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Life-changing links with Malawi

AFTER KATRINA McLeod spent 10 "life-changing days" in Malawi last year, she left with indelible memories and the germ of an idea.

The dozen teachers who went to Malawi in March 2006, funded by the Scottish Executive, gained powerful impressions of its cultural and educational differences. Ms McLeod was keen to share these with her pupils at Ardrishaig Primary in Argyll and Bute, where she is a principal teacher.

"I couldn't believe a country with such poverty could be so lush and stunningly beautiful. The people were friendly and the teachers were doing an amazing job under difficult circumstances," she says.

"I wanted to bring a Malawian teacher over to strengthen ties and let our children meet someone from a different culture."

The planned merger of several local schools provided further motivation, since it resulted in a surplus of textbooks and resources, which could be sent to Malawi.

"The kids found out how much it would cost to bring a teacher from Malawi.

They divided that among the schools, which all set up different projects: talent contests, magazines, a pantomime, selling ornaments... In the end, they raised all the money needed. It was special to the kids because it was their efforts that made the visit possible," says Ms McLeod.

Margret Makina, the deputy headteacher at Njedza Primary in Mulanje, arrived in Scotland at the end of May for a fortnight's visit.

Lessons were learnt on both sides, says Ms McLeod. "I took Margret to a school and told her it was big for us because it had 14 pupils. She fell about laughing. She regularly teaches classes of 75."

Ms Makina returned to Malawi, followed by a load of books and other resources she had selected.

"It's been a lot of work and we're delighted it all came together," says Ms McLeod. "It's a great example of how international education can encourage children to be fair-minded, thoughtful citizens."

More on Malawi, p29

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