Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex GCVO concluded her four-day visit to Malawi on Thursday, March 16th, which was aimed at celebrating the progress that Malawi has made to end avoidable blindness and championing young leaders’ contribution to society.
The Countess of Wessex, born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones, is the daughter-in-law of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She married Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, the Queen’s youngest son. She is the Vice Patron of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (QEDJT), which receives significant funding from UK Aid.
Arriving on Commonwealth Day, 13th March 2017, the Countess of Wessex was the guest of honour at the reception to mark the event held at the British High Commissioner’s residence. She represented the Queen, who is the Head of the Commonwealth. The reception was also attended by representatives from the Government of Malawi, business and diplomatic communities, to name a few.
The UK and Malawi both belong to the 52-member Commonwealth community of nations, through which the latter has benefitted in a range of fields including programmes to strengthen eye care for all Malawians.
Commenting on the value of Commonwealth to the two countries, British High Commissioner to Malawi Ms Holly Tett said:
I believe the Commonwealth is an essential element of the unique and proud UK-Malawi relationship. When the UK and Malawi work together through Commonwealth, we achieve great things. I think there is more that we can do together to demonstrate how the Commonwealth can seize opportunities and tackle global challenges either as an organisation, or through alliances between Commonwealth members.
UK-supported projects to improve eye care (end avoidable blindness)
With support from a range of partners like Department for International Development (DFID), QEDJT, NGOs SightSavers and Water Aid, and The Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, Malawi has reached the important milestone of being on track to be the first country of the Trachoma Initiative in Africa to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.
The Countess of Wessex visited a community and hospital in Kasungu to appreciate how interventions like improvements in hygiene, provision of antibiotics and surgery are used to successfully combat trachoma. The Countess urged government and other stakeholders not to relax until the battle against the disease is fully won.
During visits to Kamuzu Central Hospital and Mchesi Primary School in Lilongwe, the Countess of Wessex saw the fruits of the UK-Malawi partnership under the auspices of the Commonwealth whereby the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium is providing Malawian specialists with scholarships and fellowships, and specialist teams across the Commonwealth are linked in order to strengthen eye care services. One Malawian doctor, Joseph Msosa, who is Chairman of the Trachoma Task Force and Head of Ophthalmology Department at KCH, spoke about the benefits of this scheme:
Thanks to the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium, Malawian eye specialists have been able to hone their skills and forge lasting connections with others across the Commonwealth, from South Africa and Scotland to Bangladesh and India…(this) will help us win battle against avoidable blindness.
Meeting with young leaders
To champion exceptional young leaders in Malawi the Countess of Wessex visited projects run by two young leaders: Madalo Banda and Virginia Khunguni. Both are recipients of the Queens Young Leaders Award which QEDJT set up to discover, celebrate and support young people from every Commonwealth nation.
Madalo provides young writers with a platform to engage in social issues through short stories while Virginia teaches skills to young women affected by violence and lack of education to enable them to set up their own businesses and support themselves and their families.
The Countess also met young Malawi entrepreneurs in fashion, tourism and other social enterprises, as well as those that have studied in the UK under Commonwealth and Chevening Scholarships.
The Countess of Wessex also visited the Victim Support Unit of Lilongwe Area 3 Police Station, built with support from UK Aid, to appreciate the impact of the UK’s Justice for Vulnerable Groups (JVG) programme. She interacted with victims of child trafficking and gender based violence who were present at the facility to seek support.
On her last day of visit to Malawi, the Countess presented the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) International Awards to a group of students from Bishop Mackenzie and Saint Andrews International Schools.
The award, in Bronze, Silver and Gold categories, recognizes young people between the ages of 12 and 24 who have successfully completed the challenging goals and records that they set for themselves in service to the community, physical recreation, skills, and undertaking adventurous journeys.
The Countess of Wessex’s father-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, founded the award in 1956 and since then millions of young people in more than 140 countries have achieved success.
In her remarks after the presentation of the awards, The Countess of Wessex said it was her wish to have the DofE Awards established in more schools in Malawi.