Young people were at the heart of discussions about the longstanding relationships between Scotland and Malawi as over 500 people joined the events in both countries.
As part of the Year of the Young People, Ben Macpherson MSP, the new Scottish Government Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, joined young people in both Lilongwe and then Glasgow to hear their views on youth participation and how best to play a part in sustaining the 159-year partnerships the two nations share.
Coordinated by both the Scotland Malawi Partnership and their sister network, the Malawi and Scotland Partnership, the young people were given a forum at each event to air their views on a number of topics such as girls’ education, good governance, shared cultural learnings and how to include youth voices at a political level.
Speaking at the Scotland Malawi Partnership’s AGM on October 6 in Glasgow, members of a newly formed Scotland-Malawi Youth Committee relayed their hopes and ambitions for how they plan to promote the culture, heritage and shared history between the two countries.
The work of this committee is part of a larger 18-month project by the Scotland Malawi Partnership which has been funded by the Young People National Lottery Fund and is focused on promoting the cultural exchange between young people in Scotland and Malawi.
Taking part in a Q&A with a panel from the Youth Committee at the SMP’s recent AGM in Glasgow, Mr Macpherson said a common theme he had observed during his visits to Lilongwe and Glasgow was a real ambition for greater youth empowerment, adding that the Year of the Young People had especially catalysed this feeling in Scotland.
The panel of young people included Malawian, Gift Thompson who is currently studying Public Sociology on a four-year scholarship at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
In Malawi, Gift lives at STEKA – a care home he shares with the 65 other young people he proudly calls his brothers and sisters.
Speaking to the Minister, Gift shared how beneficial the relationship between QMU and STEKA has been to previous students in Scotland as they learned about Malawian family values, community, equality and the privilege of being able to access education.
He added that the model of two-way partnership is of real benefit to people in Scotland as well as Malawi, and an important way to ensure that people stop seeing Malawians as “poor people in need” and instead recognise the resilient and positive way Malawians focus on a “shared community based approach to overcoming poverty”.
Mr Macpherson responded to Gift by saying it was important that Scotland and Malawi continue to evolve the partnerships they share and ensure that the work is “not in sympathy but in empathy”.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) is the national civil society network coordinating, supporting and representing the people-to-people links between Scotland and Malawi. It is one of the largest cross-community international development networks in the UK.
It is a membership organisation which anyone in Scotland with an interest in Malawi can join. It coordinates, represents and supports over 1,200 links with Malawi, including half Scotland’s local authorities, every Scottish university and most of its colleges, 250 primary and secondary schools, dozens of different churches and faith-based groups, hospitals, businesses, charities and NGOs, and a wide range of grassroot community-based organisations.
The work of the SMP isn’t just about ‘international development’, with donors on one side and recipients on the other. It’s about partnership, about joint working, and about friendship.
Scotland has a unique relationship with Malawi dating back to the travels of Dr. David Livingstone 159 years ago.
Rachel Cameron, a pupil at the Community School of Auchterarder, was delighted to get the opportunity to meet the minister in her new Youth Committee role, and be a part of the SMP AGM which this year focused on sustainability and youth participation.
“To me it’s so important that young people get a voice especially in Malawi,” she said.
“From my trip there, I realised that lots of young people do not have the voice or the power to speak up for themselves so I think it’s extremely important we give young people the voice they deserve. After all, we are the future.
“I would love to see more youth participation. I think a lot of young people are scared to speak up for what they believe in and I hope through the Youth Committee we will be able to give a voice to everyone, both here and in Malawi.”
A recent University of Edinburgh paper by Dr Gerhard Anders PhD LLM, estimated the scale of civic links between the two countries, finding that an estimated 109,000 Scots and 208,000 Malawians are actively involved in community-led partnerships between Scotland and Malawi. In addition, it found that each year more than 304,000 Scots and 8.5 million Malawians benefit* from this activity.
This notion of partnership was also illuminated in a July 2018 Public Awareness Study by Dr Colin Reilly of the University of Glasgow when 449 randomly selected Scots were interviewed, finding that over 44% could name a friend or family member with a connection to Malawi.
David Hope-Jones OBE, Chief Executive of the Scotland Malawi Partnership said: “Young people remain at the very heart of the longstanding friendship which Scotland enjoys with Malawi. With more than 45% of the Malawi population under the age of 15, it is right that we are led by the priorities of young people from both nations.
“There are hundreds of Malawi school partnerships, thousands of young people directly involved and ever increasing youth-leadership in Scotland’s distinctive sense of internationalism.
“What better way to mark the Year of Young People than supporting young Scots and Malawians to further enhance their friendships together for mutual benefit.”