Malawi – the warm heart of Africa – has worked its magic on a group of Luton Sixth Form College pupils and staff.
The two-week trip was in honour of their friend and fellow student Waleed Khan who died suddenly last year, and to visit the borehole installed in Mariro village in his memory.
It was also to help out at two schools in the capital, Blantyre, where the 18-strong team took classes, refurbished communal areas and volunteered at a hospital and orphanage.
Eighteen-year-old Ali Malik from Leagrave said: “It was beyond amazing, a life-changing experience.
“Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and we found that with the people we met – there’s a real sense of community.
“One thing that surprised us was the size of the classes. We thought we’d be teaching everything from English, maths and expressive arts to small groups of kids but there were more than 80 in some classes – one even had 130!”
Stopsley student Sophie Smith, 17, said: “The children out there don’t have shoes.
“They were using rulers as cutlery and their school bags were like the small gift bags you can buy in card shops here for 99p.
“It made us appreciate what we have in life – basic things like running water – and not to take anything for granted.” She added: “The money we raised prior to the trip paid for two new ceilings, a blackboard, new toilets and an oxygen generator at the hospital.
“We also donated nearly a tonne of food, including maize flour and rice, to the orphanage.
“Being in Malawi helped us to see the difference charities make. We were there, helping it to actually happen.”
The pupils spent the mornings at two schools – the Henry Henderson Institute and Blantyre Girls’ School - with afternoons split between the STEKA (Step Kids Awareness) orphanage and the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.
Luton Sixth Form College vice principal Altaf Hussain said: “It’s the first time we’ve been to Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world with more than half a million abandoned or orphaned children. For them to get on their feet, education is paramount.
“We felt it was important to reach out and give a helping hand. We intend to continue our relationship with the same institutions next year, when we’ll see if the work has continued and what else we can do.” Mt Hussain admitted he’d been surprised and inspired by the group’s transformation: “Those students developed and matured within the space of a few hours, never mind days.
“It’s a testament to the compassion children feel towards other children, regardless of their colour or background.
“It was really humbling and I am very proud of them.”