Inspire Malawi was set up by school teacher, Michelle Rowe, after a gap year in Africa in 2002 changed her life forever. Here is her story:
I had always wanted to become a teacher and had always wanted to travel to Africa so I had the perfect gap year experience of volunteering in Malawi, through Africa and Asia Venture, for four months in 2003. I then went on to train as a PE teacher at De Montfort University, Bedford. I had such a wonderful experience teaching in Malawi that, the following year, I worked all summer to afford to fly back for 5 weeks with some friends, bringing with us some educational equipment as gifts for the schools at which I had taught, Mlanda Primary and Mlanda Girls Secondary School. Children in Malawi are hungry for education and it is extremly rewarding to teach children who really want to learn, knowing that having a good education will make their future so much brighter. Malawians also have a great sense of fun, are warm and welcoming and I just felt compelled to return!
I returned again the following year with more friends and more gifts for the schools and this time visited Lizulu Primary School, an hour walk from Mlanda, with my friend Moses. this enormous school was in a severe state of disrepair and the Headmaster asked if I might be able to help with some restoration. I asked for a quotation to repair two rooms, using local builders and was told it would cost approximately £2,000. I felt confident, over the course of the following year, that I could raise that amount and so returned to UK and Bedford motivated to do so. With the support of my friends, family, peers, my lecturers, a grant from the University of Bedfordshire and BPEOSA that year I had collected £16,000 and so flew out that summer with some students from my BA PE course and spent four weeks painting & decorating Lizulu Primary. In all, we redecorated ten rooms, provided fifty new desks and chairs and had enough money remaining to construct a Science laboratory in neighbouring Lizulu Community Day Secondary School.
Prof Kate Jacques, Dean and Pro vice Chancellor of what has just transitioned to become the university of Bedfordshire and a team of Senior Lecturers flew to Malawi with me in April 2007 to officially open the new building. One of only 3 Science laboratories in the whole district. There was also enough funding remaining to provide 50 beds and mattresses to the Lizulu CDSS dormitory! Without realising, I found I was pretty good at raising funds and really enjoyed the process of seeing a project through from start to finish, seeing how far the money could go if utilised properly and what an enormous difference it could make to the education of children living in a rural village such as this. Attendance improved, results improved at the CDSS and I was inspired to continue supporting education in Malawi. It is enormously rewarding work, the Malawian people a warm and kind and motivated by education. They are welcoming, supportive and all know that education is key for the next generation to help move their country forwards.
2007 was an exciting year for two reasons. Firstly, off the back of calls for teacher training from teachers at Lizulu CDSS I returned to University and approached my lecturers about leading a CPD (continuing professional development course) in PE for teachers in Lizulu zone. Two lecturers, Mark Bowler and Paul Sammon lent their support togteher with Kate Jaqcques and her husband, name Roger. We were supported by 3 outstanding final year BA PE Students and flew to Malawi to deliver fours days of PE CPD to over 100 local teachers. It was an enormous success.
Secondly, I had now graduated with 1st class hons in Physical Education and had begun teaching at Bishop’s Stortford College, Herts, which proved to be the beginning of an exciting partnership... I approached their headmaster, Mr John Trotman, and proposed leading a team of Sixth Form students out to Malawi to support restoration works at nearby Masasa Primary School. To my delight, he agreed! We raised in excess of £10,000 that year and I led my first school group abroad.
The rest, as they say, is history! I have been leading teams to Malawi twice a year, every year since 2008 and, off the back of our pilot teacher training CPD course in Lizulu in 2008 and Dedza in 2009, the University of Bedfordshire was successful in securing a £60,000 grant from the British Council to deliver a 3 year Teacher Training programme.
Since then we have supported development projects in a further seven schools, providing restoration of existing buildings, new toilets, staffrooms, store rooms and 8 new classrooms. I have led over 130 volunteers out to Malawi and am blessed to have such a wonderful team working with me. Jess Hodges and Julia Dockerill, both frriends from our time at Herts and Essex High School.