“Visiting Malawi to see the how funds raised by Mako are used by the charity, WeSeeHope, was an overwhelming experience. The spirit of the people, the strength of the women, the joy of the children…all have empowered me to do even more to support this superb cause.
Mako has a near 20-year relationship with WeSeeHope, born from a connection between our founder, David Segel, and Phil Wall, the founder of WeSeeHope. Chris Welsh,Mako’s Chairman, served WeSeeHope as an influential trustee, working closely with the charity’s CEO, Mark Glen.
Last year, I was one of six volunteers from our London office who travelled to Malawi to visit ten different communities in Blantyre and Nkhoma, areas separated by a distance of about 300km. It became a joke among our group that everywhere was two-and-a-half hours from our base. The warmth of the welcome we received in every village would have made a journey twice that length worthwhile, however.
Each community had been told we were coming, and our arrival was greeted with excitement, wherever we went: people smiling and waving, and children surrounding us. Their spirit and generosity was in stark contrast to the surroundings, however. Often, we would turn off a dusty road to an area where there was almost nothing, except a few goats and chickens. The villagers’ homes were very basic; barely furnished and little more than somewhere to sleep. Life in rural Malawi takes place outdoors.
WeSeeHope works in partnership with the local partners to deliver four central projects in ten communities: pre-schools, kids clubs, vocational training and the flagshipVillage Investors Programme (VIP). We saw how each programme can succeed, with the support of funds raised by Mako and others.
Pre-school is such a part of ordinary life in England that we take its benefits for granted. In Malawi, they are keenly aware of a nursery’s importance for the emotional development of young children, and how it helps to reduce the dropout rate from primary school. WeSeeHope now runs 18 pre-schools with communities in Malawi, each of which has a new classroom, a new kitchen, and a brick-built toilet block.
Lunch time at the pre-schools was an eye-opening experience. The teacher would pour a porridge-like meal of maize into a bowl for each of about 50 or 60 children. None of them would begin eating until every child had received their bowl! It’s difficult to imagine such restraint among such hungry children. This sometimes was their only meal of the day.
The kids clubs were a joy to see and to be part of. We joined in the games and activities of children aged from six to 16, led by teachers and facilitators. Again, we were able to see first-hand the value of funds raised by Mako. Just £12 can train a facilitator to help children enjoy group activities that help their personal development, including drama, dance and sport. Many of the children are orphans (a phrase used in Malawi to describe children who have lost even one parent), or have suffered some other traumatic life event.
We watched the children perform a play in which the central character, a boy, had been treated badly by his father. He told his teacher, who referred the matter to the chief of the village. The aim of this is to help the children understand that they can ask for help if they need it and that there are processes in place to aid with this.
For older children - teenagers and young adults - WeSeeHope helps to provide vocational training. Girls are taught how to sew, and boys learn carpentry for example. The programme lasts for six months, after which the new graduate is obliged to recruit at least one apprentice to train. The graduate gains two advantages:they can use their new skill to start a business, and perhaps even be invited to join the Village Investors Programme (VIP).
We met a group of young men who had decided to start to a carpentry business together, and an inspiring young seamstress who measured my colleague Nick Dean for a shirt. Before joining Mako, Nick had worked on community projects in Ghana for four years, and was a valuable member of our party.
I’d often been told that Africa can be an emotional roller-coaster, and before I travelled to Malawi, I’d expected to be deeply moved by the children. It was the women who blew me away, however. They were so strong, so powerful, so determined to improve their lives. Many had escaped abusive relationships and had embraced the programmes delivered by WeSeeHope and its community partners.
Women were at the centre of most of the Village Investor Programmes we were shown. A system of savings and loans, shares and dividends drives the VIP scheme and ultimately benefits the entire community. Individuals (usually women) can take a loan to invest in a business to support their family, typically buying crops, fertiliser or livestock.
One woman we met had bought a radio, which she hired out every day. Wedding parties were her most lucrative opportunities. Homes are private places in Malawi, but this entrepreneur was very keen to show us the rewards of her businesses. Her house was being developed and she had furnished it with sofas.
Having seen the profound impact made by the money we raise for WeSeeHope, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this journey. As Mako enters its new and expanded phase of philanthropy through the Mako Foundation, I can't wait to see what the future holds for our partnership with this wonderful organisation.