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 6th October 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.
St Andrews University student Chiara Contronei is one of the new members of the Youth Committee. Having visited Malawi during a summer trip, Chiara says she wanted to be involved with a partnership which is committed to supporting fair and responsible initiatives.
“I hope to contribute to young voices being heard equally from both countries, which is difficult given the difference in access to education,” Chiara said.
“Personally, I look forward to learning more about globalisation and the influence that countries have on each other and I’m especially excited to learn from, and about Malawi, which is so rich and diverse in its culture and history.”
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”.
After a round of applause from the audience and recognition from the Minister for his question, 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”.
“One of the strengths of what we do in the Scottish Government and what the wider partnership with Malawi and Scotland has evolved into and move towards is that sense of partnership and collaboration rather than simply just charity,” he said, speaking at the SMP AGM.
For Youth Committee member Nicola Goldmann, a student at the University of Glasgow, it is this notion of being able to develop skills and cross-cultural knowledge which most drives her.
“The principles the SMP stand for such as; nobody being left behind on either half of the team; and emphasising a balanced, dignified partnership in order to achieve a shared goal is really what all partnerships should be looking to achieve,” Nicola said.
“I think the Youth Committee can be so powerful in opening opportunities for younger generations, encouraging the development of skills and cross-cultural knowledge and therefore making future collaborative efforts between our two countries even better.”
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.”
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.”