Each year we very much look forward to the scheduled visits from our partner schools, as the students, without exception, arrive overflowing with enthusiasm, energy, compassion and a real desire to learn and make a difference to the lives of all those connected with Open Arms. This year we were once again taken aback by the sheer determination, positivity and spirit of the young people who came, and their endeavours have left a tangible and lasting impression on all those who spent time with them.
The first to visit this year were Verde Valley School from Arizona in the USA, arriving in June for their annual visit to Namalo Village, where Open Arms have a well-established Feeding Station and Nursery School.
There is also a Traditional Birthing Clinic there, the building of which Ashville College, Kingswood School and Wyoming Seminary contributed costs and labour towards, and on more than one occasion the girls were fortunate enough to witness a birth of a new infant there. The children were soon fully immersed in traditional village life, sleeping on bamboo mats on the floor, cooking on open fires, and fetching water from the bore hole. Almost immediately they got stuck into building a new pit latrine for the Nursery School, before moving on to Mangochi, where they lent a hand with the construction of Pemphero School’s girls’ hostel. From there the group went on to enjoy an expedition up Mulanje Mountain and a visit to Liwonde National Park, before visiting an eye clinic in Zomba, where they donated over 2,000 pairs of glasses.
July then saw the arrival of five more schools; the first of which was Queen Elizabeth School from Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria, who visit us each year. The school provides the annual sponsorship of Tsekwe House and over the years has built up a wonderful relationship with the Foster children there. It wasn’t long before the boys of QES and Tsekwe were engaged in a friendly game of football, and the other children were chatting and sharing stories about their home and school life.
As well as spending time at our Blantyre home, the students also spent a day in Namalo village, where they visited Makokezi School, as well as the Namalo Nursery and Feeding Station. These visits are accompanied by Enipher Nasiyaya, our Malawian Education Liaison Officer, as her intimate knowledge of village life helps to make this a very rewarding day for our visiting groups. During the day, a traditional meal of nsima and relish was cooked for the children which they thoroughly enjoyed. They also enjoyed a day out at the Illovo Sugar Estate in Nchalo, as well as an afternoon at Nyala Park conservation park.
Towards the end of the QES visit, our guests arrived from Downe House School. This was the very first visit from Downe House, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to share many of the aspects of our work with them, demonstrating how the funds they have been so proactive in raising over the past few months will be spent.
After spending their first morning with the babies in our Infant Home, the girls from Downe House and the girls from our Foster Houses assembled for a netball match. Faces were painted, coloured bibs donned, and soon a hotly contested game was underway, accompanied by plenty of cheering from Neville, the Foster boys and the other volunteers. The following day the group visited a Day Care Centre in the crowded township of Chilobwe, where they played with the children and worked alongside other volunteers filling sand bags to shore up the erosion on one side of the playground. Some of the students also got involved in painting the play equipment and a wall mural.
On their last day with us, the students headed out to visit the Open Arms Nursery School and Feeding Station in Kumanda Village. Here they learned about how the school operates and prepared a special traditional meal to share with the nursery children, after which they headed off to enjoy a few days’ holiday, taking in a safari and an eco-lodge on a small island on Lake Malawi.
Next to arrive, in the middle of July, were our friends from Kingswood School in Bath. Kingswood spend three weeks with us, so theirs is by far and away the most time comprehensive visit, and as such they are able to experience so much more whilst they are with us. On this occasion, the group started in Blantyre, splitting into three groups to work on various projects, including concreting a drive at Richmond House, painting and retouching two murals on the front verandah, and completely refurbishing the servant’s quarters which were in desperate need of repair. They also found time to take a netball lesson with the Richmond girls and the boys joined in at the Saturday morning football club. One group at a time stayed in the Home and played with the babies.
After a few days of physical work, the students took a welcome break to Mulanje where they stayed for three days, two on the Luchenya plateau, before heading to Liwonde National Park where they were lucky enough to be involved in a small way in the capture and translocation of some 500 elephants from Liwonde National Park to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a rehoming project which aims to reduce the issues associated with overpopulation.
From here, the next destination was Palm Beach, where the students worked extremely hard on the Pemphero project. Whilst there, they also had the opportunity of visiting two of our Feeding Stations/Nursery Schools, Madalitso and Takondwa, where they helped to teach up to 70 children under the age of five.
Next they headed to Nkhotakota where again they worked on a school – this time Chankhazi School. They have been coming to this site for ten years now, and each year they contribute towards the growth of the school buildings. Whilst here they took on the village team at netball and football, which proved to be a highly enjoyable occasion, watched by nearly all of Chankhazi village!
Also arriving, albeit for a brief visit as part of a longer tour of Malawi, were our good friends from Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh. As always when cameras are out, the little ones were eager to explore them, seeing how they work and taking a few snaps of their own. After spending a short time in the Home, the boys headed off to visit their friends in Annie’s Foster House.
Finally our friends from Lancing College, West Sussex, arrived for their biennial visit, initially getting stuck in at Pemphero School, helping with the flooring and the building of the security wall, before heading out to visit one of our Nursery and Feeding Stations. From Mangochi they travelled to Blantyre where they visited Jacaranda Children’s Home, a Catholic Institution not far from Open Arms. This year the boys from Rose’s House joined them on a three day trek to Liwonde National Park and Mount Mulanje, including Aubrey, who made every effort to climb with his ‘brothers’, but made the decision to turn back after an hour. This was a wonderfully brave achievement by Aubrey, who has cerebral palsy, and we are all very proud of him.
We are as always very appreciative of the fundraising initiatives that these and other schools undertake for Open Arms. It is thanks to the continual efforts of the students, parents and teachers that the children of Open Arms can enjoy such a good quality of life, including educational trips, days out and an annual holiday, so we are very grateful to our friends for their support.
The months of June and July always seem to go so fast and all too quickly it is time to say goodbye. We wish all our visiting students all the best for their future endeavours and hope to welcome them back to Open Arms again sometime in the future.