“It is a crime that is staring us in the face.” Anusha Rizvi, director of the film Peepli Live.Rizvi said these words at the launch of the Greenpeace report, Of Soils, Subsidies and Survival, in Delhi on February 3, 2011, elaborating on how a...mammoth subsidy of Rs 50,000 crore in the name of the Indian farmers goes to the chemical fertilizer industry every year.
Malawi is a country with a myriad of problems.
“The human rights situation is degenerating rapidly. This year has seen the government, headed by President Bingu wa Mutharika, become an authoritarian regime openly resistant to criticism and human rights governance
In July, citizens of Malawi took to the streets to protest against fuel shortages, high cost of living, unemployment, repressive legislation and poor governance
The police opened fire on unarmed protestors, allegedly resulting in the death of 18 people. Journalists in particular were singled out, and were arrested, harassed and beaten. A media black-out was ordered and the press was banned from airing live broadcasts of the protests.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)
Acute shortage of forex and fuel is resulting in shortage of even the most basic of foodstuffs like salt.
The expulsion of the British High Commissioner (the first ever in the Commonwealth) has resulted in withdrawl of much needed funding for the health care system.
Other foreign donors, including Germany and the US have suspended aid to Malawi as well, citing poor governance . The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights recently passed a resolution that calls on the Government to end the campaign of intimidation against civil society.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)
The fertilizer subsidy, on which the whole plan for food security was based has been drastically reduced, where even the extremely poor will not benefit this year. Even though this exercise was hailed and supported by all the gurus of the Aid World, there is no exit strategy or plan B in place. The plan supports maize production using hybrid maize seeds and chemical fertilizer which is subsidised by a grant worth 80% of the cost. In Northern Malawi where we work, years of use of such fertilizer has depleted the soil, made it acidic and robbed it of organic material. Anyway, who knows where intergovernmental funding ever goes in Malawi or in many other countries where accountability is difficult to achieve. Boxes are ticked and more money comes. Now ordinary, thinking Malawians wonder where all the donor money has gone and what has it all achieved.
OUR SHORT HISTORY
We went to Malawi in 2005 and got a brief glimpse of a sub Saharan country for the first time. My abiding memory is looking at hungry women and girls, needlessly hauling dirty water long distances, for family needs, while an array of broken pumps lay unfixed and certainly unfixable by local communities. I also noted that the depth of the water table was in the 3 to 6 metre range. (Six months later, I visited a pump where I celebrated its installation, with hundreds of villagers to find that the water level had dropped and the pump was useless because it had a limit of 6 meter depth, a normal story).
I woke up at 4am one morning before we left and vowed (after I ranted) to do something about it. It wasn’t easy. I sent hundreds of emails to individuals and organisations. The organisations who did reply suggested I give them the money, they were the experts and what would I know about it anyway. Of course this attitude prevails. Finally I contacted Professor Richard Carter, then in Cranfield University,UK and now Technical head of Water Aid and Chairman of RWSN, and then we were on our journey. We located Richard Cansdale, in Hartburn outside Newcastle in the north of Englsnd. He had spent years developing a pump originally designed by Alan Jones in New Zealand and our quest was over. This was and is the pump which really does what it says on the tin!
Malawi is a pretty simple place technologically. Its not really a place for big, all singing, all dancing solutions, out of scale with what they already have have. Forty years of major funding has left the country poorer. Yes, the country was better off before all this democracy and Aid arrived. Throwing money at the problems of Sub Saharan Africa has not worked (but money, on its own, rarely works anywhere).Malawi instead is about simple solutions, like earthen dams, open pollinated seeds, green manure, locally brewed pesticides, simple pumps that can be fixed by local women. All the broken pumps we fix were hailed as village level maintenance, but no one ever said what village and what range of equipment it should have. Many pumps are installed by experts who then disappear, without a trace or worse still a maintenance plan or the where-with-all to implement it, if it existed
Our attitude is to solve problems where we find them, simply, sensibly and sustainably
- This year, we decided to source all pump making materials in Malawi so we redesigned our pump to suit the materials available. We now make it with less manufactured parts, with readily available materials and after field trials, its a winner.
- Seed retailers in Malawi have only hybrid seeds, so we bought land, imported O.P. seeds and multiply them. This year we produced about 500kg of seeds.
Malawi grows no apples, so we brought out rootstock and scions (with European Passports) from Irish Seed Savers in Scarriff, Co. Clare and we had our first crop after two years. This year we have nearly 600 seedlings with the scions generously donated and delivered by the staff at Irish Seed Savers.
- Vitamin C in a diet helps the ARV drugs to give improved quality of life to HIV/AIDS sufferers. We began a project to produce improved variety citrus seedlings by budding on to local lemon rootstock. We produced over 10,000 improved variety citrus seedlings over the last two years for distribution.
- After water, firewood is a huge chore for women, so we encourage villagers to grow thousands of acacia trees. We give them the seeds, which are inexpensive, often in return for lemon seeds!
- We have researched in excess of a hundred plants on the farm. One is red amaranth. I recently found that in Northern Zambia they label it the plant for pregnant women!. High in iron, it helps greatly with anaemia and as post natal hemhorrage, is a huge maternal killer in Malawi, we are spreading the message and the seeds (1 amaranth plant can produce 60,000 seeds). We now grow it at the birthing centre and ask Lilian to promote it at her pre natal classes and among women generally. In fact we come across it regularly in villages but they think it’s a weed and seriously undervalue it. Such good news spreads fast
- A recent survey with our SHG cluster showed lack of labour as a real issue at maize planting time. We went to our friends in Zambia to look at their conservation agriculture programme using minimum till. With the use of lime and local maize seeds give much increased yields. We have sent our guys to work and learn in Zambia and will mainstream the system on their return. Big problem, simple solution. Of course changing culture and tradition is never easy.
- Maize won’t grow without fertilizer and that’s too expensive is the mantra of subsistence farmers. In researching a solution we found a range of plants which add nitrogen like sunn hemp, velvet bean and tephrosia, which we have now used for 4 years with seriously improved yields and no bought-in fertilizer. This year we have added a new contender, Faidherbia Albida which has the best potential of all for the small scale, subsistence farmer. Its a big tree, which loses its leaves in the rainy season, contributes enough complete fertilizer to grow 4 tonnes of maize per hectare year after year. What a plant
The Canzee pump, conceived in New Zealand and worked on for years, by Richard Cansdale, in the UK, is an amazing piece of simple ingenuity. Mainly plastic in construction, it consists of two pipes one inside the other, with two simple non return valves using the inner tube of a bicycle, has one moving part with no friction, it seems to last forever, costs 30 Euro to make in our factory in Mzuzu and most importantly, if it does go wrong (rare occurrence), the women who use it can fix it with three nails.
The parts for this pump came initially from the UK and with the duty charged by Malawi Revenue, were now expensive. The solution was to design a new version of the pump with all materials available in Malawi. In the redesign process we have fewer manufactured parts. These new Zoe pumps are in use since June and working without a hitch.
We visited Malawi three times this year, April/May, July/August and Oct/Nov. Many of our friends and neighbours now ask are you coming or going? Malawi is now our second home and we continue to experience the wonderful hospitality of Br Aidan and the St John of God Community in Mzuzu and all our friends in an ever expanding area, impacting thousands of people, all very poor, all amazing to be as good as they are. We know our people and they know us, Its a wonderful place to be, frustrating and maddening at times, reasons to laugh and cry every day, but never mundane. With everyone’s help we have had amazing successes since this time in 2005. The following is a glimpse of what we have been up to
- Clean water to 125000 villagers, for the first time
- The success story continues, with 10 pumps recently brought to the copper belt region of Zambia, by Chris and Daniel from Lifeline in Zambia(a Danish NGO), who have a plan to install 1000 of our pumps in the next three years. The first pumps will be made in our factory in Mzuzu, followed by a new pump factory in Zambia, with expertise and training from Malawians, their nearest neighbour
- 31 acre farm
This is now a University of practical learning for many farmers in Northern Malawi, where the hostel on the farm provides accommodation for students. The co-operative management, planning and day to day hard work is done by four men and five women. Next year we will mainstream a new programme on Conservation Farming when our people have had training in Zambia.
Growing and multiplying green manure seeds, Sunn hemp, tephrosia and velvet bean, for distribution is important, as is research on the use of Tephrosia, Dahlia and others to produce an effective local pesticide.
High on the agenda is the production of improved variety citrus, Mango, Guava, avocado and apples. At the moment we have about 9,000 various seedlings ready for distribution, as well as trees for reforestation. At the moment we have 108 varieties of plant, (this includes 5 types of spinach and 4 varieties of sweet potato.)
The farm is based in Lusangazi, (11 km from Mzuzu City) where we support many other community efforts, like:
- The Birthing Centre continues to meet many needs, including ante and post natal clinics, early childhood care, and home based care for HIV/AIDS.
A new health centre with a house for a resident nurse and attendant is now planned following a decision by the Ministry to appoint and pay the medics. W4Z will assist by providing cement and roofing, while the community take care of site, bricks, sand and all labour
- Padre Pio is the local secondary school. We supported the building of the school and the construction of a hostel for girl boarders.
- Gogo Club brings us into contact with grannies who have to rear orphan grandchildren. We provide vegetables and fruit trees from the farm, regular gift parcels (soap, oil, sugar, salt and matches)
ACTIVITIES IN OTHER AREAS
- Over the time we have built 1 Volunteer house,1 Hostel on the farm for accommodating student farmers,1 Boys quarters, 4000 sq ft factory unit, 6 Staff houses. We have also managed to build a birthing centre, and support the building of 18 primary school classrooms, 1 classroom for a girls secondary in Chitipa Catholic parish and one Secondary school and hostel for girls for the Capuchin order.
- Support 6 preschools with 500 two to six year olds.
- Casca is our preschool trainer and caregiver. He visits the six preschools we support on his bicycle, and has empowered the village caregivers and porridge ladies by supervising and encouraging them. He gives weekly reports on all their activities.
- Have developed and deliver an in-service programme for primary teachers in co-operation with the District Education Managers and School Inspectorate, in the Northern region, which is becoming the basis of professional development in schools.
The second course was carried out in July and August by Niamh O’Brien, Fiona Gearty, Maureen McFeeley, Noreen O’Riordan Máire McHugh and Mary Coyne, in conjunction with Anna Sichinga, District Education manager, Mzuzu. 200 teachers attended in 4 centres. As English is the language of education our objective was to facilitate the teaching of English in the early years through games, activities, songs, poems and dance. We used the Malawian curriculum and demonstrated practically wit 50 to 100 children.
As a follow up, Mary visited 5 schools and 20 classrooms in Oct/Nov. The teachers were delighted to demonstrate their newly acquired skills Phase 2 is planned for Summer 2012, so we are actively seeking volunteer teachers. Can you, or anyone you know help?
- The Irish Trinity of SJOG, W4Z and Ungweru, 3 NGOs are now working more closely together in many projects areas.
- Patnership with SJOG, led by Br Aidan Clohessey was furthered when we got involved with their Self Help project. They work with 40 groups of women who have a savings system and provide loans to each other. To date we have provided new pumps and prepared others. Cluster Representatives from the groups regularly visit the farm to learn and take home seeds and seedlings.
- Ungweru under the leadership of Fr John Ryan, professor of mathematics in Mzuzu University, (30 years in Malawi), engages with communities, identifying needs, facilitating community participation and providing training to communities on HIV/AIDS, Nutrition, Rights. W4Z install and maintain pumps and provide seeds, citrus seedlings, expertise and training in all aspects of conservation agriculture and food security.
- We also work with Mzuzu University, Mzuzu Technical College and The Natural Resources College in Lilingwe,(the biggest such College in Malawi) who send us interns and students to the farm, to learn practical aspects of all elements of their Degree courses.
- We partner Every Home for Christ, a Malawian CBO, Global Concern, an Australian NGO, Lifeline in Zambia, A Zambian/Danish NGO, Ripple Africa, a UK NGO, on pumps and the provision of clean, safe drinking water water
- We partner CADECOM the Catholic Church relief agency on Citrus Seedling production and Numerous farmers co-ops on seed production and green manure seeds in particular.
- We also partner Mzuzu City Assembly, Mzimba District Assembly and The Ministry of Agriculture with whom we have Memoranda of Understanding.
- We are a member of CONGOMA, the association of NGO’s
- We have developed a wide range of friends/advisors on the net, from all around the globe, like Professor James Brewbaker in Hawaii, William Hatcher from ECHO in the US, Professor Richard Carter, RWSN, UK, and others in India, Israel, Uganda, Germany, Norway, and Brazil, who keep up to date with what we’re doing and regularly send information and advice
We have an amazing array of schools and teachers helping us out, from Our Lady’s in Terenure (our longest association) to St Michael’s House Special Primary School in Ballymun, where the President of the INTO visited last week to thank them for their huge efforts. I’m sure the in between schools won’t mind being unmentioned, but we have thanked them personally. Having been in Education ourselves, we know the value of visiting schools and explaining what we do and how we do it, helping out in Religion, Science, Geography and SPHE classes, and delivering a message of huge inequity in our World, but also immense hope for a better way and a better future. A special mention here to Wooton Bassett School,UKfor their enormous efforts for an organisation they know only from the internet and for a people they will never see (Thanks Hester)
We thank everyone most sincerely for their trust in us to deliver 100% of their donations to the people who need it, without Black holes, Bureaucrats or Bean Counters.
Support from DIT is ongoing and extensive. W4Z is now a DIT Society enabling us to benefit from their many fundraising and information activities. For the past four years, we have been supported by Easter volunteer students from Business and Management, Engineering, Journalism, Early Childhood Ed and Manufacturing Engineering. 4 students from Computer Science did their placement with us in 2011. 5 students from Social Care, 2 from Chemistry and 3 from Broadcasting and Film Making will join us for placements on 2012
We became fellows of the College last year. W4Z is one of the many very active societies. Mary is also on the advisory board of DIT Community Links project, Students Learning with Communities, with whom we work closely, providing opportunities for students and promoting the needs of the developing world
We have developed a three year Strategic plan (not a word I like, but to be in the NGO business, you must have the lingo). We now package all elements of what we did up to date and attach them to already established Women’s Self Help Savings groups (like 20 member credit unions of women already achieving what I consider to be the impossible with no input from us except advice)
Even after less than a year of success (with the guidance of SJOG services and support from Germany), these women have, regained their lives, grown in confidence, grabbed their voice, can verbalise what they need: things like clean drinking water, preschools and adult education and are hugely motivated, knowing that all their success is attributable to themselves: We will also work with them on community gardens, to demonstrate the possibilities of Conservation farming and alternative foods. The final piece of the jigsaw is, a new cash crop, for them, Paprika, to replace the failing tobacco business. Our partners ECO have the market and we are now growing our first crop for seeds as the seed in Malawi is of poor quality after years of re-use.
We call it our POP: a Permanently out of Poverty project and it certainly has all the ingredients needed to achieve this amazing turnaround in the lives of some of the world’s poorest, but amazingly spirited women.
It will operate it, in the Mzimba District, an area with 850,000 remote rural people, barely scratching out a subsistence existence. There we will work with the traditional authorities and hope to engage with up to 150,000 villagers. We plan 50 preschool buildings used also for Adult Education
The plan includes:
150,000 more people with access to clean, safe drinking water, Hygiene Education and sanitation
50 buildings with equipment and training for preschools, supporting communities to break the cycle of absenteeism and dire poverty, encouraging attendance by supplying one meal every day and facilitating transfer to primary school, 50 community gardens providing a hub for teaching and demonstration. These buildings, with full community support will double for Adult Education and often be used as clinics and even Churches.
Also on the plan is 500 Bee Colonies, 100,000 acacia trees, 20,000 improved variety, citrus seedlings (some from Florida,California and Israel) which we propagate on the farm and a variety of Mango, Avocado, Passion fruit and apples all from our farm.
We also enable girls to attend secondary school, by asking all of you to pay their fees which gives real hope for the future. Of course some will be married off, become pregnant or drop out, but, in the long term, the future of Malawi will be determined by the education of its girls. We are really passionate about this, where one term can cost as little as €20, (plus books, copies, pens, and sometimes a bike) in a Government Secondary school where they have qualified to attend
By centering our programme in motivated and successful women’s groups, putting all this in place IS possible and gives a village an opportunity to become self sufficient and maybe even realize a fraction of their potential.
Sorry to go on about the Women’s Self Help groups. The first level is with village (or groups of villages). The second level are clusters of groups, (where we work) and the top level is a planned Federation (a Political Voice, which will be heard, because these women are not for stopping)
Will it be easy? Of course not.
Will it take time? Yes
Will it be worth it? CERTAINLY
Can we do it?
We have the money in the bank to fund the first two years at the moment, we might live for three more years and our guys in Malawi are becoming more capable by the day, however:
If you feel that there is inadequate attention to financial, socio cultural and institutional sustainability can you advise and see how you might help. Besides this ambitious plan, we plan 1000 pumps for Zambia as well, bringing clean water to more than a quarter of a million villagers. In this we will have the support of Lifeline in Zambia, who are already on the job.
FUNDING IN THE NEAR TERM WILL BE DIFFICULT
We applied to Irish Aid for funding for this initiative, but they tell us they have better and more rewarding things to fund. So we are really taking up begging in a big way.
We will soon(!) open a Charity Shop in Smithfield, Dublin.
As usual any help would be great.
Considering that the cost of giving a villager clean, safe drinking water is just one Euro, small money makes a big difference.
CLEAN WATER CHANGES EVERYTHING!
A video by our friends at Charity: Water is worth a look
More Stories on: http://wellsforzoe.wordpress.com/
More pics www.wellsforzoe.org/news-flickr.html
Face book: http://www.facebook.com/wellsforzoe
Volunteers Page: http://w4zvolunteers.wordpress.com/
People think we’re mad, but we know its true.
Being mad allows you to do lots of crazy things!!
If you know any, even slightly mad teachers, maybe they might join us for a few weeks in summer 2012.
They could do amazing things, like change lives forever, maybe even their own
Thank you to all our family, friends, wellies and volunteers who continue to encourage and keep us going
May you have a Happy Christmas and the New Year you have dreamed of.
Mary and John Coyne
Wells for Zoe takes water pumps to Mzimba
from The Nation Newspaper, Malawi’s National Daily.
Thursday, 26 May 2011 10:49 Albert Sharra – Correspondent
John Coyne demonstrates how to assemble the pump
December 26 2002 is a day that will never go out of the memories of 32-year-old Mary Msimuko of Msira Village, Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba. This is the day she buried her husband and two children who succumbed to cholera in two consecutive days, turning her into a childless widow.
According to Msimuko, the three got cholera after drinking contaminated water from a nearby river which is the main source of water for people in the village, who do not have access to tap water and boreholes.
“Doctors told me that the three died of dehydration caused by cholera. The water we were drinking was contaminated by running rainwater because the streams were not protected and when doctors came to taste the foods and water at our house, they found out that the water was contaminated,” she said.
But Msimuko is not the only one who has lost her family members to waterborne diseases. In 2005 and 2006, when the country received heavy rainfall, many people lost their lives to such diseases in the district.
Statistics kept at Mzuzu Central Hospital indicates that about 10 people in Mzimba lose life to waterborne diseases every rainy season due to lack of clean water.
Mzimba is the largest district in Malawi. With a population of over 850 000, only less than 200 boreholes have been constructed since 2000.
According to an environmental officer at Mzimba District Hospital Chimwemwe Jella, the fight against disease outbreaks and sanitation has been poor because most people rely on river or stream water.
But people in the district have every reason to smile with the coming of an Irish organisation called Wells of Zoe which is running a project aimed at supplying communities with clean drinking water in the district and the surrounding areas.
The organisation is installing shallow well pumps in the communities and already, over 4 000 pumps have been planted in Mzimba and part of Nkhata Bay and Karonga since 2006, benefiting over 100 000 people.
Speaking during a media tour, one of the project co-founders Mary Coyne said her organisation came up with the project after noting that most people in the district were drinking unsafe water.
“Water tops in any health issue and we were shocked when we first visited the country in 2005 to see women walking long distances carrying dirty water. As a charitable organisation, we decided to assist by providing water pumps. So, we decided to come up with a simple pump which can be repaired by anyone cheaply and we are happy today that the pump is efficient,” Coyne said.
The simple water pumps are made using two plastic pipes, a nail and a rubber disk cut from the inner tube of an old tyre, but it pumps water from as deep as 18 metres.
The Wells of Zoe is also training the communities on how to repair the pumps.
According to Coyne, the pumps are durable and each has a capacity to support over 500 people in a day.
To ensure that every community has access to these taps, the organisation opened a factory that manufactures the pumps in Mzuzu and community leaders can go and ask for one for their communities free of charge.
They are only asked to provide a place, sand and bricks for the construction.
One of the beneficiaries, Group Village Headman Kadambo, said the project is a relief to his community which had no access to clean water.
“We believe cholera and diarrhoea cases will be eliminated because we now have clean water,” he said.
Director of Water and Sanitation at Water for Life, a non-governmental organisation based in Lilongwe, Masautso Ng’ube, says the simple pump is a relief to Malawi because the boreholes have a shorter lifespan.
“Government has been drilling many boreholes countrywide, but very few are still working. I feel if we can embrace this simple pump, our communities will never go short of clean water,” he said, asking Wells of Zoe to open other factories in the Southern and Central regions.
We met, we talked, and we’re working on a problem.
From: Eilis McDonald [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 21 February 2011 12:23
Subject: Water pump
Dear Mary and John,
I was greatly impressed by meeting you both at Jubliee House in early November, 2009. A few of us had a tour of some of your projects and greatly enjoyed the experience. I loved the visit to the children in the Nursery in particular!
I saw your pump factory and never expected that I’d be doing anything that involved pumps but thats what has happened and I need advice and maybe a couple of pumps.
I now work at a Primary Teachers’ Training College in Butiiti, Fort Portal, Uganda. At my residence, which is in a Primary boarding school compound, I see all the boarders from all ages, 3 -14, carrying water from the borehole which is a few hundred meters away, across the main road and down a steep hill. I have been considering what to do to get water nearer and during my investigation I see that there is an underground tank collecting water from the eaves of our church. But the pump handle is missing and so nobody remembers when it was last working, nor where the remains of the handle are. To get at the water in the tank, the heavy cement cover (which is a few feet from the pump area), has to be moved back and a bucket on a string lowered.
Would one of your pumps fit the unit? Would one of your pumps be suitable for this space? If the answer is “yes”, then have you any connections in Uganda where I might get same?
I need to leave Uganda so that I can come back in and renew my Visa, so I could go to Malawi if thats what it takes to get access to pumps.
Continued success with all your great work. I know that you work very hard to make things seem as if there was nothing to it. Well done and congratulations.
(From Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow)
On Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 2:42 PM, wrote:
The quick answer is that the pump will do the job for you, and that seems like the easy part. I have a few pumps in Ireland on their way to NIger later in the year so I will check on the cost of sending one or two.
At the moment we are in Madeira for a rest and to plan for the next year, we came yesterday and it’s beautiful. We are so lucky, thank God.
I will ask the guys at home to find out. I will also ask Harisen about transport from Mzuzu, maybe by bus??. Worth a try.
How deep is the tank. If it’s not too deep we might be able to make up a ready-to-go pack.
Alternatively if you have electricity, we might be able to find a small electric pump, to do the job.
Delighted that you haven’t become disillusioned and fair play to you for persisting.
How is teacher training, Mary would love to hear how it goes.
Will work on the pump.
Keep well and shake them up!!
Very Best Regards
John + Mary
Dear John and Mary,
You do know you should have left the laptop/internet behind you if you want a bit of a rest in Madeira!!!
But I’m glad you didn’t!
We have electricity – most of the time. I don’t know how deep the water tank is. Maybe I’ll go and ask one of the locals to drop the bucket to the bottom so we can measure.
I got €500 donation at home at Christmas for a “water project”. Apparently it is money raised by a Famine relief shop in Northern Ireland. A Kiltegan priest gave it to me. So I can pay the carriage cost as well as the cost of the pumps. I say “pumps” plural because I imagine if there is one such tank with a pump that is’nt working, the chances are there are some more in a similar condition.
I’m going out now to see if I can measure this tank before it gets dark or rains – both are not far away.
I’ll tell you all about my new work, sure I could write forever about it!
Renewed thanks for your letter and encouragement.
Dear Mary and John,
I did set off to take measurements of the water tank but got way-laid and then it got dark. So, its a job for to-morrow!
As I mentioned, I didn’t expect to be doing anything that would involve pumps or pipes or water tanks but somehow in Africa we seem to get landed with problems we wouldn’t tackle at home. I came to Uganda in June 2010 to teach English, Art and P.E. at a 400student mixed Primary Teachers’ Training College. I did do that for a while and was enjoying it greatly until one day I got inside a new room that had always been locked, a new room beside the library in the newest block at the college. The room had 8 double electrical 3pin sockets, good windows with bars, a strong steel door and good lighting. I was told it was to be the computer room when the college gets computers. The Principal is saving up for them. He has bought one each of the 3 years he has been Principal and stores them in a pile behind his desk. He is not computer literate!
I knew I could do something as I had €2,500 of donation money from the parish at home waiting for a suitable project. Camara, the company that ships re-conditioned computers from Irreland has a hub in Fort Portal, near here maned by volunteers from the same organisation as myself – VMM. I spent my money on 20 computers and got the computer room open and ready for lessons – but I hadn’t figured out who was going to teach computers but like the little red hen said “sure I’ll do it myself!” and now thats what I do full-time. Trouble is that I’m not very good with computers or anything with plugs or switches or pipes or flexes but thats not going to stop me making sure the stuents get their hands on computers. Mostly they learn themselves and help each other. Now they are looking for an exam so that it can be included on their certificate. I’ll find one – wont stand in the way of progress!!
There are small children carrying jerrycans of water up the hill, across the road to this compound. Then a hardy chap lugs the cans up a metal frame and empties the water into my water tank so that I can have a shower and flush the loo!! How awfully embarassing is that! So I’m looking for a more efficient way of harvesting water. We have hardly any guttering so gallons of water just runs off the roof. This underground tank takes the water from the guttering on the church which is attached to the block I live in. We need pumping access to that tank and we need twice as much guttering. I think that is my next project!
During the first week of May I have to take a trip out of Uganda so that my visa can be renewed. If there is no other way of getting the pumps, then I can go to Mzuzu and collect them. I would make it a little holiday, visit my friends and go to the lake at Kande. I get impatient at the thoughts of waiting so long to get the water sorted but I have to adjust to African time. The pump here hasnt worked for many years by the looks of it!!
I live in the middle house of a small row of teachers accommodation at a Primary boarding school, where I have a sittingroom, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. I’m surrounded night and day by the sound of children, a sound I am very comfortable with! I’d love a little bit of a garden but havent got it so on Sundays I take myself to the verandah of the poshest hotel in town, have lunch, watch the birds being stalked by hopeful but useless cats, enjoy the vista, maybe meet other ex-pats for a chat, Skype home and then return to my own domain satisfied that I’ve had my garden time.
After teaching Primary, Mary, this is a different world altogether! There is rapt attention in class – tutorials last 2 hours!!! and there are about 120 in some classes. Because there are no such things as overhead projectors, tape-recordings or hand-outs and in some subjects, not enough text books to go around, students have to commit what is said to memory. They listen and remember what is said. They give it back word for word in the exam, the downside being that they dont get to analyze or tease out the meaning or implications of what they hear – just give it back!! Then they are so polite and so grateful for little attentions given to them. I nearly always have a bag of sweets and I seem to remember that so do you!! – old habits die hard!!
Now listen to me rambling on when you are supposed to be stretched under a beach umbrella, with a iced glass of something exotic with a slice of fruit stuck on the side and maybe some soft relaxing music to drift or doze to!!
Enjoy your break!
I’ll be in touch when I have measured this hulk of a tank!
Dear John and Mary,
I hope the holiday is going well! College re-opened for us to-day but then tomorrow is another voting day so we’re closed for the day. I’m leaving here early around 6am in the morning to visit the school where I was a global teacher for 5 weeks in 2007.
Our parish of Baltinglass has sponsored a 2 acre banana plantation there and other crops also – pineapples, ground nuts and maize (which I think is not very successful!). The proceeds go to buy porridge so that all students get a meal at school and also to buy uniforms for girls who had to drop out of school to raise siblings but can now return but havent the money for uniform. Seems as if its all going OK.
There’s a big black cockroach the size of a small horse galloping around my sitting-room so I think I’ll be sleeping here on the window sill for the night!
Last time I visited i wanted to take photos to show at home but when I saw the sign it read “Eilis McDonald’s Agricultural Project” – even though I had written out “Baltinglass Parish Project” for the label!
They argued that they don’t know Baltinglass but they do know me!! I can’t show that at home!!
I had a good look at this contraption out the back and interviewed anybody that could understand me. It was built cone shaped by putting rows of barbed wire around the hole which was then plastered and a cement top circular – ish with a diameter of 5.80metres. I dont know the depth but its not very deep – whatever that means. It holds 15,000 litres.
The bucket system was considered unsafe by the Head teacher of the nearby Primary school so he has had it secured so that it no longer can be accessed. I asked if there is water in it and they say “no” because the guttering is broken and a pipe somewhere is blocked so the water cannot get into the tank. An attempt was made in 2000 (the builder inscribed his name and date in the wet cement at the bottom of his handiwork) to put in a new pump in a different area but near the original. Apparently the pipe they used was too long and was jammed against the wall and so wouldnt let the water up. He and his colleague went away to cut the pipe, taking everything with them and havent been seen since!! Can you believe it? Of course you can! He also recorded the name of the company they were from – a diocesan one apparently, so I’ll try to chase that lead up and see what the sceal is.
Separately to-day I was meeting with an electrician to discuss the wiring of the computer room (did I tell you the saga about my new computer room? – well if not we’ll take a week some time and I’ll fill you in!) This electrician is highly recommended as the only reliable electrician in the district or so says my VMM colleague who was an electrician here for 2 years but is now gone to Kampala for a proper paid job!
I asked him about an electric pump for this tank outside and he says he has experience of fitting such pumps. If I were to go the electric way, what type of pump should I get? Presumably they can be got in Kampala.
However I’m more inclined to think that it would be better if it was a manual unit as we often have no power and so it might be less reliable.
When I know more about the whereabouts of the fellas with the pipe to be cut and the amount of work to be done to repair or replace the guttering and unblock the blockage wherever that is, then It will be time enough to decide about the type of pump to use.
I dont suppose with this garbled description, you’ll be able to make head or tail of what I’m at but give me another day or two and I’ll hopefully have a better handle on what the job entails. But you’re not rid of me – yet!!
Enjoy the sand and Sangria! and the peace and calm.
On Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 7:34 PM, wrote:
Just rushing out to eat but had to read this.
It is an inspiring story, I love it
You are inspiring.
I figure a small electric pump may be the way to go for a start. If you can
get the depth down and the height up, I’ll source something to suit and send it out.
The other pumps may come as well or later.
On the other hand if you were to come to Mzuzu, you might stay
We could give you loads of land and gardens. Joking, but is there anyone else like you , I
dont think so.
My God you’ll make such a difference to these students.
I’m on the trail of a simple projector for the farm and if it works out I’ll get one for you.
LED light, no bulb dustproof and just stick in a memory stick. I’m told it exists amd I’m on it.
Can I put this magic piece up as a blog?
From: Eilis McDonald [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: 21 February 2011 12:23
Dear John and Mary,
Thank you for that very generous offer of a submersible and also your own creation pumps! I have’nt been free to contact the crowd that last handled this underground tank as I spent a very long day getting to and from Kahunge. Then we have had 2 heavy days of the new curriculum 9am – 5.00pm. Not like our in-service Mary with long coffee break and long lunch breaks. Maybe somebody will be a that water works place tomorrow and since i know now where it is, I’ll just go there.
Also I passed by a place that supplies ready made guttering and downpipes so I’ll talk to them also – after I measure the lengths I am likely to need. There’s an Australian volunteer with a group called “Bringing Hope” who has a workshop teaching woodwork and metalwork and he says he would be able to fit the sub. pump.
My only reference to such a pump is the one in our garden pond at home which spews or cascades depending on the setting. It resembles a big tortoise !!
The electrician is coming on Wednesday to re-wire the computer lab. First i had to pay him €400 up front so that he can get the materials. I hope he is as reliable as I’ve been told!! Then he charges €120 for the three day’s labour! Sounds good enough and just goes over the estimate I gave the INTO Solidarity fund who have promised me a grant of €500. Do you hear that Mary? More than anything I ever got from them when I was a serving teacher!!
There was a shallow well in use in a field outside the school compound but apparently “pastoralists” let their animals ruin it. (I think they are people who have cattle but no land of their own to graze them on!). There is water there as there is a boggy marshy patch around it so I’m certain somebody knows where we’d get more barbed wire and fence it after restoring access to the supply.
There’s great clay around here apparently as there are kilns burning away all over the place. Besides there’s also another VM (volunteer missionary – what a title!!) who although he is a retired Garda, is here as a builder so I’m certain I can get him to come and advise about building wells!
There are 7 of us from Ireland who all came with the same organisation, within a 40mile radius so we can get together now and then but we can also call on each other’s expertise when needed which is a great support to have. Nobody has needed my help at all yet! But they do come to my place for meal and a few beers now and then. I reckon that counts as support!
How is the holiday going? I can’t imagine either of you sitting on a sunbed lazing in the sun. I hope you are relaxing and re-charging the batteries. Your input is needed so badly and as you see there is nobody trying to take the work from you!! Keep it up!
It will be solved.
I love it when a plan comes together - The A Team
I suppose I look back to my own youth in the West of Ireland, where thankfully we had an excellent well within half a kilometre and always enough food and education was central to my parents’ expectations for the family.
I went to school at four when my mother sent me in with a neighbour’s lunch and they kept me! I think they needed the numbers rather than having discovered a child prodigy. Anyway I can remember little besides the lunch for Pat Morris, may he rest peacefully!
The school with the rather exotic name of Fort Augustus, was a present from the British, built in 1895, to a standard plan for the colonies. I even discovered the same school structure in the gold mining town of Ballarat in Australia.
Even though the Brits were in Malawi, there is no such legacy, or more disastrously absent is the teacher’s house. In Fortaugustus, the teacher’s residence was impressive, second only maybe to the old landlord’s house up the road. It made a statement on the importance of the principal teacher and his place in society. It gave him stature, like the priest and the sergeant, even though he didn’t have the uniform like the other two. I suppose the respect or dependence of the people came from the fact that these teachers could read and write and very importantly could sign documents. For decades this respect for teacher and education has stuck with us and in poorer areas today the teacher is valued highly in Irish Society, particularly the primary teacher. Of course nowadays we have social workers and other pseudo medical state employees who figure they know it all, everything about everything, but an observant primary teacher, with their students for more time than their parents even, can be a wealth of knowledge and value to society. For me a good primary teacher can leave the mark of their teeth on four generations. Unfortunately I missed out on this one.
What am I ranting about?
Well I recently met an Irish priest, Paddy Leahy from Tipperary, 50 years in Malawi and I was excited when telling him how a group of students, from DIT had helped a community to complete a three classroom school in two weeks, but he quickly burst my bubble by asking what about teachers houses. Good teachers can teach under a tree, but you can’t attract good teachers to Luvuwu, in the middle of nowhere without giving them a good house.
There are about forty six thousand primary teachers in Malawi and over forty thousand have to live sometimes long distances from their school. To get to school they walk or cycle and most can’t afford a good bicycle on the wages they get. In the fine weather there is some hope if you can avoid rocks craters thorns and whatever as they take all shortcuts available. In the rainy season it’s a whole other matter on dirt roads, floods, wooden bridges made of sticks, arriving late, soaking wet, with sickness and disaster ever present. No wonder most days half the staff is missing, in the hospital, burst tyres, tubes where the patches outnumber the original tube. I know how tough it to cycle to school, but I only did 7km each way, on a good bike, on a good road. Oh, I travelled 10 km each way for one year, as our school was being refurbished, on a sand road. It was tough enough, but nothing like the goat paths here, and I wasn’t a qualified teacher, just in sixth class!
I then thought of Ison, the school principal, in Luvuwu, living in a poorly constructed thatched house, with his wife, children and extra orphans, and knew immediately why he couldn’t command any respect for himself or the message he was offering. He was no better off than the people he was trying to lift and inspire. What good is education if this is what a principal teacher can afford?
To date I have found no teacher with a landmark house, one that makes a statement, one that would inspire any young person to become a teacher. I believe, in the end only a good primary school system with well trained, paid and respected teachers will ever lift this country from its status as a begging dependency
All I have seen is the North, where we are supposed to have the most educated Malawians and it’s awful. Now if I am seeing the best education in the country, God help the rest.
Statistics, God help us, tell us that Primary Education in Malawi is free since 1964, I think, but what does that mean. 100 children sitting on the floor of a poorly constructed classroom, with no books, copies or pencils, learning by rote writing English they don’t understand on a white blackboard. The primary school system is absent, if you use any meaningful yardstick, the secondary school system is expensive or private and very often supported by donor money and Church bodies. Teachers are poorly trained and paid, have no status and the brighter ones find themselves delivering aid for NGO’s who should realise that their work would be much more effective if they left them in their schools. Of course who can blame the teachers for accepting the white jeep, the big money, the expenses, and the status?
The next big issue is that you have teachers, with poor English, preparing students for exams in English. We have recently done some inservice teacher training with six volunteering Irish primary school teachers, working with staff in a remote primary school, and the improvements were amazing with even a little intervention. Regular follow up contact between teachers, here and there, is having great response.
Another issue is that of books. The school above has no books for Standard 8, the year where they do the exam for admission to Secondary school. You can’t buy them, they are not available. They printed millions a few years ago and when they’re gone they are gone!
As the world commemorated the International Day of Literacy last month the teacher in Malawi continues to play second fiddle in almost every sphere of life. The nurse’s wages have been propped up by the world of NGOs because of the AIDS pandemic, the Aid business gobbles up the brightest and training is not great. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS) well acknowledges that education is crucial for Malawi to achieve the much desired sustainable socio-economic development, but as usual Malawians talk a lot but application is regularly missing. Loads of Strategy but where do they start? As is regularly found the central people in this, the teachers are of such low status, they are omitted from the script. Loads of bureaucratic bullshit, big words, hotels, meetings, meals, expenses and out of pocket expenses and millions of donor money spent, results in little or no spend on the issue. Donor driven reports in Malawi are ten a penny, a must have for every bureaucrats shelf or more regularly drawer, rarely produce results. They do however employ and overcompensate the consultants of the Aid business, and pretend that all this money is spent on Malawi and Malawians. The National Education Sector Plan (NESP) recognized that inadequate and inferior physical infrastructure, including teachers’ houses, is one of the challenges facing primary education. Malawians love shortening names but in reality this plan like a million others lacks any kind of teeth, and if it does ever happen it will cost 500% of what it should with much of the money going to foreign, highly paid consultants and little will go on teachers houses!!
Mary Coyne, Edited Jan 3 2011
It might be called philanthropy, but who cares. We got involved with Malawi just to make some little difference to peoples lives, by bringing them clean water. We thought it would be easy: it wasn’t. We thought Malawi would appreciate our work: they don’t. We thought people with a lot of money would help: they didn’t. We hoped we could make little difference: we have. Are we enjoying it: Wow!
We found that we can give a remote rural villager clean water for life for one euro!
On February 11 last, I sat beside an old gogo (granny) outside the pump factory in Mzuzu. We communicated with a real Malawi handshake and a few smiles. When I threw in my few words of Tumbuka, she bent over laughing. She was in her Sunday best, weather beaten, looked to be 90, but what really stood out was a fantastic handbag.
She wanted a pump.
William (one of our pump men and much more) was called into action and said to me we have to do something, it’s not far.
All three of us hopped in the jeep only to find that after 17km mostly deciding where the road was, as she was directing us to do the crow flying bit and we had to find the roads or tracks to match, we found ourselves walking, no, running, the last mile, behind this fragile old lady holding her handbag way out in front of her.
She showed us the river where 16 villages were getting their water, with the heavy rains it had become a fast running stream of grey water, the river of death, I now call it.
By the time we got there we had attracted a bit of a following: chiefs with hats and sticks, old men, women and children and one scrawny dog.
After a short discussion we agreed a location for a new well, which would be the first one in the area.
I had the video camera with me and suggested to William that he do a little interview, with Mama, but as he went on, the number forty one kept coming up (when speaking Tumbuka they give their numbers in English). I stopped recording and asked William about 41 and with his usual laugh he said that’s why we’re here, forty one people from the villages are in Hospital with cholera, and some have died.
William worked all weekend, organised the bricks, sand and manpower (not always easy, but William is a convincing and vocal six foot three) and we put in the new pump on Monday, amid songs dances and prayers, always prayers.
Not totally convinced that her figures were correct, I visited the Chief Medical Officer, Winston Mwanza, at St John’s Hospital (formerly run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary): a meeting hastily arranged by Harisen (our man in Malawi).
He had a huge welcome, and even though his clinic was full, he brought us to his office, did a bit of tidying, sat down and said you are the pump people. He verified the figures and told us the Hospital was over run with cholera cases, BUT then said I have a great story to help you.
You know we run an outreach clinic in an area called Doroba; In 2007 we had 143 cases of Cholera and 6 people died; in 2008 we had 6 cases and no death. This year we had no case. His information from the clinic is that in late 2007 we installed 3 pumps and more in 2008 and 2009.
Standing in amazement I asked could the pumps have much to do with it and he said EVERYTHING. He continued; if people don’t have a protected source of water, when the heavy rains come, everything is washed into the drinking water sources, the water becomes polluted and Cholera, and Diarrhoea result. He continued;
Diarrhoea is a real killer and Malaria of course. Keep building the pumps, that’s a great solution…
As we rushed back, I told him it only costs 1 euro to give each person water. So sad he said as he returned to his overflowing waiting room, considering that talking to us for 10 minutes was worth while.
Are we happy to be making a difference?: we are amazed!
And so is Mama Gondwe and her handbag.
You might ask, where do we get the money?. Well mostly from people with little money, friends and friends we don’t even know. But THEY all know that WE pay all the organisation’s expenses, so 100% of anything they give us ends up in a village in Malawi.
Are they happy with their investment?
They certainly are, mostly disbelieving that so little can do so much!
If you can pay even for one person to have clean water it would be magical: It would cost you a Euro and could you find a better investment. You would’nt get much of a handbag for it
If you want to invest: http://www.wellsforzoe.org/donations.htm
and some amazing Malawian women can get a life
John and Mary Coyne, 31 December 2010
Irish Times, Dec 14 2010:
HELPING HAND: HOW ONE MAN GOT HIS LIFE BACK ON TRACK THANKS TO THE ST JOHN OF GOD MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
It is customary among certain tribes in Malawi for men to pay a lobola to the family of a woman they plan to marry. Sometimes, the lobola or dowry equivalent, usually a few cows, is paid upfront before the wedding, but more often than not part of it is paid later when the newly married couple have built up sufficient resources to discharge the debt.
When in 2001 Bina Msiska’s sister-in-law and mother of three died of pneumonia, aged just 23 years, his brother Vincent had only paid her family part of the lobola they were due. They demanded one more cow before they would give permission for her burial.
A stand-off between the families ensued for three days, bringing shame on the Msiska family as everyone then knew they couldn’t afford the extra cow. Eventually before nightfall on the third day, neighbours clubbed together sufficient monies to pay off Vincent’s in-laws.
It all became too much for Msiska who suffered a nervous breakdown. His father took him from their home in the Rumphi district to the acute mental health service run by St John of God in Mzuzu, where he spent two months as an inpatient.
“I don’t remember going into the hospital. I was very sick at the time,” he recalls.
“When the problem started, some people said I had HIV or was smoking marijuana or something, and that it was this which was disturbing my brain. In our culture, they think it must be something like that.”
After he recovered, he continued to attend St John of God services where he studied horticulture, and now works full-time as a “plant propagator”, sowing apple, mandarin and many other plants on a farm near Mzuzu funded by the Wells for Zoë organisation run by Irish couple John and Mary Coyne.
They have overseen the construction of cheap but effective water pumps in many surrounding villages and also recently funded a two-bed birthing clinic for one rural community to replace a straw-roofed shed with a stone slab, the only facility local women previously had when going into labour, unless they undertook the journey to a city hospital.
Thirty-five-year-old Msiska, now married with five children, has managed to make a living out of his horticultural skills, which earn him around 13,000 kwacha (€65) a month.
This and his earlier work for St John of God has been sufficient to enable him buy a little plot of land on which he has built a temporary home with clay bricks and a thatch roof for his family.
Using his entrepreneurial skills he has also built a second temporary home on the site which he rents out for 1,000 kwacha or €5 a month.
He attributes his current health and lifestyle to the services run by St John of God. “They have done great for me,” he enthuses.
At first when he was discharged from hospital, people would run the other way when they saw him coming. “They would say you are a mad one. But in the hospital they taught us to educate them and point out mental illness is like any disease and it can happen to anybody. Then they will not do that again.”