Falkirk’s living legacy of a champion of women’s rights

Mamie Martin and her baby daughter Margaret in Malawi in the 1920's.
Mamie Martin and her baby daughter Margaret in Malawi in the 1920's.

A week from today a band of cyclists will rendezvous at the Helix for a fundraising bid linked to an amazing family legacy of pioneering aid.

It’s an effort which carries on the spirit of pioneering missionary Mamie Martin and - remarkably - almost a century after her intrepid work in 1920’s Africa involves no less than five of her immediate descendants.

Mariot Dallas.

Mariot Dallas.

But these days the cause established in Mamie’s name concentrates solidly on the pressing task of funding secondary school education for Malawian girls.

It’s a task which supporters reckon could ultimately transform life in the poverty-stricken country for the better.

Mamie and her husband Jack were Church of Scotland missionaries whose commitment to the African people they worked with arguably followed on from the example set by David Livingston.

The communities they helped were disadvantaged even by the standards of “third world”, and the success they achieved is recalled to this day in northern Malawi.

Mamie - who can fairly be called an early champion of women’s rights in Africa - died in 1928 while giving birth to her second child, but her family’s unique links with Malawi are as strong as ever.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that while the emphasis no longer centres on missionary work so many of Mamie’s descendants are still thoroughly involved in the effort to improve life and social conditions in Malawi.

The Miles for Malawi team raising cash at the Wee Jaunt from the Helix on May 6 will include two of Mamie’s grandchildren, two great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

One of the grandchildren is former Falkirk High teacher Mariot Dallas, whose late mum Margaret (Mamie’s daughter) visited Malawi in 1993.

That trip inspired her to launch a fund to support girls in school, on the premise that completing secondary education changes lives for women, their families, and ultimately the nation.

Mariot never had the chance to meet her grandmother, but says she feels she has come to “know” her through the letters she left behind.

“These days Malawi still faces huge challenges”, she said, “and our focus is on girls schooling because it is such an important issue.

“The cost of sending a child to school might be £300, a huge sum for many families, and because of cultural expectations if a family sends a child to school it is going to be a boy.

“To put it in perspective that £300 is probably the equivalent cost of a decent family car here - and of course few people have that sort of money, so girls don’t get an education”.

Change that societal deficit, she says, and ultimately you change the country.

“It isn’t just the girls who get secondary schooling who benefit but also their children”, she says.

Twinned with the Mamie Martin Fund in the cycling bid is the Soko Fund, which takes the same argument a logical step forward by supporting women in university.

Mariot said: “I’ve seen for myself on my visits to Malawi the difference an education can make to girls and women.

“My granny Mamie, who I only know through her letters and diaries, was passionate about equality of opportunity in the 1920s, and it’s still an issue today.

“We’re very grateful for donations already received, and anyone wishing to support us can do so online at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/weejaunt”

For more information on the Mamie Martin Fund visit www.mamiemartin.org