For the past eight years, we’ve been working to build a different kind of organisation. One without big money, buildings and bureaucracy, One run on the energy of the volunteering spirit and one with faith in the ability of the poorest to have a solution to their own problems. It’s wonderful, now, to be able say that IT WORKS.
When we first went to Malawi at Easter 2005, we got a glimpse of what the water crisis really meant. We looked with great sadness, amazement and dismay, at broken pumps, pumps not fit for purpose, expensive pumps, beautiful pumps and then women and girls carrying filthy water, long distances on their heads. I suppose we scratched our heads and wondered where all the millions of aid was going, when this most crucial of steps in the development process seemed to have no solution.
We figured that solving this problem must be so difficult, since no one appeared to have cracked it. We had two options, go home, forget about and pray that some expert would solve it, or do something about it. Being stubborn and obstinate the second option looked like the way to go!!
I emailed hundreds of organizations (and there are thousands) who said give us your money, we do pumps, but since I had seen their puny, short lived solutions, I figured that back to the drawing board may be the way to go.
We knew that access to clean water changes things, but we had no idea just how much. The rewards now, after our eight year of struggles, are immeasurable. All we have done is voluntary, were we, M+J, pay all the organizations running expenses and are full time Malawi! We decided, from the start, to follow a path less travelled, the scenic, volunteering route, where people regularly advised us to leave it to the experts with the support of small donors and even a few bigger ones. We are so grateful to those people who have invested their money in a system less tried and tested, living with the poorest, listening to their stories, dreams and plans and always there to support with advice and training. Their country, their lives, their future, our inspiration, has been most rewarding: a wonderful period of common discovery, among equals.
So what have we learned…?
We were very happy arriving in Malawi with a most amazing and unique pumps. We installed them with and for the people. They dug wells, made bricks and did all the work, while we brought the pumps. BUT we soon found that they wanted to work with us on other issues. The accepted clean water as the beginning of a whole new life, but now that they knew us, they knew that we could work together and do more. They had, in fact, got dreams and plans, mainly short-term. Their plans included preschools, farming adult education, business. In locations, where they had not become disenfranchised by Aid and bureaucrats they were prepared to think, plan and dream dreams. Very soon it looked like pumps were forgotten and life could begin in earnest, and now, since the women can maintain their pumps with ease, the lives of village women and girls will never be the same. If you want to measure the cost of changing a life, just imagine that it costs just €1 to give a person clean water, in Northern Malawi, where we work.
Of course it’s a team effort, but our team is very small yet. We need more advocates, ambassadors and vocal volunteers, not principally for money but to change the way people look at development. Our message is simple, at a human scale and inexpensive. We don’ worry too much about numbers and statistics, we consider each individual as the most valuable We work with, and believe in Malawian people, mainly women, moving them to empower themselves. We don’t look at poverty or depravation; we look at situations and solutions. We look at connectivity, which is now so easy nowadays. We need to be neighbours and good friends, and then the tiniest of help can work wonders, but it has to be a bottom-up approach. Micro solutions really work.
We realize that partnership is important. Away from Malawi we are in awe of all the people in schools, churches, offices and homes who show they care and work tirelessly for the cause. We’re humbled by it all.
We never planned for growth and expansion, but it has come through the efforts of others, particularly in Malawi, where we have installed, repaired and replaced over 2000 pumps, thus bringing clean, safe drinking water to over a quarter of a million of the poorest
We hadn’t planned farming, training, research, seed and seedling production, but its all there to be seen and run by bright, intelligent and hard working Malawians, many of whom have little formal education but who are so eager to learn.
We never thought of preschools, yet we have 22, run by the most willing Malawian rural women, who care for the little ones under trees, in cowsheds, schools and deserted buildings. We work on training and they get on with it. Buildings will come later.
We never dreamed of Adult Education but our women have dreams. Dreams of beginning at Standard One and learning to read with their children, technicolour dreams of going to Secondary schools and even more do-able plans to be able to feed, educate and support their families. If I could write, there a hundreds of individual stories of bravery and courage persistence and prayers.
And we had no idea how fast anything would happen. In reality a few hundred people with clean water was what we wished for back in 2005. So if someone mentioned an education project impacting 16 schools and over 25,000 primary school students, I might have inquired about their state of mind, and a birthing centre in the bush, and a pump factory and Malawian employees who run the show on their own, and sending girls to Secondary school, and building and supporting primary schools and libraries. And I’m breathless
But this is where Wells for Zoë, You and us and them, the Universe has certainly colluded!
We have maybe 100 regular donors
Most donate less than €100
Our biggest supporter(s) is a Our Lady’s School, Terenure, Dublin 16, where everyone appears to be involved, and where the feeling of goodwill is electric.
Our investment in buildings in Malawi will soon pay all our wages
We work with 5 Government Ministries at local level, where all are committed to progress without hand-outs
Our water project is expanding in 3 countries, working with partner organizations who share a similar philosophy
We have no paid staff, except our Malawian employees.
Our future will hopefully see more Malawian staff employed and retained if they can fit-in:
More training and up-skilling for our current staff; more involvement in the project by all employees; more setting up and handing over of commercial co-operative women’s farms like the one in Doroba, enabling people to empower themselves.
But who knows?
We have learned a lot in 8 years. Our employees, volunteers, villagers and partners have made seismic and sustainable strides, with our approach of inspiration, education and challenge and they are not for turning back now.
On Sunday night two DIT students: Tommy Flavin and Claire Cunningham who volunteered with us at Easter 2012 and are finalizing a documentary, interviewed us for about two hours on video. Their final question was:
Why would anyone want to leave the comfort of Lucan and travel 8000 miles to poverty, hardship and hard work; we thought it over guys and our final answer is: We can’t imagine anything more exciting?