ALTHOUGH she spends a great deal of her time living in Africa, Caroline Hansford is well known in Huntingdon.

The founder of Malawi Education Link (MEL) has just been awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours list, for her exemplary work improving schools in Africa, and, until recently, her charity enjoyed a close relationship with Hinchingbrooke School. Over the past decade, she has taken groups of more than 40 students every year to Malawi to help build and improve schools. Since MEL was formed in 1997, it has raised more than £300,000.

Speaking from the shores of Lake Malawi on Monday afternoon, she told The Hunts Post: “I came out here on December 9 with a little bit of money left over from 2012, so I have been spending that – finishing off classrooms and putting roofs on two teachers' houses.”

On the subject of her MBE, she said: “To be honest, people have been suggesting it for several years but I have always said no. I tend to stay well out of the way of publicity. MEL is not just me – it wouldn't exist but for the hundreds of volunteers willing to place themselves in my hands. They are the ones who have done all the fundraising and helped build the schools – I'm just a facilitator who knows how things work in Africa.”

She said she finally relented and allowed her name to be put forward after being “metaphorically smacked on the knuckles” by friends who encouraged her to see the honour as positive for MEL, not just herself.