DUMFRIESSHIRE, Clydesdale & Tweeddale MP David Mundell visited Malawi last week to help forge closer links between the African country and the UK.

The local MP also publicised celebrations for the bi-centenary of David Livingstone's birth.

Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813 to a working-class family in Blantyre, and went on to become a pioneering medical missionary and African explorer.

While in Malawi Mr Mundell met President Joyce Banda, and also had lunch with the Hon Henry Chimunthu Banda, Speaker of Parliament, with the aim of furthering links with the Scottish Parliament.

A range of other meetings were also organised with Malawi ministers and senior officials to discuss political, economic and development matters.

The MP took part in a number of visits including one to the country's leading nursing colleges, and which has links with Scotland through its David Livingstone Scholarships, as well as visits to a Church of Scotland project and to Thawale Primary School, which is twinned with Lockerbie Academy.

Here, he recalls his experience...

"This was my first visit to Malawi which, although a country of great beauty and of green and fertile landscape, still sees too many of its citizens suffering from grinding poverty, lack of education and basic health facilities.

"The highlight was the opportunity to visit Thawale Primary School which is linked with my own old school, Lockerbie Academy, to meet pupils and teachers there, and also to see in action the charity Mary's Meals, which many people and churches in my constituency support. "Thawale are very proud of their links with a 'Lockerbie Corner' in one of the buildings. I was a deliveryman taking over pencils, paper and various teaching materials and letters from the Academy, and they were all gratefully received. "Lockerbie pupils fundraised for a Mary's Meals Kitchen to be built at the school so a feeding programme could be run there that ensures children have at least one good meal a day. They are served a form of fortified hot porridge prepared by local volunteers. I was very pleased to help out in its distribution but the head teacher, Mr Hansden Malefula, wanted me to eat some in front of the children to show that I thought it was a good thing to eat. "It isn't sweet enough to meet my sweet-tooth requirements, but it was probably better for me than the honey I pour over my porridge! "The message from Thawale School is that people back in Scotland can make a real difference to people in Malawi - simply by the twinning of schools and the fundraising for Mary's Meals.

"I know some people are concerned about spending on International development, but seeing projects for myself in places like Malawi, convinces me that relatively very small amounts of expenditure can make a real difference between life and death in respect of health care; the difference between having an education or being constrained to grinding poverty, and having nourishment and avoiding stunted growth.

"It is a long haul and a continuing struggle, but I am convinced that the outcome is worthwhile. "I was in Malawi as celebrations begin to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Scottish explorer missionary and larger-than-life character Dr David Livingstone. "He is a figure revered in Malawi and his life will also be celebrated at events here in Britain.

"I had the opportunity to meet with the Malawi President Joyce Banda and hand over a copy of a book reflecting the life of Dr Livingstone, and expressed the hope that she will be able to come to Scotland, and to London, to event to mark his bicentenary.

"His message about trade being the way to combat poverty and slavery in Africa, about opening the continent up, and recording its many facets are as relevant today as they were in his lifetime. "I used my trip to not only discuss the legacy of Dr Livingstone, but to look at projects which the UK and Scottish governments have been supporting and to discuss how trade between Britain and Malawi could be improved. "My visit began with a meeting with the Speaker of the Malawian Parliament, which interestingly was built by the Chinese Government.

"In addition to President Banda I was able to meet a number of Malawian Ministers and in particular to discuss how trade could be improved, and also how Malawi could make itself a more attractive place for businesses from Scotland and the rest of Britain to do business. "I visited the David Livingstone Clinic (you find that his name is associated with buildings, roads and in virtually every other connotation across Malawi) and then the Kamuzu Hospital to meet for myself nurses and doctors who had received Scottish scholarships. "I was really struck by the enthusiasm of these young people to take forward their medical careers in such a challenging environment with a lack of basic medicines and equipment. One of the projects close to my heart, and which DFiD support, is the training of paralegals to help ensure that basic justice is available.

"I have helped train paralegals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone and was very pleased to meet some paralegals on a project DfID is supporting when I visited the prison at Denza.

"In the past people have languished for years in such prisons without ever being brought to trial. "I had the opportunity to address prisoners which is always a bit of a challenge, but they do welcome the fact there is International concern for their conditions, with one of the prisoners replying to my words in a very articulate way and with perfect English. "It was also interesting to see the work that prisoners carried out - as well as doing their own catering and sewing, there was also a rabbit breeding programme for food.

"One local delicacy which I didn't try was the mouse kebab - a grilled mouse on a stick sold at the roadside by children.

"Among the ways in which the Livingstone legacy lives on in Malawi is through the naming of the town of Blantyre after his birthplace. When there I had the opportunity to meet with business leaders, to visit the site where the Livingstone missionaries camped, and see the church built there, as well as seeing and learning about Church of Scotland-funded work on combating AIDS/HIV.

"I was really impressed by the focus on this very difficult issue which requires a change in culture and support for families. "Although a few days ahead of the Bard's birthday, I attended a Burns-themed event with the Blantyre Caledonian Society, and the Malawi-Scotland partnership, at which a beautiful version of Ae Fond Kiss was sung right in the heart of Africa, proving that Burns and Livingstone have much in common as great Scots renowned throughout the world. "The Chairman of the Malawi-Scotland partnership said that his ambition was to see Scotland play Malawi at football! Who could predict that result?!"