Going to Malawi on a World Challenge expedition two years ago made such an indelible impression on a Leighton teenager that he’s just been back for a return visit.
Former Vandyke student Michael Carter, 19, says: “I completely fell in love with the place and the people.
“It makes you realise just how much we take for granted here and that our poverty line is nowhere near as low as theirs.
“The children wear the same shirts and shorts for years and all they eat is maize. At school there are about 150 to a class. They’re desperate for equipment and they’re so keen to learn.
“We took basics on that first trip - books and pens and chalks. And when I went back the headmaster said it had made such a difference, their marks had improved dramatically.
“It really changes your view and makes you understand the value of money.”
During the World Challenge trip with Vandyke in 2015, the seven-strong group visited the Smile Malawi orphanage in Mvumbwe village and a nearby school.
None of them will ever forget the welcome they received. “It was pitch black,” Michael recalls. “But all the children were jumping up and down and singing. There was lots of hugging and clapping and they never stopped smiling, they were so pleased to see us.”
It made his two years of fundraising completely worthwhile. “I thought it was going to be hard work raising the necessary £2,500, but not that hard,” he says. He washed pots and cars, sold everything he didn’t need on eBay, walked dogs and even asked for cash in lieu of presents for birthdays and Christmas.
The Vandyke team also forfeited much of their R&R money so they could take some of the children with them on an expedition to Mount Mulanje.
Michael’s African experience has had a profound, life-changing effect on him. He started uni last month and hopes to graduate with a BSc in paramedic science.
He intends using his qualification to join an international aid agency, such as Doctors Without Borders, and says: “I want to work in areas of conflict, helping civilians.”