*Post originally published on the 16th of July 2014 by theanonimousthoughts

The Mamie Martin Fund: What we do in Malawi and why 

John Sinclair, The Mamie Martin Fund



 The second talk of the evening was delivered by John Sinclair, the great-grandson of the late Mamie Martin.  With Neil’s talk having centered on the strategic development projects of an international NGO, John’s focused on the extraordinary back story and the admirable work of a small, Scottish, family-run charity.


The Mamie Martin Fund, set up in 1993, exists to pay for girls in Malawi who couldn’t otherwise afford it to go to secondary school.  In Malawi today only 11% of primary pupils can move to secondary because of a shortage of places. Of this just 4% are girls.  As is the case in many other developing countries, and even some developed countries, in Malawi if there is a son and a daughter in a family, the son traditionally goes to school.  The Mamie Martin Fund endeavours to support the many girls who are deprived of access to education.  Funds raised go towards paying for textbooks, travel, accommodation if they have to board (in many cases the girls live considerable distance from the schools), medicine and meals.  The cost per girl per year is now approximately £300, a considerable leap from the £200, the 2013 figure.  Since 1993, 1500 girls have been supported through secondary school by the Fund, at the cost of £100,000 (raised through donors and government grants) – quite an achievement for a small Scottish charity!

Education was always very important for Mamie Martin, who graduated from Edinburgh University in 1911 (below left).  Following World War I she married Jack Martin who, after retraining as a minister, was sent on a mission to Malawi.  The couple (below right) first moved to the small, southeastern African country in the 1920s and soon settled into the community.  While Jack did his work as man of the cloth trying to set up churches there, Mamie as far as her family knew for decades stayed at home and performed the duties expected of her as a missionary’s wife.  She sadly died of black water fever during the birth of her second child, two years after Jack’s grandmother was born.  Following her death Jack returned to Scotland, deposited his family there, and returned to Malawi.  He then returned to Scotland one year later, and spoke very little about Malawi from then on.

Mamie graduatingMamie and Jack

Indeed, this potted history was the most John’s family knew about Mamie and her and Jack’s time in Malawi until 1990.  One summer’s day, John (aged 11) and his little sister (aged 9) were helping clear out their grandmother’s garage.  In amongst the garden tools and old furniture they found an old trunk full of World War I memorabilia, letters, diaries and old photographs.  It transpired that this was her father’s archive of his time in Malawi.  The lost piece of family history suddenly came to life.  John’s grandmother spent the next few months poring over the diaries, getting to know her mother for the first time.  It quickly became apparent that Mamie was far from the stay-at-home wife of a missionary – she was out there helping farmers in the fields, getting involved with local life (below) and was having an impact.   One of main things she did was set up classrooms for people in the village, as she saw the importance of teaching children to read and write.  Below on the right is the school in the 1920s; on the left is the same school today.



School 1920s



School today





John’s grandparents later made a trip to Malawi, visiting villages they’d read about in the diaries. They found Mamie and Jack’s house (which is still standing!) and the church that Jack had built after Mamie had died – and, most poignantly, the graves of Mamie and her baby.  As well as this they met lots of people, including two very elderly ladies whom Mamie had taught as young girls.  Wherever they went there were similar stories from local people of how Mamie had taught their parents/grandparents skills which had then been passed down to them – the whole unexpected ‘celebrity’ experience was quite overwhelming!  Upon their return to Scotland, John’s grandmother (below) set up the Mamie Martin fund in memory of her mother.   John's granny

The incredible story of the work of John’s great-grandmother illustrates how important one’s person’s influence can be, amplified across generations and decades.  Almost
100 years later, the work that she started still carrying on.

You can donate to the Mamie Martin Fund here.


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