Isabel returns to Malawi

Isabel Smith in Malawi.
Isabel Smith in Malawi.

Bute resident Isabel Smith revisited Malawi last month - a country she had worked in 22 years ago. Here is part one of the story of her experience in country she describes as ‘the warm heart of Africa’.

Unlike Karen Blixen in ‘Out of Africa’ I did not have ‘a farm in Africa’. I did, however, have a job and a privileged one at that; I was headmaster’s secretary at Kamuzu Academy, Malawi from May 1992 to August 1995.

Aptly termed ‘The Eton of Africa’ the school was the concept of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda the Life President (Ngwasi) of Malawi. A return to Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, had been but a notion; 2014 saw that notion come to reality.

Nyasaland became Malawi in 1964 having been led to independence by Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. With a current population of approximately 17 million, Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

Kamuzu Academy became reality in 1981; Dr Banda personally paid for the education (ultimately contested) of the brightest 2 boys and 1 girl from each of the districts of Malawi. The school was modelled on the English boarding school system. The hope was that these privileged Malawians would then go on to UK and USA universities, return to Malawi and help their country claw its way out of abject poverty. Such was the ethos of Kamuzu Academy; the school building, the school curriculum and the school organisation could rightly hold its own against any international educational establishment.

My three years as Headmaster’s Secretary were undoubtedly privileged but life out in the bush has its limitations – the school had been built in the remote area of Mtunthama, close to the kachere trees where Dr Banda had been educated by the Scottish missionaries – and it was time to return home and to reality. Nonetheless, I hoped that I might find the opportunity to return – one day!

* Read more in this week’s Buteman - on sale from today (Thursday, August 21).