Elaine Bolger brings two Educational establishments, DIT and Mzuzu University together. Beside Elaine is Fr John Ryan, Professor of Mathematics
Wells for Zoe is a small, Irish, sustainable development organisation working with some of the world’s poorest in Northern Malawi. It is almost irrelevant now that it was founded by John and Mary Coyne from Lucan, Co Dublin; such is the support it gets from so many people and in so many ways. It has never sought Government funding and depends on the generosity of the public for its development. The Coynes do however pay all administrative expenses and naturally they pay for their own flights, travel and accommodation while in Malawi, which now is about five months each year. This enables all donations to be spent where they are needed, in Malawi.
The only people paid by Wells for Zoe are our Malawian employees.
While focused on clean water in poor, remote, rural villages we found there was a huge need to help with irrigation and farming, open pollinated seeds were unavailable and so we bought and developed the Lusangazi farm. It is primarily a research and teaching farm, where we try to grow vegetables, which may be suitable, from all over the world, but also looking closely at forgotten African plants, when we can get seeds. We use almost no artificial fertilizer but rely mainly on making compost (hard work which Malawians don’t like) and on growing green manure, like velvet bean, sun hemp, etc. We also avoid chemical pesticides by using a concoction of brews from local plants headed by tephrosias, aloe vera, tobacco and whatever Benidicto can find.
Leaf fungus, in our citrus seedlings, is a perpetual problem and hard to crack, but we are on it. The hostel on the farm is where we bring farmers to learn about irrigation, composting and seed production. We send them away with seeds, seedlings and hopefully a measure of inspiration.
Teaching about vegetables is tough when there’s no generational culture in place, and people are focused on tobacco, maize and coffee. We have a passion to improve soil which is seriously depleted by years of chemical fertilizer and will be eternally grateful for the tremendous work and knowledge of Gillian and Chris who so generously gave their experience and vast knowledge to the farm, later to be passed on to more and more of Northern Malawi.
The Birthing Centre or Health post, in Lusangazi also developed from a need. I passed the old shed (with Chipitara in Tumbuka, meaning Hospital, painted on the wall), one day with Harisen and met the ever smiling Lillian; saw a new born baby and the blood on a concrete slab, which was the birthing bed. Action was needed, so we got on it and with some help from the community built a little place. I now love her and the place. She runs it with all the love and attention that every newborn deserves. It was not in our plans, but when it soon has a solar water pump, lighting, toilet facilities, a septic tank, a garden for the greens and a small extension for the outreach clinics, I think I could leave Malawi happy, even if we accomplished nothing else, such is it’s importance to the community.
The project that has caused us most stress is Áras Kate, our pre school in Salisbury line. Bureaucracy, jealousy, corruption, misunderstanding and evil were a daily problem.
While I was responsible for the building, Mary did the talking, cajoling, challenging and facing reality. The place is now in the hands of the local community of Salisbury Line and run by a board of trustees comprising, the City Assembly, the local Chiefs, the area Development Committee and Wells for Zoe. Mary was appointed the Educational Director and Charity is also one of the trustees. She may not look like a former trade unionist, but she has a very sharp intuition and intellect and will serve the community well particularly if she can believe she is twenty years older!!!!. The situation is a lot less complicated now and in due course we will expand the building with two new classrooms, a kitchen and store, and when land is later allocated by the City we will begin building a primary school and resource centre. We thank all our volunteers for their amazing work in this most deprived of areas, afflicted by all the evils of urban poverty anywhere, then throw in the added bonus of AIDS. You have made people’s days and maybe changed some lives, just by being there. We love it, it’s a great place to be, and with homework clubs and adult education, people will want to move there. Of course it’s in its infancy; it was only opened on Feb 9, 2009. What do you want, it’s already a miracle!!
At the moment it costs about 80000kw per month to run.
The future may hopefully see a big input from DIT, social science and early childhood development disciplines, in terms of research, placements and training accreditation.
Our big focus is still on the delivery of clean drinking water, which strange as it may seem, is not as easy as it looks. One has to break into the market, especially with a new pump like ours. There are many vested interests in Northern Malawi, focused as much on Evangelisation as hydration. We find many broken pumps and wells and need permission from the original installers to repair or replace them. Maybe half of the pumps installed in the past twenty years don’t work on any given day, but the donors or installers are nowhere to be found after the original razzmatazz and photo ops of the installation day. A pump maintenance plan is a major part of our programme.
Over the past three months we have compiled a list of pumps in need of our assistance but this years continuing rain means it will be at least October before we can put any plan into action, when water tables are at their lowest. All our pumps are free to the villagers and where they supply the labour and bricks, we supply the pump and the cement free of charge
In August we plan to work with Ungweru (Fr John Ryan’s group). CADECOM (the development arm of the Catholic Church) are another of our partners. We have a few pumps for Ripple Africa and many other village projects. We have 150 pumps ready for an Australian NGO, Global Concern, to be delivered to Zambia as soon as the water tables are suitable and they send us their people for training. We are also hoping Andrew will expand past three pumps in Tanzania. If someone told me when we began this venture that we could bring clean water to a population maybe the size of Leitrim, I would have taken that for my life’s contribution, but we’re not finished yet. This is all a slow process where constant care and supervision are needed. It’s not a place for a mad rush and a photo op. If developing Malawi were easy, billions of cash would already have solved it, BUT it’s not all about money but about people, inspiring, educating and challenging, simultaneously and together!.
Malawi is not for everyone, some people simply don’t get it. We do our best to provide opportunities, without handouts. There are many in the Aid Business who want the gratification of bringing the goodies and have a lot to learn about Dignity. This culture of sporadic handouts has made many in Malawi into dependant beggars. We are trying to things differently, and together we, can change people’s lives forever. Most of our volunteers have managed to do this. What an amazing achievement in your life?
Our lives are now full time Malawi. I sleep eat and think W4Z. Little here is spur of the moment or haphazard even though everything may look a mess. As a bigger picture evolves, planning will be done with the communities so that it meets their needs, always mindful of hours and days of research done already. We have failures but treat them as learning experiences. All plans must be done here and a plan for Sonda may not fit in Doroba. Malawi has a million failed plans cooked up in New York, London and wherever, and delivered by people who believed that they knew better. But after forty years of this system, many rural Malawians are now poorer than they were thirty years ago.
Our operation runs very much on a shoestring budget and so it should. Harisen and Charity are amazing people and yet another accident brought us together. Br Aidan, St John of God Services, our guru, thinks W4Z is successful because we have the right person in charge, Harisen, something he is very proud of because he first employed him. I took a chance on Charity. We naturally have had our ups and downs but always realise that they are gems.
We have employed maybe twenty people to also be leaders, but had to let them go for one reason or another. Alipha has great potential but wants to be a nurse, while Alinipher is still learning her trade, painfully at times.
Elaine, as part of her placement, has spent many days with Harisen over the past month and at Easter helping him with his big deficiencies, planning and keeping records. Progress has been amazing, but we learned something bigger still: the amount of work he gets through in a day. He is responsible for everything and to everyone. One day last week we had 46 employees on different jobs, in different locations. He had also to arrange transport, ferry a multitude and even secure food for a few, keep me going, settle disputes with chiefs, arrange meetings, pay bills, negotiate deals, order and check deliveries, and whatever else came his way. On the other hand Charity, while being infuriating by having no phone or credit or petrol is invaluable in her counselling skills and her ability to talk to everyone. She too, seldom writes notes but when info can be extracted then you find her work includes visits to the hospitals, meeting the chiefs, delivering clothes to newborns, paying wages, buying bicycles, operating complex loan deals, keeping William out of the way of the law, while trying to organise his finances. She is the first port of call for all our workers with their problems and above all she is extremely honest.
Our biggest spend at the moment is around building and transport, where anything imported is at least as expensive as Ireland.
Failte House was built for volunteers and was a huge success this summer. We also have planning for a four bed motel type structure on the grounds depending on the success of what we have. All of this extra work will be loaded on Harisen naturally. Because of the work involved in selling produce from the farm would incur, we have decided to scrap the plan and use these as a research tool. Our workers will now be the benificiaries. They will eat them at lunchtime, make a comment and take some more home. Our focus is on research not business
There are many other projects like Luvuwu and its students at Zolo Zolo Secondary school (funded and driven by DIT), M’Bama, Sonda, Ekaiweni, Kazando (with its new preschool almost complete), Elamouleni and the Capuchin Secondary school where we are beginning a fund for girls Secondary education (four girls each year). We are also funding hostel accommodation for girls: same deal as other areas, paying for the cement and roofing; Fr John will do the rest.
Our link with DIT, the biggest third level institution in Ireland is now firmly in place thanks to Elaine, Liam and their friends. We now have working relations with seven disciplines, all of whom are making positive contributions independently. The visit of Ciaran and Fred means we now have linked DIT with Mzuzu University and Tech as well as with Ungweru and SJOG. This is no extra work for us but part of our policy of PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES without HANDOUTS.
Our ideas and plans will only be limited by the quality of Malawian personnel we can find and train, and the quality and quantity of volunteers we can encourage to come here and maybe take over sections of the operation to run with.
If you can see yourself becoming part of all this madness leave us your contact details.
You might also tell us how you feel that you can help or if there is a specific area or project you might like to work on.
On behalf of ourselves and all the people you journeyed with we offer our most sincere thanks, knowing that life for many will be changed, for the better, forever, by your coming.