Visits

In-person visits and how to plan them together.

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province.
25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province.

Value of visits

[Picture: Caption: 25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province].

Friendship and interpersonal connections are at the heart of all Scotland-Malawi partnerships. While the digital revolution has been brilliant in allowing far more scalable and sustainable interactions between Scots and Malawians, it will never entirely replace in-person working.

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Caroline headshot

At an SMP-MaSP Youth & Schools Forum in October 2021, teacher Caroline Beaton said: “The human - people to people factor is the most important element of any partnership”.

Caroline Beaton, Teacher.
GWC

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership add: “The highlight for all of us is being able to visit our partners in Malawi each year to share in their success, identify new opportunities for support and discuss some of the issues that are common to us all.”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership.
Boys Brigade

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province also said: “A memory that the boys always highlight is the series of friendly football matches we have played against young people and, indeed, teachers from the schools. They have learned so much about the culture and social issues of Malawi just through this sport.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.
SMP Youth Logo

Ryan, Youth Committee Member says: “When you finally meet face to face it is completely different to emails and Zoom.”

Ryan, Youth Committee Member.
Namadzi Penicuik Reciprocal 1

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS, share: “There are a range of ways to get involved in partnership.  It is not necessarily always about visits or committing hours and hours to partnership activities... being involved in a partnership always gives so much more back than you put in.”

Penicuik High School.

We recommend that partnerships talk together about visits from the outset so expectations are clear.

Considering the Climate

Can it be right to take large groups between Scotland and Malawi as part of educational partnerships if this only worsens the climate crisis which both our nations, but most especially Malawi, is already suffering from?

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How should one balance the benefits to the individuals and communities involved against the cost to the planet?

There are, we are afraid, no easy answers to these questions and we encourage schools to themselves wrestle these issues, with their partners, to decide what is best for them.

Amy Blake, CEO of Classrooms for Malawi shares, “If travel is part of your partnerships it is important to calculate the environmental impact of the trip and consider how carbon emissions can be offset.”

We recommend school partnerships keep such questions under close consideration, weighing up the costs and benefits, and engaging learners at both sides in this discussion. Avoid getting into assumed and unquestioned annual routines but rather and regularly check your plans against your shared principles.

If visits are anticipated, we recommend that partnerships talk together about this from the outset so expectations are clear.

It is important to keep reflecting on modes of working, assessing whether visits are required, how often and how to marry this with a shared desire to reduce carbon emissions. It’s great to engage the young people in these crucial discussions, as taking responsibility for these decisions brings excellent learning outcomes.

Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS reflect that: “There’s an endless moral debate about whether we should travel to Malawi and what the benefit of that is for us as Scots compared to what the money could do in Malawi. There’s a strong case for both and we have to think about that carefully…

While a future model of partnership may not rely as heavily on face to face visits, up to this point it has been a very important means of involving staff and pupils from across the schools”

Penicuik High School.
Boys Brigade3 CROPPED

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province shared: “…schools may be more and more wary about travelling abroad and with the debate about the worthiness of expensive travel, carbon footprint and ‘white saviour’ tourism.

We all should do a lot of consideration of the bigger-picture stuff surrounding partnerships.

There are many ways that groups [in Scotland] can support Malawian people in other ways, but the thought of a visit is often a ‘hook’ to get and keep young people involved.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

There is no solution that fits all, as international travel opportunities and digital alternatives continue to change. We recommend that you openly and regularly reflect on your own ethics, priorities and adaptability as partners. Only you can decide what is right for your partnership, but we fully encourage you to weigh up the pros and cons for both sides.

Digital and in-person travel are not mutually exclusive: it’s not one or the other. Rather, if you’re travelling to Malawi, think about how you can use digital as well, to help more people share that experience with you and learn as you learn. This could be live while you are in Malawi, or it could be a video shared when you return.

As always, think carefully about the narrative you are casting with any digital work: what story are you telling, do you have permission to do so, who is the “hero” of your story, how would you feel if you were depicted in this way? Read our ‘Do no Harm’ section for more on this. We specifically recommend the “Radi-Aid” Social Media Guide by the Norwegian Students' and Academics' Assistance Fund (SAIH).

Here is a collection of different points of view on this, from attendees at a SMP-MaSP Youth & School’s Forum:

“We need to meet globally periodically, we can’t never see each other again”
“The time has come to think tactfully around carbon”
“Air travel is worrying due to the effect it has on environment in developing world”
“Trips are worth it despite the climate, it’s a one time thing for so many”
“…trips are key. But they don’t need to be so frequent”
“I am surprised some schools go every year”

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The Watson’s Malawi Partnership commented: “We recognise the environmental cost of our school trip and work closely with Zomba TREEZ – and increasingly Mulanje Conservation Trust and Kuti Wildlife Reserve – to find meaningful and sustainable ways to off-set our carbon footprint and to protect and improve the environment everywhere.”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership.
Irma Arts report cover

The Irma Arts report (2020) urges schools to: “Reflect on the negative (environmental) impacts a visit will have, and if they can be justified.”

The Irma Arts report (2020).
Namadzi Penicuik Games

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS reflect that: “There’s an endless moral debate about whether we should travel to Malawi and what the benefit of that is for us as Scots compared to what the money could do in Malawi. There’s a strong case for both and we have to think about that carefully… While a future model of partnership may not rely as heavily on face to face visits, up to this point it has been a very important means of involving staff and pupils from across the schools”

Penicuik High School.
Boys Brigade

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province shared: “…schools may be more and more wary about travelling abroad and with the debate about the worthiness of expensive travel, carbon footprint and ‘white saviour’ tourism.

We all should do a lot of consideration of the bigger-picture stuff surrounding partnerships.

There are many ways that groups [in Scotland] can support Malawian people in other ways, but the thought of a visit is often a ‘hook’ to get and keep young people involved.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

Reciprocal vs one-way

Namadzi CDSS, partnered with Penicuik High School.
Namadzi CDSS, partnered with Penicuik High School.

‘Parity’ is a key Partnership Principle for the SMP and MaSP, we therefore actively encourage reciprocal visits where there is international travel in a school partnership. It is not always possible for the same numbers to travel each way but we feel it is important to ensure the opportunities are open at both sides of a partnership.

There are of course different practical challenges to consider depending on which way you’re travelling. Those travelling from Malawi to Scotland are often less able to themselves pay for visits, so there may need to be more collective fundraising.

Securing a UK visa, even for a short visit, is a time consuming, invasive and uncertain process. The SMP can offer real support with this but contact us at the start of the process.

Whichever way you’re travelling, to Scotland or Malawi, is essential you have:

  • A clear purpose to the visit and agreed itinerary
  • Appropriate insurance and contingency plans
  • A well thought through plan as to how young people will be supported to interact: we recommend Critical Dialogue Groups
  • Practical and safeguarding arrangements in place to ensure a safe and appropriate visit
SMP Youth Logo

Max from the SMP Youth Committee comments that: “I hadn’t considered that reciprocal visits might not happen for other schools! I appreciate it is harder to organise, but I feel it is fairly fundamental to partnership working… Malawians visiting us should be the same numbers as when we go over there.

Also it works best when youth interaction is a key focus for the trip.”

Max from the SMP Youth Committee.
Beath HS

Beath High School partnered with Njale and Mapanga Primary Schools: “Beath Malawi Partnership has been able to visit our partner schools on four occasions, twice with learners (2016 and 2018) and twice as staff only (2017 and 2019). The highlights of the partnership have undoubtedly been the visits to Malawi. Whilst there, we have been involved in teaching lessons, upgrading classrooms, community activities and cultural exchanges.”

Beath High School.
Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS reflect: “Our programme of reciprocal visits have been a hugely successful way in linking both school communities together.

It allowed us both to see both the challenges and opportunities in the education system in each country and gave a foundation for professional dialogue and resource sharing…

Reciprocal visits have been a key mechanism for linking with the communities in both schools.”

Penicuik High School.
Ryan

Ryan, Youth Committee Member: “Remember that Scotland has a lot more restrictions on activities that can be carried out, than in Malawi, plan well!

It’s important a visit isn’t a one-way deal, and then neither side get to see each other again. Reciprocal visits mean you have more chance of deeply developing your projects together”

Ryan, Youth Committee Member.
Namadzi Penicuik 2

Penicuik High School partnered with Namadzi CDSS: “The 2019 visit from Namadzi to Penicuik The visit from Namadzi to Penicuik followed on fairly directly from our visit to Malawi.  It was wonderful to be able to host two members of staff and two students from Namadzi and again provided and opportunity for whole school involvement in the partnership through welcome assemblies and the staff and students from Namadzi participating in classes.  There were a range of activities undertaken throughout the week and culminated in Namadzi students participating in the summer music concert.”

Penicuik High School.

Here are some questions you may find useful to lead discussions on approaching visits between Scotland and Malawi:

  • Why must this trip happen?
  • What could replace it?
  • Why does it need to happen right now?
  • How will you fairly weigh up the pros of your trip against the cons against the environment?

WATCH:

Malawian students from the Edinburgh Girls' High School in Mzuzu travel to Scotland to perform in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Inclusivity

SMP Youth Congress.
SMP Youth Congress.

We recommend schools think about the inclusivity of school trips:

  • Who gets selected for the visit and how? Ryan, SMP Youth Committee Member said: “Every year my school reflected on, and changed, how they selected the right people to go, that was really good”
  • Is it only learners from richer families that can take part? Ian Mitchell, Beath High School said: “We included Scottish pupils from difficult circumstances in our trips. We encourage that it is open to everyone. Take a close look at your funding options and refine who you will bring by interview”
  • Who decides what will happen in the visit? Ian Mitchell, Beath High School, “This is often your travel partner, but it could be better though to organise together with your school partners what you are going to do."

In keeping with our principles, we think it’s essential to think about who might be excluded from any partnership and to work actively to increase diversity, equity and inclusivity.

Preparation

[Picture: Penicuik High School, partnered with Namadzi CDSS].

The SMP recommends that all schools involved in an international visit provide suitable preparation for the young people involved. It is most important to help young people get the most from the visit by developing a critical understanding of poverty and power. The SMP is able to assist with this.

Namadzi Penicuik Assembly
Irma Arts

In her 2020 study into school partnership, Irma Arts noted: “the question is whether there is a direct link between experiencing life in a developing country and understanding development issues. In the interviews the teachers seem to assume there was an automatic positive relation between visiting a country (or having a partnership) and understanding sustainable development issues, but as the literature showed, to critically understand global issues would request more than just a personal experience.

Teachers for example described the impact a visit would have on their students for example as having an awareness other might be “worse off” or “appreciate what they have more”. This comes close to Simpson’s (2004) description of explaining poverty through the “lotto-logic” of being “lucky” for where you grow up. This logic does not question underlying systems and structures linked to poverty, and overall does not work towards a critical global citizenship...

Analysing the conversations with Scottish schools and organisations, there seem to be an assumption that having a partnership will make pupils more aware of issues such as poverty, and therefore lead to global learning. However, global learning includes to “think deeply and critically about what is equitable and just, and what will minimise harm to our planet.” (Scotdec 2019) and therefore ask for a critical understanding of social justice. Pupils will not reach this by themselves, therefore pre- and post-sessions for visits are important including discussions on issues such as stereotypes and poverty as well as lessons for pupils exploring social justice and sustainable development.”

Irma Arts.

If you’re looking for fun, engaging ways of helping young people think critically about their assumptions, we really recommend the brilliant “Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway” satirical videos produced by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ Assistance Fund (SAIH). Watch them all at www.radiaid.com.

WATCH:

Pupils at Holyrood Secondary School receive language and cultural training before going to Malawi.

Supporting peer dialogue

As noted in our Do No Harm section of this guide, we think it’s vital that young people are supported to have really constructive dialogues with their peers as part of any visit. It’s all too easy to slip into the sort of ‘visit an orphanage’, ‘hold a baby’, ‘paint a school’ type of visit if you’re not careful.

This is sometimes criticised as “voluntourism”. Not only do we feel such visits do not precipitate global citizenship and meaningful educational outcomes, they risk doing real harm.

The Steka Skills and Queen Margaret University report ‘An Alternative to Voluntourism: How Youth Solidarity Groups in Malawi Empower young Malawians and Scots’ presents a compelling critique of “voluntourism” and sets out a practical way for school groups visiting Malawi to avoid this.

Their ‘critical dialogue model for youth solidarity’ creates a Malawi-led structure which allows young Scots and young Malawians enter into genuinely respectful dialogue and a “brave space” through which there can be critical reflection and learning.

STEKA Skills report cover

The report states: “100% of pupils said it was very important to be challenged by the stories and discussion. Some found it enlightening, others found it difficult.

Teachers said that the process of problematizing voluntourism should happen before the Scottish school pupils travel to Malawi — indeed before they even start their fundraising.”

We recommend all those organising peer-to-peer in-person contact between learners read this report and consider adopting this approach. The study is evidence-led and has a range of positive case studies showing how young Scots and young Malawians have benefitted from this model.

Boys Brigade

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province: “We know it can’t be an Instagram holiday/opportunity and we hope that partnerships will go out of their way to respect local people’s wishes and needs in partnerships… It’s so important that while in Malawi there’s peer-to-peer interaction with young people of similar ages doing the majority of interaction.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

Travel Support

[Picture: George Watson’s Malawi Partnership].

We have some excellent travel partners that are very experienced in organising youth and school trips to Malawi.

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Orbis Expeditions Logo Black

Orbis Expeditions

For travel related support, SMP are happy to recommend Orbis Expeditions (which is part of the Responsible Safari Company) a long-standing member and partner of SMP, both in Malawi & Scotland.

Orbis Expeditions offer a fully comprehensive list of industry protected travel services, both in UK & Malawi covering:

  • Fully bonded flight bookings
  • Itinerary planning
  • Health & safety management
  • Risk Assessments
  • Insurances
  • Visas
  • Vehicle hire
  • In-country Guides
  • Accommodation bookings
  • Educational Global Citizenship project links
  • Full in-country operations and logistical support through their sister company, The Responsible Safari Co. (RSC)

Website: Orbis Expeditions- Travel to Malawi (orbis-expeditions.com)
Contact:
info@orbis-expeditions.com

Boys Brigade

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade partnered with Likhubula province said: “The Responsible Safari Company, with whom we’ve travelled each time, has been amazing. They are a sustainable, respectful organisation with so many years of experience and their local guides, as well as Dom and Kate [from Orbis Expeditions] in the UK, are simply brilliant at organising and keeping to a schedule with all the necessary arrangements...

Youth groups are well positioned to facilitate travel and will often be less risk-averse (but still risk-observant) than formal education.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.
Diversity travel sponsor

Diversity Study trips

We are also aware that Diversity Travel can help organise and lead school trips from Scotland to Malawi. We are in dialogue with Diversity Travel to learn more about their offering.

Diversity Study Trips are a new educational offering, which was built on the belief that students really do learn better through experience! We’re ready to help group leaders plan unforgettable field trips for their pupils and students.

Our dedicated Study Trips team is made up of educational travel experts and ex-teachers with a passion for travel.

With this level of expertise, they support group leaders through every step of the trip management process, including:

  • Planning itineraries tailored to your course requirements and learning objectives
  • Arranging fully inclusive trips from travel to group friendly accommodation, meals, site visits, hands on workshops, talks by industry experts and much more
  • Use of suppliers with group experience, pre -audited for health and safety
  • Detailed trip documentation and vouchers accessible online 24/7 With over 70 years of travel experience between them, the leadership team are well-equipped to provide a seamless trip

Website: https://www.diversitytravel.com/uk/
Contact: PAlbrecht@diversitytravel.co.uk

WATCH:

Pupils of St Maurice’s High School receive an overwhelming welcome when they arrive at their partner schools at Nkhamenya.