Malawi pupils are given a sporting chance

4th April 2008 at 01:00
This week, Glasgow School of Sport plays host to six scholarship students. Douglas Blane reports

The Scottish weather features strongly in the first impressions of six sporting youngsters from Malawi. "In our country it is either cool or hot," says Noel Lipenga. "But it's really cold here."

It is about to get colder. The three boys and three girls, aged 14, are paying a visit to the indoor ski-slope at Braehead, which boasts 1,700 tonnes of real snow, a substance none of them has seen before.

It is part of a programme of activities that the Glasgow school of sport at Bellahouston Academy has laid on for its young guests. "When I visited Malawi, I was impressed with the enthusiasm and passion for sport there," says Angela Porter, school of sport director. "The schools have few resources, but they are good at improvising when they don't have the proper equipment."

But it is much easier if they do. So with support from the Scottish Government's international development fund, the school of sport last year put together starter athletics packs and sent them to 54 schools around Malawi, with 15 schools receiving a larger package of sports equipment.

"There were tape-measures, stopwatches, javelins, shot-putts, discuses, relay batons, cones for running around, books of instructions," says Ms Porter. "Then one of our coaches, Norrie Hay, organised competitions at the schools for young people who wanted to come here on a short scholarship."

The six sporting winners of these competitions are taking part in a fortnight of athletics coaching, school classes and cultural activities around the city. These include an open-top bus tour, a civic reception, and visits to Edinburgh Castle, Millport and Glasgow Science Centre. "The people have been so kind to us," says Mwayi Phalazi, a sprinter whose ambition when she leaves school is to become a doctor.

A trip to Hampden was a highlight, says teacher Joel Kumwenda. "It's a wonderful stadium and the football museum was very interesting. Our country has connections with Scotland because of David Livingstone, who did a lot to end the slave trade. Our boys mostly play football. The girls play netball.

"It has been good to see many different sports here. When we go back, we will try to organise competitions. We don't have a lot of athletics. We will try to do more."

This is a key aspect of the project, says Ms Porter. "It's not just about pupils having a good time, getting expert coaching and learning about Scotland. It is also about the teachers taking ideas back that they can apply in their schools."

Circuit training is an example, says science teacher Susan Mhango. "It is a good way of getting fit and learning different ways of running, which we haven't seen before."

But the lessons go both ways, says Ms Porter. "They are warm, friendly people and good fun. Our pupils are learning a lot from the Malawi students, who have a full timetable of classes as well as the coaching and training."

Class size is a big difference that Mwayi has noticed between the two countries, she says. "We can sometimes have 80 students in one class. The teachers here are very helpful. When you are working, they come around and ask how you're getting on. That helps you to learn."

The Malawi students possess sporting talent, says assistant high performance coach Mr Hay. "It is raw talent," he says. "We can work with them while they're here and point them in the right direction for when they go home. They are learning what it takes to become good athletes - and their teachers are learning how to run clubs."

The only other thing, besides the weather, that takes the athletes time to get used to, is the food. "We have chips too," says Susan, smiling. "But they don't taste like yours."

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