‘I know most people think you are bonkers including me’, comments one of Mike Barnes’ friends on a post from his blog, Mike’s Mad Malawian Idea 2017.
In June this year former headteacher Mike Barnes, from Goosnargh, embarked on a year’s placement to Malawi with Voluntary Service Overseas to be an education specialist, and has kept everyone updated via his blog.
Having previously been headteacher at four Lancashire primary schools, Mike has had a considerable educational impact on the area. This impact is particularly highlighted by his time at Flakefleet Primary school in Fleetwood, where he was described by Ofsted as ‘inspirational’, and where he and his staff were the recipients of the Innovation in Education Award 2015.
This award seems entirely fitting for a headteacher who has dedicated much of his career to using technology to transform schools, allowing children to flourish.
Mike has taken this passion all the way to Malawi, along with VSO’s Unlocking Talent project, to help improve the standard of teaching with technology.
After studying drama at what is now Middlesex University and teaching in three schools in London, Mike, his wife and their three daughters moved up north 25 years ago to take up a headship at Goosnargh Oliverson’s CE Primary School.
Since then Mike has been headteacher at Broad Oak, Scotforth St Paul’s and Flakefleet primary schools, and even started his own company which seeks to support technological development in schools.
Unlike schools back home, however, the majority of classes in Malawi often have more than 200 children, which puts an enormous amount of pressure on even the most qualified teachers.
Mike’s job is to help along the integration of technology such as apps, solar-powered tablets, and projectors into the classroom, and also to provide training for teachers so they can use these resources productively.
With surprised friends and the prospect of 12 months without family or home comforts, Mike asked himself why he truly wanted to undertake this challenge. His answer reflects his fundamental nature as a teacher, his desire to help children realise their potential: “I felt that it was now time to use my skills and expertise to benefit others who are far less well off.”
For such an enormous trip, one can imagine a great deal of preparation was necessary, but Mike says the most important prerequisite for taking part was the “support of the four ladies of the Barnes’ household” who told Mike, without hesitation, “Go for it!”.
In order to fundraise Mike ran the Blackpool 10k Fun Run and the Manchester Simplyhealth 10k in May, with a witty t-shirt reading ‘Off to Malawi for schools VSO…but thankfully not running there’.
His fundraising target of £1,500 was soon surpassed and all money raised goes towards the placement and all of VSO’s vital work.
Mike mentions among the many incredibly generous donations, he was particularly surprised by Alan, who left the comment: “I’m the guy who passed you on the Trinity 10K on Blackpool prom. Keep up the good work.” The t-shirt obviously worked.
One of the most humorous accounts on Mike’s blog is his description of learning to ride a motor bike, which is his only way to travel along the “dusty dirt tracks” of Malawi to schools. Mike tells of difficult tests navigating through narrowly spaced cones, and worryingly close encounters with heavily laden trucks. His loyal readers often leave comments expressing their amusement with his escapades, and the blog’s ability to brighten up their morning.
Mike also describes his first impressions of Malawi’s maize staple food Nsima, his attempts at the language Chichewa without Google Translate, an interesting football match experience, the warmth of the Malawian people, and his trek up the beautiful Bunda Mountain with fellow volunteers. Many of his experiences are so vividly depicted that you feel as if you’re there with him, discovering Malawi’s beauty and quirks. One comment encapsulates this feeling, “It is great to experience Malawi through your eyes!”.
When asked about the challenges faced, Mike lists the language, lack of road signs or GPS, sleeping under a mosquito net and, of course, being away from family and friends for so long. But, of his blog, he also says that “knowing someone is reading it and their comments help to keep me going when times get tough”.
If you want to keep up with Mike’s adventures, visit his blog at www.mikeb3.co.uk, and if you would like to donate, the link to his JustGiving page is there.