Page 44 - Independent Schools Magazine
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‘My pursuit to make a diff
Bolton School Junior Girls’ teacher Mrs Julia Marsden travelled to Malawi to support street children through education, healthcare and shelter, and to reintegrate them with families and communities. This is her story...
 One morning whilst dropping off one of my sons at school, which doesn’t occur very frequently, I had a chance conversation with one of the parents who was embarking on a charitable trip to Ethiopia and who needed some help with raising awareness and funds. I explained to her that I was the representative at Bolton School Junior Girls for all charity endeavours, and that
I would organise the 200 girls to reach out to accumulate items
and raise funds for her trip. After a variety of activities, we managed to signi cantly exceed her target, and we were all very pleased. During this ‘journey’, I felt an absolute magnetism to do something similar, and there the real story commenced...
My desire to help young people from less privileged backgrounds than my own upbringing has been prevalent in my life since I was a teenager and stems from when I participated in a variety of church events and summer camps. Even before I entered
the teaching profession, I knew I wanted to change peoples’ lives and that was one of the main reasons
I trained to be a primary school teacher. During my career, I have taught in a range of environments, some with young people from very challenging backgrounds, and I always harboured a need to give back. As it does for most of us,
life quickly moved on with family additions, life changes and career aspirations. It wasn’t until I met this
fellow parent that I felt compelled to become more involved with the charity, Retrak, led by Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who joined me on the trip to Malawi.
When I  rst took the phone call from Retrak inviting me to join them on their trip to Africa, I felt both honoured and excited. It was only when I got home from work that reality kicked in! How could I possibly commit to such a trip? I have four children, one in her  nal year at university, the second one about to embark in her  rst year;
we were in the process of moving house; and my two young boys were about to start at a new school. So,
I had in fact talked myself out of the trip and had made up my mind to call Retrak back  rst thing on Monday morning. That was before engaging in a classroom discussion with my year  ves at 9am!
As part of out RS curriculum we study Mahatma Gandhi and we were discussing his famous quote “Be
the change that you wish to see in the world”. My mind was changed forever when one of my incredibly articulate students put up her hand and said, “What Gandhi means here is that if nobody in the world was ever prepared to take a risk then the world would never become a better place.” My adventure to Malawi was booked!
In my pursuit to make a difference, I had to reach a fundraising target
of £1850 and the energetic efforts from the girls were epic, capturing carol concerts, sponsored African dances, and imagining they were street children and going out into the woods to build their own homes out of recycled rubbish! I even bene ted from choral concerts by my father’s singing group, afternoon tea organised by the church choir and Bolton School parents giving me funds and much needed items directly. By the time I travelled I had raised a staggering £5,500 and at the time of writing this article the overall total has increased to £9,667 and is still coming, I am very hopeful that I will return to the same village with my husband and four children.
Our party of  fteen arrived in Malawi after a tortuous trip of cars, minibuses, planes, and waiting
for 13 hours in Nairobi, with far too much luggage. In the group,
I was the only teacher. Actually I was the only traveller who wasn’t
in some way connected to Greater Manchester Police. As soon as we entered Chisomo Children’s Centre in Lilongwe, it was abundantly clear how impoverished the children were: some had not bathed for days, boys were wearing small girl’s knickers, and the sewer smell was overwhelming. After the induction meeting, my  rst engagement was to interact with the children who were staying at the Centre. There are hundreds of children living on the streets of Lilongwe and they
are forced into being involved in petty crime as a means of survival. Historically, the Malawian police did ‘round ups’ at night and any children that they found living on the streets were simply thrown into prison. Prison in Malawi consists of a number of cages underneath the police station. This experience for some of those children was horri c. Retrak have worked alongside the Malawian police to encourage
them to bring the street children to Chisomo rather than throwing them in prison.
Over the following  ve days I was privileged to work with over 95 street children, from the ages of 5 to 18, engaging them in a wide range of educational activities. Some of the children came in
to Chisomo for the day to have something to eat and to sleep in safety. One afternoon, I spent over two hours teaching seventeen year old Winston to play dominoes! When it was time to leave, he took my hand and thanked me. It was
a humbling experience to follow him outside and  nd him pick up his empty water bottles that he had been collecting all day. He told me that he would  ll the plastic bottles with water and sell them throughout the evening, hoping to make the equivalent of ten pence.
Part of Retrak’s aims is to work
with many African villages in an attempt to provide parenting skills and promote the importance of education for the children living there. On arrival at the village, it
was truly overwhelming. We were greeted with the women singing and dancing and an immense cheering from the children. In the centre of the village was the kindergarten,
a building with two classrooms,
yet very few resources. I met with the twelve village leaders who
were so desperate to learn from
my experiences of teaching in the UK. Imagine my horror when they asked me to teach their children
for a few minutes... as I entered
the classroom there were over three hundred children all waiting to learn English - I will never complain about having to mark 20 maths
  If you would like to  nd out more about Retrak’s work with street children and how you can support their projects, email or call the UK of ce on 0161 4856685.
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