[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
'I believe we now have a future'
Malcolm Fleming
Oxfam in Scotland

The end of March marked the end of 17-year-old orphan, Steve Julio's carpentry course at his local college in the Chiradzulu district of southern Malawi.

He is now preparing to start up a small business to provide for himself and his two brothers Davison, 14, and Evance, 12.

It is a huge turnaround in his life since his parents passed away from Aids - his father first in 2001 and his mother in 2004.

I met Steve in southern Malawi earlier this month.

Steve, Davison and Evance Julio
Steve, Davison and Evance were orphaned in 2004

Before travelling I was convinced of the case that Scotland should be giving more practical assistance to what has been described as its 'sister nation'.

The statistics spoke for themselves; life expectancy is dropping and is now just 36, largely because of HIV/Aids.

A total of 65% of rural Malawians live below the poverty line, with 40% attempting to survive on less than 15p a day.

Although statistics can tell a shocking story, it is not until you meet real people struggling to survive against the odds that the deep poverty Malawians face hits home.

Scotland's renewed interest in the country dates from 2005 when the world's politicians and media decamped to Gleneagles to try to 'Make Poverty History'.

One outcome of that summer, when 250,000 people marched through central Edinburgh and millions more wore white wristbands, was Scotland establishing our own international development policy focused mainly on Malawi.

An initial budget of 3m per annum, rising shortly thereafter to 4.5, was an acknowledgement that the Scottish public supported action from our own politicians and that, as some put it, 'there was more than enough poverty to go round'.

Malcolm Fleming
As a Scottish taxpayer I had no doubt whatsoever that this was a good use of funds
Malcolm Fleming

In Malawi I saw for myself some of the good that our infant aid policy has made, and also the need for us to do much more.

I also met Steve Julio and his brothers and learned how Scottish money had changed their lives totally.

As a Scottish taxpayer I had no doubt whatsoever that this was a good use of funds.

In Golden Village, the small hamlet in Chiradzulu where the brothers live, Steve told me about his parents and how he had coped since their death.

The story was one of tragedy but also opportunity.

"When our parents were alive we never really had any challenges in meeting basic needs," said Steve.

'Couldn't concentrate'

"The challenges started when dad died as he was the main breadwinner.

"But still mum tried hard. Working our vegetable garden we grew and sold tomatoes to have a little to keep going."

However in June 2004, Aline Julio also passed away, one of hundreds of thousands of Malawians, and millions of Africans, who have succumbed to the disease.

"Between that January when mum got sick, and June when she died, I couldn't concentrate on school as I had to take care of her and tend the garden," Steve said.

"When she died I felt very sad. I felt like the world had come to an end."

When his mother died Steve was 14-years-old and in the first year of secondary school.

After her death he had to combine school with caring for his brothers and tending the garden to try and bring in an income.

Steve Julio
I had wanted to be a lawyer, but that dream died with my mother
Steve Julio

Shortly afterwards the eldest brother had to drop out of school as he had no money to pay the fees.

"I got good grades so felt very sad as I'd done so well at school, but I had no option," he said.

"I had wanted to be a lawyer, but that dream died with my mother."

In February 2006, Oxfam, with the help of the local village development committee, began identifying orphans who still had the potential to continue school.

Using funds from Scotland, Oxfam supported Steve to go to a local vocational college.

"It felt great as I realised I still had an opportunity to do something to get a livelihood and assist my brothers," he said.

When he finished training at the end of March, Oxfam gave him a tool kit and a small loan to start his own small carpentry business.

'A future'

"I will scout for work, pay back the loan and then someone else can benefit from the money," he said.

"I'm very happy and feel that we really have a future."

Part of Steve's course included book-keeping, so he will be able to manage his resources, open a bank account and hopefully be able to pay school fees for his brother.

"Our lives have turned round," he said.

"After mum died we ate one meal a day, now we have three."

And as for the future?

"Well, I think a lot about what I should do," Steve said.

"I keep thinking hard all the time to ensure my brothers are well taken care of. It's not a burden, it's a responsibility."

Steve, Davison and Evance Julio outside their home
Steve hopes to be able to pay his brothers' school fees

"I also talk to my brothers about Aids. The disease has destroyed our lives as they were and we need to be very careful."

He said the most important things are food and education.

While I've been talking with Steve, his brothers Davison and Evance have been listening quietly.

I ask them what they think of their brother.

Davison said: "He is a big brother but because of the things he does he has taken the role of our parents."

Earlier this year, with the Scottish elections approaching, Oxfam in Scotland and Oxfam in Malawi called on Scotland's political parties to outline what more they would do to deliver more and better aid for Malawi.

Our argument was that if our politicians warm words were to make a real and lasting difference, Scotland needs to significantly increase our aid budget and ensure it is spent in an effective, sustainable way.

Unachievable ambition

It should be targeted at the poorest and led by Malawian priorities, not Scottish politics.

In Malawi I saw the difference that has been made to people's lives with just a relatively small amount of money, but I also realised just how much more needs to be done.

Hopefully over the next few weeks of the Scottish election campaign our politicians will set out how they will respond that particular challenge.

And maybe, just maybe, someday Steve Julio will realise his dreams and become a lawyer.

It had seemed an unachievable ambition when he first mentioned it.

But by the end of our conversation I wondered whether that dream might just come true one day.

McConnell attacks BBC programme
01 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Aid money 'swallowed up' by admin
21 Feb 07 |  Scotland
Retired teacher's gift to Malawi
27 Dec 06 |  Glasgow and West
Teachers embrace Malawi placement
27 Dec 06 |  Glasgow and West
Scottish aid for Malawi tourism
10 Nov 06 |  Glasgow and West
Malawi school meals charity grows
18 Oct 06 |  Scotland
Further 9m for international aid
28 Sep 06 |  Scotland
Malawi president hails Scots link
02 Nov 05 |  Scotland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific