One of our managing directors Jürgen Frantzen and his daughter Saskia Frantzen, each with their partner, flew to Malawi. The following blog post reports on their experiences, the warm welcome and their emotional experiences on site.

A look back:
An evening in 2020 - Saskia Frantzen, then still a student employee at LINEAR, is sitting on the sofa and browsing through social media when a donation project by a well-known content creator from Cologne catches her eye. The aim of the project was to finance the construction of a school. This post made Saskia realise just how catastrophic school conditions are in Malawi. Although the country is known as the "warm heart of Africa", which is mainly due to the stunning friendliness of the people, it is also one of the poorest countries in the world. There are around 16 million people living in an area of around 120,000 square kilometres - there is a lack of everything, especially school buildings. Government support is unfortunately meagre, meaning that existing public schools have to bear most of the costs themselves. Class sizes of up to 100 children are not uncommon. The same applies to long distances to school, which means that some children only start school at the age of eight to ten. Girls in particular are exposed to sexual danger and abuse on the routes. The weather conditions during the rainy season make things even more difficult. If at all possible, the children have to cross raging rivers. At this time, it is sometimes almost impossible to attend school. Unfortunately, many are denied the privilege of schooling due to these circumstances, which leads to a significantly lower education rate.

One thing was certain: funding the construction of a school would give hundreds of children the chance of an education. Saskia wanted to make this possible. But how can a person who "doesn't have a wide reach or high profile" mobilise considerable donations on such a scale? Nevertheless, she couldn't let go of the idea. Through her research, she gathered all the necessary information and approached our owner and Managing Director Manfred Waluga. She knew that the company makes donations to charitable organisations every year - so why not invest the money in building a school this year? In a presentation, she presented the idea, which the management found to be very good and was therefore allowed to proceed to the next stages of realisation.

Saskia began to gather further information. She obtained this from Bücher Börse Köln e.V. and abc-Gesellschaft e.V. from Essen. She was put in touch with a contact at Bücher Börse Köln ["At this point, thanks to dear Mario"]. He explained exactly how the school building in Malawi is organised and where exactly the donations would go. After a few discussions, the corresponding contract was drawn up, the money was donated in December 2020 and school construction began in March 2021. Additional donations were collected by the LINEAR staff, so that in the end a solar system, a mango plantation and a well could also be built. Mangoes are one of the staple foods in Malawi and are used in a variety of ways. The plantation is intended to give every child the opportunity to look after their own mango tree. The aim is to teach them how to treat nature and food properly. The water required to irrigate the plants was provided by the school well that was built. Implementation was completed in September 2021. Unfortunately, the Corona virus situation at the time made travelling difficult, so it was with a heavy heart that a visit to the school inauguration was not possible.

Planning the trip:
Postponed is not cancelled. After a two-year delay, the wish for a personal visit could finally be realised.Overjoyed, the start of the trip could finally be planned. Saskia's father and Managing Director at LINEAR Jürgen Frantzen, her mother Heike and her partner Patric Cronen, who also works at LINEAR, were also on board. Together, they decided to combine the school visit with a private trip through Malawi in order to gain as many impressions and experiences of the country as possible.

Saskia contacted Mr. Kuhn from the abc-Gesellschaft e.V. in advance. Mr. Kuhn has been committed to education in African and South American countries for decades. Dozens of schools have already been built through his organisation [At this point, we would like to invite you to take a look at the website of the abc-Gesellschaft e.V. The organisation is doing a great job]. A few phone calls and emails later, he shared some travel tips and organised the school visit. He also put Saskia in touch with a great tour guide - Chris from Central Adventure Safaris. His endless great work made this trip unforgettable.

The journey - October 2023:
The trip started in Frankfurt in the evening and the following day the small group of travellers arrived in Blantyre, Malawi, at midday. Chris and a colleague welcomed them directly at the airport and drove them to a hotel, which was highly recommended by Mr. Kuhn. The next morning, the group gathered in front of the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to be picked up by Mr. Kantwela [the driver], Ms. Florence Musasa [the director of the Malawian non-profit organisation Tsogola La Ana - TAO - in Blantyre] and Ms. Lucy Maunde [the director of TAO in Malawi]. As supervisors, the two women play a decisive role, not only in the realisation of the school construction project. They instruct the construction workers, give clear instructions and maintain an overall view. Even when selecting the plot of land, they make sure that the school is not built too close to an existing one, for example, to ensure that buildings are evenly distributed across the land. They coordinate all activities and accompanied the group on the day.

The journey to the school turned out to be very adventurous. As only around 20% of the roads in Malawi are paved, the journey to the school was mainly off-road. It was really up and down and over hill and dale. At times it seemed that it was impossible to get through by car. However, the driver was very experienced and brought the visitors safely to their destination after about an hour's drive. Shortly before arriving, a crowd of people - mostly dressed in blue clothing - made themselves noticeable on the street. It was only when they got closer that they realised that the crowd was made up of children from the school. They were in the middle of the "street" with self-painted signs and came towards their visitors singing. They greeted them with the words "Welcome our visitors - you're welcome - we love you." singing and dancing in a choir. The small group of travellers rolled down their car windows and began to wave, while the odd tear rolled down with emotion. The almost 24-hour journey had been worth it for this brief moment of warm welcome alone!

After getting out of the vehicle, the joy and friendliness of the children and villagers did not stop - they continued to sing and dance. The visitors from Germany were a major attraction there. The headmaster, accompanied by the chief and other people from the village and the surrounding area who had travelled there especially for the occasion, led the Frantzen family and Patric Cronen as well as all those accompanying them into the headmaster's office. A round of introductions of all those present took place there - some representatives of the government and regional officials were also present. After the introductions, the headmaster gave a tour of the building. He presented the classrooms, the well and the mango plantation. He reported that lessons had to take place in very small groups under the few available trees. There were no proper classrooms - there was no money available. Now over 500 children can enjoy an education that would not have been possible without the school building.

At the end of the tour, everyone - including all the schoolchildren present - gathered in the shade under the trees. Some parents from the village had also travelled to attend the reception and express their gratitude. This was followed by a performance by the various school classes. Everything from singing and dancing to poetry was represented. The headmaster then gave a speech, followed by the chief and the others. With every sentence, it was clear to see how grateful these people were for the support they had given. At the end, their guests were given the floor and the opportunity was taken to hand over the gifts they had brought with them. 20 footballs, 25 skipping ropes and 6000 coloured pencils: a skipping rope and a football were tried out straight away and the children's eyes lit up.

This was followed by an entry in the school's guest book. A short time later, everyone gathered in the courtyard. The children came together and huddled close to their visitors - together they watched a performance by the medicine man with dance and a stilt man from the village. This performance was also organised especially for the occasion and was an incredible experience. Our visitors expressed their heartfelt thanks to the headmaster and all those involved. The decision was also made to repeat such a visit. Mr. Kantwela mastered the adventurous drive back to the hotel as before. Once there, everyone needed some time to process the emotional and moving experiences of the day.

Final words from Saskia Frantzen:
"Malawi is known as the "warm heart of Africa" because the people radiate a stunning friendliness. And if I or we can confirm anything - it's that! We received such an incredibly warm and friendly welcome everywhere we went. Wherever we went, we were always welcomed with open arms and a wonderful warmth that you don't get from Europe. And I am extremely grateful for that and I think I can speak for the others too!"

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