You may have heard that Jasmine moved over to the UK in August to join the Open Arms fundraising team in Harrogate. It’s been a busy few months meeting our partners and supports. This week she went to visit Kingswood School in Bath.
Many of their pupils have visited Malawi and met Jasmine in her previous role. Jasmine writes:
Kingswood School is an important supporter of Open Arms, and I had the privilege to be part of their annual Christmas Market. This is the major fundraising event of the year, when the grand theatre hall is lined with tables for stall holders, photos of children from Open Arms are posted on the walls, and a stall of African goods and crafts made by teachers and students are presented.
The excitement was palpable, with a hundred students and teachers helping Jen Opie to bring all the pieces together.
I joined a teacher to help with the raffle ticket sales, writing names on strips, discussing the exciting prizes with parents and students and expressed my own thanks for the contribution to Open Arms.
Bumping into a former student who has volunteered with Open Arms four times was wonderful. We talked about the staff at Open Arms who take such good care of the children, and the very special culture that exists at the Infant Homes, where Malawian traditions are respected, and volunteers are made welcome to lend a hand and get to know our ladies. Speaking to parents of students who had been to Malawi, and former expeditioners, it was clear that Open Arms and Malawi are close to the heart of many within the Kingswood community.
When I saw a picture of a boy named Mishek on the wall, it brought back the memory of Mrs Phiri entering my Blantyre office and laying a baby on my desk on top of a blue blanket. She said ‘I want you to take a picture of how this boy is now, because I am going to make him live’. The clothes he wears in the picture cover much of the telling signs of his malnourished condition, the swollen belly and thin limbs, and the picture can’t tell how weak Mishek was.
But the picture on the wall next to this one shows a toddler smiling and holding a pencil, and is a testament to Mrs Phiri’s determination. Mishek was special to me and would wander into the office of his own accord when he was older. After he had gone home, his grandmother brought him to visit, and it was clear that he had bonded with her and was well loved and cared for. Transformations such as Mishek’s are at the heart of Open Arms, and why we are all working to continue the services provided.
I first met Gordon and Jen Opie with their expedition of students at their welcome barbeque in July 2008; they were the first British school group that I met when I began working with Open Arms.
Their enthusiasm for being back in Malawi was palpable, even after the long journey.
The next day their bus arrived at Open Arms, loaded with clothes, shoes, paint for murals, sports kit, sewing machines and any number of sometimes surprising but always useful things. Over the years this routine continued, and Jen’s boundless energy and capacity to bring together supplies for Open Arms and everything the students needed, while connecting and showing great concern for people around her is hugely impressive to witness. At the Christmas Market, I saw Gordon and Jen in action again, and there was never a minute when they weren’t doing something to make the market a success.
After hearing of Kingswood School for so many years, meeting students out in Malawi, it was slightly surreal to see the grand historical school campus, founded by John Wesley, for myself.
The Headmaster, Mr Morris, gave me a warm welcome and we spoke of the months that his son spent volunteering with us.
Kingswood School has helped to make Open Arms what it is today, and I feel that I better understand the heart and hard work that goes into this tremendous support. Thank you, does not seem adequate to express how humbled and grateful I feel to have their help for our work in Malawi.