Gertrude, an inspirational mum in Malawi

A widowed mother in southern Africa is the driving force behind an acclaimed African school for 200 children

As British mums take a well earned rest and put their feet up this Mothering Sunday, Gertrude Banda will be 'resting' by tending to the food crops in the permaculture garden of the school she runs in Malawi, southern Africa.

Or she may be sweeping and cleaning the classrooms, or perhaps trying to work out if she and her family can afford to eat one or two meals of nsima (porridge) and vegetables in one day.

Gertrude has the energy of someone half her age. At 48, she has been widowed, is a grandmother of two, and has raised four children alone. Her husband died of cholera, and as an educated Malawian and trained book keeper, Gertrude managed to provide for her family as a single mum.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a high infant mortality rate and a high prevalence of Aids. Malaria is a real problem, too. Gertrude wanted her children to be able to escape such statistics, and after being very poorly herself, she decided to set up the Ganet's Adventure School near her home village of Pundu, to educate Standards 1-8. "Only primary school education is provided by the government," says Gertrude "and I wanted to help educate children beyond that. I named my school after my youngest child, Ganet, and we now have over 187 pupils attending and learning for the future. We take children from two to 15 years of age."

Gertrude's rented house is leaking and uninhabitable, so at the moment she and her three youngest children are living in an office at the school. "It's not so bad," she laughs. "From where I am standing I can see the crops growing. We have maize, okra, watermelon, banana, sugar cane, potatoes, tomatoes and mango. Many of the children who come to the school have not eaten, so the garden crops are really important. If I can feed the children then they can learn too."

Her day starts at 5:00am when she rises to get her own children ready for the day - fetching water for washing, doing hair and uniform, and then getting herself ready to teach English at the school. She doesn't get to go to bed until after 10:00pm and never has a day off. Gertrude and her family are able to live on just £50 over three months.

What's Gertrude's idea of a day off? "Oh, if I get the chance to do anything I want, I love to tend to the school garden," she says. "If my children help me to water the vegetable plants then I am happy."

Political difficulties saw hundreds of schools closed in Malawi in 2009 but that did not stop this determined mother. With the help of Ganet's Adventure School Fund, Gertrude built four classrooms, an office, and installed a fresh water supply and toilets at the school. She does all of this as well as being single mum to her four children. Her school is now recognised across Malawi as being an example of a well-run, innovative non-government school, and won a 2011 Pan African Award for Entrepreneurship in Education.

While I'm in comfy England worrying about whether to upgrade my kids' iPhones, this lady, who is the same age as me, thinks of nothing but the education of her children and the children around her. I'm not sure if we're having lasagne or curry tonight, and the fridge is full of fresh juice, wine and cheese. We'll no doubt eat in front of the TV with the heating and lights on and think nothing of jumping in the shower and getting hot water at the turn of a tap.

Meanwhile Gertrude is 5,000 miles away, with no home to call her own, wondering if her family will eat tonight at all. And yet she is - I am ashamed to say - jollier and happier a person than I am - and far more optimistic. It's clear that she never has any time for herself, and time with her proud children revolves around the school she has built, and caring for her extended family of nearly 200 Malawian youngsters.

"I feel like I am a mother to all these children," she says proudly. "If I could have a dream for myself, it would be for my own children, the village's children, and children all across Malawi to have a good education."

The President of Malawi is a woman, Joyce Banda, whom Gertrude Banda believes has the same ancestors from her same village, so they could be related. "I would love her to come here and see our school," she says, "and to help me to find ways to educate all the children of Malawi."

Happy Mother's Day Gertrude. We hope your wish comes true.....

If you'd like to know more about the inspirational Ganet's Adventure School in Malawi run by Gertrude Banda, please visit or find out how to donate here.