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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
4th September

Malawi and more


Last week I was in Malawi Ė working (not that that stopped me enjoying the time I had there).  I was on a Westminster Foundation for Democracy visit, helping Malawian politicians build campaigning skills and political engagement along with one of our MPs, Pete Wishart.


I was surprised at some of the differences between politics here and politics there.  Malawian MPs tend to be the driving force behind community activity and their local party organisation takes the place to a great extent of institutions like community councils and tenants organisations.


One thing which has left a lasting impression on me and which I believe has changed my perception of Malawi is the incredible poverty.  Before this trip I had, of course, heard about the poverty in many African countries over and over again but nothing prepared me for actually coming hard up against the reality of it.


The normal life for the majority of people, from those I encountered at least, was subsistence living, getting by from day to day, little planning for the future simply because you donít have time to plan for tomorrow when youíre busy trying to find food for today.


Thereís good news coming, though, in the shape of the Malawian MP who was our host, Aleke Banda, the President of the Peopleís Progressive Movement.  He has been instrumental in bringing in funding for some localised projects which have the potential to deliver some excellent results.


There is, for example, EU funding en route for irrigation projects, there are co-operative farming projects starting up with different communities specialising in different food products in order to maximise yield.  The difficulty they continue to face is the utter destruction of crops by inclement weather Ė an unpredictable and sometimes vicious enemy.  That said, encouraging the trade between communities is helping to rebuild the idea of community and cross-community cooperation.


Thereís also an organisation Ė a charity Ė known as Maryís Meals which provides food for children to allow them to go to school without having to worry about getting fed.  Itís not a complete solution, but it does move things in the right direction Ė thereís a far higher take-up of primary education now than there was before Maryís Meals got going.  Secondary education is still a bit sparse, mainly because of a lack of secondary schools, it must be said, but there are vocational training centres beginning to show up.  You can read more about Maryís Meals on the charityís website at


Health issues are also a concern.  Iím sure you wonít be surprised to hear that AIDS is still a major killer in Malawi, leaving thousands of orphans Ė many of whom are infected with the virus before they are born.  Itís an issue that has to be addressed on a global level, but it hits you hard when you come face to face with those orphans and realise the kind of future that many of them and many of their communities will be facing.  Education will be important, provision of drugs at less than the prices charged in the western world will be important, and some culture change to allow people to have the self-confidence to take control of their own lives and take decisions about their own lives will be important.


What is certain, though, is that we cannot sit here in our comfort, surrounded by the wealth that cushions Western Europe and the USA, preaching to the people of Malawi about how they should live their lives and organise their communities.  We can offer help and provide support where possible, but the decisions will have to be made in Malawi.


Iíve enclosed a few pictures here.  Iím sure youíll notice that the poverty doesnít mould the people; that they rise above it and get on with life.  The beach hut you see is actually the hotel I was staying in Ė the country is gorgeous.  Pete took some photographs as well and heís promised to send me them, so Iíll see if there are more we can put up next week.


Back home and back into Parliament Ė committees and chamber, including the debate on whether Wendy Alexander should bear the sanction decided by the Standards Committee.  There was also some important work to do, some real politics, and Iím delighted to see the back of that particular case.


We were discussing the Scottish Governmentís childrenís services strategy Ė Getting it Right for Every Child Ė which was, interestingly, inherited from the previous administration and is quite a good idea.  Itís always had cross-party support and it deserves it.  I even complimented the previous Ministers as well as our own!  Strangely enough, that consensus and the commonly agreed way forward for childrenís services (in spite of the wee bits of party politics played in the votes) didnít hit the news but the non-story I mentioned earlier dominated.


Looks like it will fall to people like me to keep telling as many people as possible about all the positive work done in Scotlandís Parliament day after day.





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