The partnership originated in Dunblane Cathedral in January 2004. To replace what had been a link with a missionary partner abroad, the church was encouraged to consider establishing a partnership with a village or project in Africa.
Belatedly celebrating the Year of the Child, the church decided to place young people at the heart of the decision making process. Groups of young people researched three projects in south Saharan Africa, evaluated them against set criteria then pitched the projects to a committee, who made the final selection of a community link in Malawi.
In the months following this choice, the Cathedral established a steering group and made contact with the village of Likhubula, high in the Mulanje mountain massif in the tea-growing area of Malawi. Funds were sent to enable the community to produce their own needs analysis, and dynamic contact made with the primary school, church and Likhubula House, a residential centre.
The first notice of this was by an email on 24th May, 2005 and on 20th June the first group of visitors arrived from Dunblane. They were two women and a young lad who had just completed Primary 7. The Likhubula community was ready for the visit! They too had formed a committee and used the May email to draw up a full programme for the visitors.
From the outset our partnership has been one that emphasizes friendship. With the encouragement of the head teacher, Mr Chiromo, we established a penpal scheme which ran between the Primary schools in Dunblane and Nansato Primary School in Likhubula for some four or five years. Links were also made between the Mvano of Likhubula CCAP church and the Guild in Dunblane Cathedral.
In terms of help for the community, in the early years of the Partnership this focused on a hierarchy of need, principally water and food. There was a project to bring clean water to the area around the church and school and in 2006 we started negotiations with Mary's Meals to bring a meal a day in school to the children attending Nansato Primary School. Over one hundred children returned to school in the week this was introduced, their parents deciding it was better to attend school and be fed than spend the day foraging for food for the family. Our agreement with Mary's Meals was the we would raise funds for the simple kitchen and would guarantee funds to feed 1,000 children for the next three years, and they would move into the rural area around Likhubula. Neighbouring schools also benefitted. By encouraging giving via direct debit to Mary's Meals across the Dunblane community, we are confident we have sustained this support to the present day. The school population has now risen to 1,400 and there is evidence that exam results have benefited and children's concentration improved. In Dunblane Cathedral collection boxes and mugs continue to promote Mary's Meals to visitors of the cathedral (a visit which often follows a photo at the golden postbox!).
There were a flurry of visits in the early years. Iain Smith and Neil Crawford visited to inspect the new taps and wells and Jenni Barr returned in 2006 for further work with the committee. Colin and Linda McIntosh visited in 2007, being guests of the Presbyterian church in Malawi. More recently, visits are scheduled for every 2 years.
A pattern was established for visitors of staying at Likhubula House, just two miles walk up the hill from the community. We rarely made that walk alone!