Airdrie councillor Jim Logue found several links to Monklands when he travelled to Malawi to see the impact of the healthy lifestyles project.
He and his fellow visitors saw donations of disused equipment from schools around Airdrie and Coatbridge furnishing schools in remote villages – and found a memorial to a Coatbridge missionary.
The group visited St Michael and All Angels church in Blantyre, where they not only saw the plaque commemorating famous explorer David Livingstone, but also discovered the story of local man Robert Cleland.
A Coatbridge-born engineer, Cleland attended Gartsherrie Academy, studied at Edinburgh University and was ordained a missionary to Africa, travelling there in June 1887.
He founded a school and hospital in Mount Mulange and making a stand against the slave trade, as well as using his professional skills to build footpaths and provide fresh running water for remote communities, before dying aged just 33 in 1890.
Councillor Logue said: “We were surprised to find the plaque and it made our visit all the more poignant, as Robert Cleland had a short but significant impact.
“He was among the first missionaries to Malawi and ‘had Africa written into his heart’, according to accounts of the time.
“The trip was a moving and inspirational experience – Malawi is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited but the levels of hunger, poverty, and illness made it harrowing and humbling.
“However, we also saw the tremendous impact which the healthy lifestyles project, involving all six secondary schools in Monklands, is having on communities. Some schools have benefited from surplus North Lanarkshire equipment.
“I saw a physics classroom equipped with materials from a science lab in the former Rosehall High, and children being taught with materials from our active literacy publications.
“The Malawian people were extremely friendly, resilient and greatly appreciative of the work of charities like ours.”
Councillor Logue was accompanied on the self-funded trip by Provost Jim Robertson, photographer Jacqueline Bradley and project leader Charles Fawcett, based at Coatbridge High.
Now a group of 12 senior pupils from high schools across Airdrie and Coatbridge are preparing to travel to Malawi in June to experience life there and to support the healthy lifestyles scheme.
It has been running for six years and includes initiatives such as establishing girls’ health and enterprise groups and supporting rural families in sending children to school.