beer o’clock for volunteers (clockwise from front) Robert, Frank, Finn and James!

The Kabula Lodge staff are all friendly and the views are stunning, then after a quick refresh there is the opportunity to chill in the sunshine with a cold beer before dinner. The group has bonded well, particularly given the amount of travelling involved and the situation with the luggage. There is a nice vibe in the camp and lots of laughter as the various characters and dynamics start to emerge.

Tomorrow will be a working day, our first look at the school block at Masalani, but before then it will be some much needed shut-eye.

I’ve been humbled by the generosity of those who have already supported our efforts by donating to the various Just Giving pages of the volunteers.

If you have a friend or relative on the trip then please do what you can to raise awareness of their efforts and donate if, what and when you can. You will find these pages at Celtic’s Malawi Adventure 2024 – JustGiving.

Hail, Hail!

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.

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