Hooke Court in Malawi is a small charity making a big difference. It aims to provide opportunities for teachers in the UK and Malawi, Africa, to exchange ideas and learn from each other. It operates from Hooke, near Beaminster. Margery Hookings has been there to find out more.
When I arrive at Hooke Court, children are out playing in glorious surroundings. The sun is shining and the mellow stone of the 14th-century manor house looks even more beautiful than usual.
Hooke Court is an activity centre offering tailor-made educational activity experiences and residential school trips for all ages. It’s also home to a pre-school. It’s an inspiring setting in which to learn about the world around us.
Tucked in a corner of the coach park is a large shipping container. It’s being stuffed with items. Bikes, boxes of books, clothes and toys, it’s all here. It’s destined for Malawi. The container is on its way to provide schools with the raw materials for education. Without the Hooke Court in Malawi charitable trust, many of these schools wouldn’t have exercise books or even intact pencils.
We live in a world full of haves and have-nots and the work of small charities such as Hooke Court in Malawi is essential to help redress the balance, particularly when some bigger, ‘household name’ charities are reported to be falling foul of their duties on the ground, with money swallowed up in admin and expenses and some head offices unaware of what’s happening at the coalface.
A few months ago, I wrote about Prodigal Bikes, a charity in Merriott, near Crewkerne. Set up in 2016, the charity supplies—free of charge—refurbished mountain bikes, spares and tools to poor people in rural Africa. In south Somerset, it works with local, disengaged people who refurbish the bikes before they’re sent to Africa.
As a result of that article in the Marshwood Vale Magazine, the people at Hooke Court in Malawi contacted Prodigal Bikes founder Anthony Raybould to ask if they could have ten bikes to put in their container.
“Some teachers live some way from the schools. The bikes will be loaned to them so they can get into school,” says Mandy Cooper, one of the charity trustees, who set up the field study centre in Hooke with husband Peter almost 25 years ago.
The charity has also recently been supported by LabAid with science equipment, Accor Hotels with laptops and KitAid with sets of England youth football kits. There’s a 100 Club in Hooke village and a number of local schools which support the charity, which has eight trustees, most of whom are highly qualified teachers and head teachers. School in a Bag, another local Somerset-based charity, has also supplied more than 300 school bags filled with basic school equipment which have been distributed to children in all the nine schools.
Hooke Court in Malawi aims to improve standards in education in nine schools in the Bandawe area of Malawi by recruiting volunteers from the UK to share their expertise with the teachers and children from Malawi; providing 100 individual black boards and chalk to each school; working with local education advisors, head teachers and teachers to develop teaching skills and provide training; repairing and decorating classrooms with educational displays to enhance the learning experience of all involved; providing classroom teaching resources including pens, exercise books, text books, reading books and chalk and providing fun programmes for the children that allow them to think creatively and provide solutions to problems.
Back in 2011, money was raised to be spent on essential needs for schools and orphanages that the Cooper family visited on their travels.
“We ended up in a remote village called McAlpine,” Mandy recalls. “The headmaster of the local primary school was at the front of the class with a pencil, breaking it into three pieces to make it go further.”
“Mandy kept going out and then the word spread,” says trustee Fiona Boggis. “A lot of schools come here for residential visits and we offered to take some of the teachers to the schools in Malawi to share their skills and bring back what they learned.”
Since 2014, groups of volunteers have visited the schools to help implement phonics, provide team building activities for the children and carry out minor repairs and maintenance in the classrooms.
As a result of these summer programmes, it was decided in 2015 to set up Hooke Court in Malawi as a charity.
Malawi is one the poorest countries in the world, with only 40-50 percent of children completing primary education and 11 percent completing secondary education. The government made primary school education free for all children a few years ago but did NOT provide the schools with any funding, resources or infrastructure.
With class sizes of 100 to 150 and minimal resources—for example, a blackboard but no chalk—it was clear that the work of Hooke Court in Malawi was very much needed.
“The children had just the basics. Talk and chalk—but often not even the chalk,” Mandy says.
Fiona says: “Our motto is ‘together we learn’. It is very much a two-way process.”
“And we are constantly monitoring,” Mandy says. “Every bit of money we raise goes directly on things there—we don’t hand out money unless it’s for specific things. Volunteers who go out to the schools pay for their own costs.”
Mandy’s son-in-law, Chris McConnell, who is married to her daughter, Sarah, who is the charity’s chairman, went out to visit the schools in January to check on progress and see how things were being used. “We have a close relationship with the teachers in schools and give them the chance to use a range of different teaching methods” he said. “It’s a system children have not grown up with. At first, children don’t know how to even open a book or how to look after it.”