Students from Harrogate’s Ashville College have travelled to Malawi for a 20 day trip that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Throughout the three week tour, the pupils helped to build and renovate school and orphanage facilities, as well as assisting with charity projects for local communities.
A total of 18 Sixth Formers were accompanied by four teachers on their visit to the poverty-stricken country, as part of the school’s ongoing support of the Open Arms Malawi charity, which was developed by former Ashville teacher Neville Bevis and his late wife, Rosemary, more than 20 years ago.
To give an insight into what they got up to during the tour, this year the students kept a Malawi diary, with a different pupil being responsible for writing an entry each day.
During their visit, the pupils spoke about their stay at St Andrew’s International Primary School in Blantyre and Pomphero School, where one group of students whitewashed and painted the windows of the feeding station, while the other shovelled soil to help create a toilet.
As well as helping to build and renovate buildings for the local communities, students also got the chance to spend time hiking up the Mulanjee Massif in the south east of the country.
On day four, student Sally Brook reported:
Following a breakfast of toast, porridge, eggs and sausages, we set off at 7am to the foot of Mount Mulanje. Being faced with the height of the mountain was somewhat daunting, however we were assured that we would be 1,995 metres above sea level on the Mulanje Massif within four hours.
We faced steep inclines and scrambled up sheer rock under the strong African sun. Despite the struggle we witnessed unbelievable views, being able to see Mozambique from the top and what felt like the whole of Malawi.
Other highlights included spending a couple of days in the Liwonde National Park, where they saw a number of big animals such as hippos and elephants in their natural environment.
On day eight, Milly Gladwyn wrote:
The day started bright and early for most people, due to the snorting of hippos in the river. We were ready for our first safari as the groups split up into two separate boats and we started the safari along crocodile infested waters.
As well as crocodiles, we were fortunate enough to see elephants approaching the water for a drink.
Ellie Dormer described what the group got up to on day 11 when they visited Pomphero School:
We received the warmest welcome as the whole school gathered in front of us. One young girl wrote a beautiful poem entitled ‘Education’, which she performed for us; it stressed the importance of education in life and the endless opportunities which it provides. It was very moving and it reminded us how lucky we are.
We then split up into groups, where one went back to Open Arms to help out with the children, and the other two continued working in the village on the nursery school, feeding station and toilet grounds.
In the village we split our time between painting the feeding station windows and shovelling soil to help create the toilet.
They also took part in friendly football and netball matches against the local teams.
On day 12, one group of students visited the Mangochi Open Arms which currently cares for 32 orphans with ages ranging from six months to three years old.
When, on day 14, the pupils arrived at Nkotakota, Isabel Stonehouse explained they were ready to get their hands dirty again:
After breakfast we set off for our first day’s work at Chankhasi School.
We were divided up and completed different tasks including whitewashing and plastering classrooms, painting blackboards and mixing cement to begin the building of an eco-toilet, whilst one was already collecting materials at the pottery lodge down the road.
As it neared the end of the tour, the students gave it their all for the last day of work. Kane Brown wrote on day 20:
It was the last time that we woke up with a full day in Malawi ahead of us. We set off for school and got to work straight away.
The outdoor team hammered away at a drainage system and shovelled debris. The inside team transformed the look of the school, coating the insides with a fresh lick of paint and painting the doors bright blue.
I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of the majority when I say that this trip has really been a life changing experience and it is not just something to put on a CV, but we are returning as different people to those that left.
Many thanks to all the staff for dealing with everything, but special thanks go to Mr Gould and to Neville. Without these two the trip would undoubtedly not have run as smoothly.
Ashville College’s Director of Activities and Outdoor Education Ian Gould said:
This trip was a once in a life-time opportunity for our students. I know the memories they formed throughout the three weeks will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Ashville’s links to the Open Arms Malawi charity goes back to the mid-1990s, and every other year pupils see first-hand the daily struggles that people in this beautiful but impoverished country face.
As well as observing the outstanding work undertaken at the Open Arms orphanages, this year’s group helped with lots of building and decorating.
The students redecorated the feeding station windows at Pomphero School, brightening up the area for the local children and also began building an eco-toilet at Chankhsi School.
Away from the labour work, time was found to play netball and football against local opposition – the girls winning their game 28-24, while the boys came out on top with a close fought 2-1 victory.