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Malawi: Blantyre Secondary School

May 10th, 2012 by Colin Carmichael

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One of the highlights of my trip to Malawi, besides all the official stuff we did, was the opportunity to visit the school where my grandfather, Robert Dale, taught biology from 1965-67. He was sent to Blantyre Secondary School (BSS) as part of an aid program funded by the Canadian government through the External Affairs department. The rest of the family, including my mother at 13 years old, went with him and they all lived on the BSS compound.

As I arrived in Malawi, I wasn’t sure I would get to see the school at all. We had a very full itinerary and the school was just far enough away from where we were staying that squeezing in a visit would be difficult. Even if we got to the gate, I never expected to be allowed inside.

As it happened, the Monday after we arrived was a holiday due to the state funeral being held for the late President Bingu wa Mathurika. This unexpected holiday broke open just enough of a hole in our schedule for me, my wife and our new friend Conrad (from the group) to walk the 1.5 kilometres to BSS.

When we arrived, I admit that I was a little nervous. Here I was halfway around the world standing at the place that has been such a huge part of our family history. There was an older gentleman, presumably a guard, standing by the gate. Using what Chichewa I learned in the 48 hours I had been in the country, I walked up and said “Muli Bwanje” and introduced myself. I began explaining that my grandfather used to teach here but before I could finish, the man swung the gate open and said “Go, walk around!”

I was a little dumbstruck. Three azungu show up unannounced at a state-run boarding school and they just open the gate for us? Welcome to Malawi. Actually, “welcome” doesn’t even begin to cover the openness with which the Malawian people embrace visitors. As I walked through the gate, things got a little surreal – the noise of Blantyre seem to fade and it felt like we’d been transported right back to 1965. Even though I had never been here – I had this sense that nothing had changed. So, without further ado, here are my photos from the thirty minutes or so we spent wandering around Blantyre Secondary School.

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4 Responses to “Malawi: Blantyre Secondary School”

  1. Candy Campbell says:

    Fantastic photos, and a wonderful story! I must ask~ is your grandfather still living and are you able to share this with him? I’m curious about some of the photos, too. There are two of a gentleman sitting at a desk with numbered sign upon it, in what appears to be the courtyard. Did you learn what he was doing? The motto of the school -Progress Comes With Discipline- may well be true, but I don’t expect you’d find that on a publicly funded school in Ontario, in this climate. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Hi Candy,

    Yes, my grandfather is still with us and just celebrated his 87th birthday.

    The guy at the desk would have been a student studying for upcoming exams. The impromptu holiday meant that the students were on campus (it’s a national boarding school) but there were no classes that day. We saw several groups of students in what looked like study or tutoring sessions.

    The motto is a legacy, I am sure, of the British colonial influence in Malawi. I will give them the benefit of the doubt now and assume that by “discipline” they mean “strong work ethic.” ;)

  3. Candy Campbell says:

    I’m so glad to hear about your Grandfather and lovely that you will be able to share these photos and your experiences. It sounds like a blessing, indeed!

  4. […] feed for updates on this topic.I’ve already covered part of this day in my earlier post about my visit to Blantyre Secondary School. The intended itinerary was wiped out by the state funeral and accompanying national holiday for […]