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Leaving a legacy in Africa

Humza Yousaf, External Affairs and International Development Minister

11/02/2014
Blog / International
I’ve recently returned from a visit to Malawi and Zambia. I met the Queen’s Baton Relay as it arrived in Malawi, and accompanied it to Zambia.

It was my first visit to both countries, and the first visit of a Scottish Government Minister to Zambia, although our countries have links going back to the day when Dr David Livingstone was exploring the Zambese in the 1850s.

Mr Yousaf at the Mtandire Batik CentreWhile I was in both countries, I took the opportunity to visit projects partnered and funded by the Scottish Government which are helping to improve people’s lives.

One such was the Mtandire Batik Centre, located in a deprived informal settlement on the outskirts of Lilongwe, where I was privileged to meet some of the inspiring women the project has helped and saw their work first hand.

Women from Mtandire receive a year of - a method of producing designs on fabric by using a wax resist. Once the fabric is painted with wax, it is placed in a dye bath where the areas under the wax will remain undyed. They are trained in how to make them, market them, and customer care. The training leaves them able to earn a living to support themselves and help their families out of poverty.  This is in a country where the World Bank estimates the gross national income to be $320, and 50% of the population live below the poverty line.

Mr Yousaf at the Mtandire Batik CentreThe Centre is funded through the “Home and Away” partnership between the Scottish Government and Sport Relief, which will help to secure a legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

More than half of the women the project has trained are single mothers or widows. They’ve had difficult lives, but they’ve seized the opportunity to earn a living and create a meaningful future for themselves and their families.

The batik work they skilfully produce is beautiful – gorgeous, colourful work, each piece unique. The women I met were rightfully proud of their work and the skills the project had given them. But, as well as their creative skills, they have also learnt business skills to ensure a sustainable business model.

They presented me with a stunning piece showing the flags of Scotland and Malawi intertwined. I’ll hang it up in my office to remind me of the centre, and of the way the lives of the people in both countries are entwined.

Mr Yousaf at the Mtandire Batik CentreI bought a beautiful red bag for my wife and a hand made teddy bear as a present for my nephew and experienced first hand the skills the women have in selling their work, and bargaining to get a fair price for it. It was also in my mind as I made my selections, that the purchase price would be shared amongst the women, supporting not just all of them and their families, but also the continuation in the longer term of their cooperative.

The people I met didn’t want to be given food or money – but were deeply grateful for the chance to gain the skills they need to earn their own and to develop their business.

Their lives were transformed thanks to the partnership between the Scottish and Malawian people –a legacy that will continue for generations to come.