Check out this amazing video of the 'Thai Tims', kids from a school in Thailand, singing loud and proud about the legend that is Irish Olympic Gold medallist Katie Taylor.
Absolutely love these kids, such an inspiration for all.
Volunteering with the little people
Volunteering has always been in my blood, my parents did it, but at that time it didn’t have a label, it was part of our life. To me volunteering is simply doing a service to one or many people without considering any possibility of a reward. It’s taking the B team, when all the glory is with the A team, slipping in to ask if your elderly neighbour needs anything from the shop, putting yourself out, going the extra mile, caring and being generous with your time and considering others. Of course there are the really difficult tasks like providing respite to someone with a challenged child or adult and a whole host of quiet, unknown, and undisclosed acts of hospitality that just go unrecorded every hour of every day.
Of course there are many things that are called voluntary work like chairing multitudinous committees, managing super teams or promoting issues in the public eye, many of which appear on election literature later to gain the rewards. I find this disturbing and sad and realise that is opportunism not volunteering.
At the bureaucratic level we have training for volunteers, policies for volunteers, sending agencies, monitoring agencies staffed by people in plush offices, on substantial salaries and as a friend says: milking the system, all on the generosity of the selfless. There is a worldwide phenomenon of, if we regulate it, we can employ more bureaucratic types and then, we can charge people for doing it, and of course bureaucrats never miss an opportunity
After 6 years of bringing volunteers to Malawi we have had just over 400 volunteers and almost all of these have brought their own, individual and memorable contribution to the people we journey with.
We could have started and continued with aims and goals and outcomes. We could go for a SMART plan and spend our time on office work. (Oh it means Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Now we could have done this, but we asked ourselves, who, are we doing this for. Our Malawian friends know what we do and our volunteers will pick it up very quickly and just as quickly tell our donors. Job done without bureaucracy! Strangely the political classes know only one way to go.
Malawi has had 40 years and more of Strategic Plans, most of which have failed miserably, so why should we add to their burden. If we do plans, they will be with the people we try to serve and for their benefit. We have no expectation of a reward, no Evangelism, no hope of putting it on CV’s or hope of promotion.
This morning, April 17, 2012, 7 of this year’s volunteers from the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT (the largest third level educational institution in Ireland) set out for the airport, 400km away, at 5 am. They will arrive in Dublin at 7 pm tomorrow and hit class on Thursday morning having made an indelible mark on Malawi. Who knows how lasting it will be, or what ripple effect it will have. What I do know that they themselves will never be the same. We had Cassie (Journalism)and Sinead (Engineering) here for the third lime leading the group of fourteen then Claire, Ali, Georgie, John and Tommy, all film and media students.
They had all come through the interview system which is done by former volunteers, came to our gatherings to absorb our ethos from Mary, myself and former volunteers. We usually meet in Lucan, have a bite to eat, a chat and get to know each other.
We expect them to be themselves, bring their big hearts, journey with the people on whatever a daily task is. Try to Inspire Educate and Challenge those they meet, knowing that we promote opportunities, and don’t allow handouts.
They see and live among people in dire poverty and our policy is that they should have smiles on their faces and be prepared for fun at every possible opportunity. How can you relate to mothers? Play with and admire their kids. Bubbles are a great icebreaker in any village. Glum faces, smart suits and clip boards get you nothing except what they know you want to hear. Laughs and hugs and fun make the bond every time. Irish people can do this and make the connection in minutes. That’s why our volunteers are so loved by all, even in the remotest villagers, where white faces are scarce, where the little ones will often run away and cry at first: but not for long!!. These people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!! What’s a PhD to a woman who never had the chance of going to school, can’t read or write and has barely enough to eat? Without a heart and understanding it’s useless
Many of our student volunteers have had two or three jobs to fund their trip. The deal is that they pay their way and cost Wells for Zoe nothing. Our hostel costs them 5 Euro per day to cover Water, Electricity and Security.
What do they do is a regular question? Well we have numerous programmes on the go and they spend at least the first day seeing most of what we do. Then they chose what they want to try out. Nightly debriefing and planning keeps us going, and time flies when you’re having fun!
Naturally the film and media people worked on a documentary, but also got amazing insights as Malawians love talking. Cameras are no bother to them.
They also did a course in the teaching of English to the teachers in ZolaZolaSecondary school. The original idea was to do the course with the students but an edict from on high ordained that there should be no teaching in Government secondary schools over Easter as it might give unfair advantage to those who got it. Of course the bureaucrats forgot that all the private schools where their children go could get as much tuition as they needed. Unfair advantage, to a community based school with no Government funding?? What a load of pig manure. Leaving the rant aside, this course worked so well that the District inspector and Heads of schools has asked for it to be continued and expanded and as a result Mary got to give the keynote address, at an inset conference for the inspectorate and local second level teachers. I would rate this achievement as remarkable and also confirm that it came at no cost to our donors or even the Irish taxpayer!!
We and all our volunteers have learned again that, in Malawi, you must be prepared for situation A, B and C at least, and have the character to be unphased by any eventuality.
Maybe I should tell a little story to typify the daily happenings. Cassie and Sinead got up early on Friday last, got a taxi and brought a 41 year old man, whose children they got to know over the years, to the Central hospital. They paid for his care and left a phone with the nurse so as she could make contact. He was admitted and died within 48 hours. We are all so sad, but happy that the, reaction of the heart, by the girls, meant so much for his dignity and that of his family.
How can you measure this, its impact and the ripple effect in Salisbury line where he lived. What would it cost the bureaucrats to achieve this? He was just one unknown man, who was battered and bruised by Geography, his culture, tradition, and poverty, who finally got to pass-on with some measure of dignity. It took an hour of their time on their way to do a day’s work. People can’t be trained to do this. What they had was heart and a caring spirit, and a habit of journeying with these poor people, like Stanley’s dad, as they call him. You can’t do this living in a five star or even a two star hotel and doing the four by four, ritual. This is real volunteering, real caring. I know there is a paid-forward waiting for them somewhere along their journey, well there should be, but they didn’t do it for that. The Universe has its own way of colluding. This is our dream, caring for individuals, not ticking boxes for millions
There is a book of, other stories about these and our past volunteers. They have been, and continue to be special people, who make a real difference to real people by their presence here.
We love them and wish them well in their future lives. They are better people because they came and cared.
When our volunteers come, we don’t put on a show (I’ve seen the shows). They get to see everything both good and bad, things that are successful as well as our failures. We want them to see how and why things fail, but we don’t plan for them. We want them to see Malawi in the raw, warts and all.
Their overall impression from them, of their time in Malawi: Magic, best time of our lives, where did the time go and we’ll be back, as with those who preceded them, they certainly will.
Malawi is not for all. Some people just don’t get it. Before volunteers come, in so far as we can, we try to rid them of their preconceived notions and most of what they have heard, learned and seen about Africa. Africa is a huge continent with an amazing array of cultures and traditions and diversity. Malawi is Malawi, with its own tribes, cultures and traditions and certainly not a homogenous, inert mass of humankind. You can’t assume that a plan devised by one village will work 50 km away. Even though there may be 13 or 14 million people here, we work, not with the millions but the individual people we journey with each day.
Working with small, women’s cluster groups we get to know them, little by little and they us. It’s a patient and painstaking process like taking layers of an onion, but is there and other way? Trust and friendships develop over time and eventually, in most cases, the seemingly impossible happens and people empower themselves.
This is the Africa of Wells for Zoe where most of our volunteers learn that there is a new and simpler way to help: a small, personal and direct relationship with the dark Continent.
Wells for Zoë is in its seventh year in Malawi and learning something new every day, about the people and their ability to cope, improvise and initiate. Very poor people must have super coping mechanisms or they would already be dead.
From the beginning we worked on the principal that there would be no hand-outs, but must confess that there has always been slippage or failure to do what we knew was better, because firstly we are driven by the heart and secondly it took me a while to learn the art of patience in getting things done (but I’ve learned).
Sometimes even the best laid plans succumb to the sight of starving children, mothers giving birth in hovels and people dying from cholera while there are still pumps in the factory. Most times we strike excellent balances between heart and head, like with pumps, where communities dig wells, supply bricks, sand, and all labour, while we bring the pumps.
Since I was very little, I was taught that trying and getting it wrong was a learning process, while making the same mistake twice was bad judgement and bad business. I have worked hard on this all my life and now in Malawi, our people are free to try anything, make mistakes, and learn.
I always appreciated that even the poorest village women had amazing intelligence and spirit to succeed, but as I work with them and listen, I realise how much AID has got in the way of progress.
MICA school is a top rate example of how Malawi can cope without us. Miriam and Casca, the founders of MICA, came to work for us in Áras Kate in Salisbury line, both initially as volunteers. It was obvious from early on that they had a gift for teaching. Mary worked with them and later sent them on a short training course. When they could no longer work in Salisbury Line, they both did a training course in Adult Education and while Casca now manages nineteen preschools, Miriam runs our Adult Education programme.
During the Summer of 2011, Miriam started a small preschool in her own home, but soon it was too small, so she set about finding a suitable building, a local Church which could be rented, by a very helpful and caring pastor.
In her discussions with Mary it was obvious that her plan was better than we could ever have devised.
MIriam and Casca went for it, setting up MICA preschool. They organised their open day, registered over 60 little ones (3 to 6 year olds). Our Summer volunteers helped with, books, other bits and pieces and craic.
They changed the model. The little ones bring their lunch with them and those with a lunch share with those without. Jen and Grace, other carers from our Salisbury Line days, joined, as volunteers at first, and now a small school fee pays their wages.
This is another story about inspiration, education and challenge. They have met the challenge head-on and now they have one of the best preschools in Mzuzu.
They use the school to hold training courses for other carers and constantly up-skill themselves.
After a few weeks of help from newly qualified, Julie Thornhill, this place could compare favourably with a preschool in any suburb of any city in the world, but this is a pretty deprived area of Mzuzu.
The rent for the school is less than 2 Euros per week!
They get by with a little help from their friends!! (The Beatles get the final word)
here’s a good deed for the week…
While in Malawi, we worked in Zolo Zolo Secondary School. The school was sparse with few resources so we decided to fund the renovation of room into a library.
While there, we also thought creative writing to the students. Their commitment to learning was truly inspirational and their joy at gaining a library was overwhelming.
Whilst working i…n the school, I found out the names of their english text book. It is a book by MacMillan Education called Looking for a Rain God. It has been out of publication for 15 years, but with the kind help of the publishers, we have located 71 copies of the text book.
Now we want to send them to Malawi so the school will not have to share a book between 10 or 12 students. The cost to buy the book from the publishers and bring it to Malawi is ten euro…so now, we’re looking for 71 people to commit to buying a book and we’ll take care of the rest.
If you would like to be the proud sponsor of a book please contact Cassie at email@example.com
This article, by Cassie Delaney examines the current education situation for
young girls in rural Malawi and through interviews establishes that, in that
particular region, the MDG to deliver universal primary education by 2015 is
Cassie was on her third visit to Malawi, volunteering with Wells for Zoe, Easter 2012
“The girls come from far and they pass through many problems on their way”. Principal Rhoda Mulowayi talks to me in her office in Zolo Zolo Secondary School, Mzuzu. It is the Easter holidays and outside droves of children sing and play in the stone-splitting sun with a group of Irish volunteers. The secondary school students who prepare to sit their finals have come to ask for books and writing materials. Younger children from the community have come to catch a glimpse of the Mzungu. The shyer, timid children sit observing while their brazen older siblings approach the volunteers who entertain with bubbles and balloons and games. The scene is reminiscent of any school yard. Children run, laugh, play and fall over. But, on the perimeters of this playful scene, groups of girls carrying babies on their backs stand huddled together. These girls watch and laugh and sing but are unable to join in the rough and tumble. These girls are Mzuzu’s reluctant mothers and when asked each iterate the same thing; everyday, as their brothers and peers go to school, they are left behind to mind their younger siblings, fetch water and prepare food for their households because their place is in the home. It is these girls that have caused Rhoda concern.
The statistics are’nt new. In Sub-Sahara Africa, 31 million school aged children are not attending school. For those who can access education, 30% drop out before completing a course of primary education. In Malawi, 51% of primary school aged girls are not in school. A further 5% leave education before second level. We have spent several days in Malawi, and I have photographed many young girls who have each explained that they cannot attend school because of their commitments at home.
In Zolo Zolo Secondary School, a class of 72 students prepare to sit their final state exams. Of these students, 52 are male. “We are talking of gender equality worldwide” says Rhoda, “but for us to achieve this gender equality there is need for the girl child to be taken care of. For we have a saying here in Malawi; Educate a boy and you educate an individual, but educate a girl and you educate a nation”.
An expected opinion in Malawi is that girls should serve solely a domestic purpose. Rhoda ratifies that it is the common understanding that the place for girls is in the home. “When the mother is busy, the girl child is there to take care of the family. When someone is in the hospital, the girl child takes care of the family”. This sentiment is acknowledged by UNICEF who publically state “the socialization process victimizes girls because they are considered to be the weaker sex. Spending valuable resources such as money to pay for their education is considered a waste because they are expected to get married and be supported by their husbands. Their profile in society has remained low and their voices have not been heard”.
It would appear that the failure in Malawi’s education system is the social standing of women. When the United Nations talk about The Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (Goal 2), they often cite this standing as the obstacle they face in realising this goal. But this, in Rhoda’s view, is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are more monstrous concerns facing young girls in Malawi; concerns which significantly hinder the progress of education and equality.
Rhoda sits behind a large pine desk. Her office is sparse, dark and piled high with loose papers. There is little room for me to sit so I stand leaning over an aging steel filing cabinet. On the lime wash concrete walls, attendance sheets for the four forms indicate a low level of attendance. Outside, the children and volunteers continue to play. Rhoda leans forward, her unbalanced chair moving with her weight. There is hesitance in her voice, as though she is reluctant to continue.
“The girls fall in to a lot of temptations” says Rhoda with regret. “It is easy for the girls to fall into the temptation of having so many boyfriends. Also the girls do not have enough money and they can easily be tempted to have money and in exchange for money they offer their bodies. We are surrounded by a community of drunkards and as you know, drunkards can rape.”
“Girls are suffering”, she continues. “Those who drop out are girls. They are pregnant and we can’t keep them a place”.
Rhoda looks distantly out her office door to the children and collection of classrooms outside. The school is large but unassuming. The classrooms are bare and, if one were to pass the gathering of buildings on a weekend, one would assume the place was derelict. In previous conversation Rhoda expressed a desire to turn Zolo Zolo in to a boarding school for girls, which she believes, will ascertain their attendance throughout all forms. But, with the school lacking in basic provisions such as desks and chairs, the promise of full boarding facilities is a long way off.
The United Nations released a report about Goal 2 in 2010 in which they stated enrolment in primary education in developing regions had reached 89 per cent in 2008. But, from conversation with Rhoda, it is clear that it is not enrolling student in education that is problematic, but rather, keeping them in education. She is adamant that a boarding school is the solution and when I ask her why, Rhoda looks at me, and bluntly states, “Because we still have these arranged marriages”.
In the Malawian legal system, there is ambiguity regarding marriage. Law states that a person over 18 can marry without parental consent and those between the ages of 15 – 18 may marry with the consent of a guardian. The Law Commission has fought to increase the age of consent to 18 with parental consent, and 21 without. In regards to forced marriage, the constitution states no person over the age of 18 can be forced in to marriage. But, according to Rhoda, the reality in rural villages is that young girls are still being coerced into marriage to repay family debt. This practice is known as kupimbira and is a form of debt repayment where a young daughter may be transferred to the creditor for marriage for failure to pay the debt back.
Kupimbira is a taboo subject in the region and when I approach young people and ask about it, few are willing to talk. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, such practice is internationally illegal and yet, according to the few who speak, is widely practiced in Malawi.
In spite of my pale Irish skin, I join the volunteers outside to play with the young children. Someone has thought them a game of “Pile on Cassie” and when my sunburnt skin can’t hack any more, I sit down with a group of young girls. One girl, Rebecca Murawae, speaks with impeccable English. Her skin is clear, he eyes are bright and in all respects she looks healthy and happy. She is 15 and in form one in Zolo Zolo. She tells me English is her favourite subject in school. I tell her that I study journalism and joke that she should consider it because the world always needs more journalists but she laughs and says she hopes one day to become a nurse. Rebecca is a beautiful looking young woman but what catches my attention is her evident intelligence. I ask her about her family and she tells me about her sister and brother. Rebecca seems to be well educated and I assume her family are one of the elite few who can afford the fees but she skims over the issue of fees saying “my parents did some business” and I decide not to question any further.
It is getting late in the evening and I wonder about the things Rhoda has told me. I have travelled to Malawi many times, met many people and read extensive reports by the UN and have only ever heard hushed whispers about Kupimbira. Like most, I believed with international laws and the advances in human rights and education, that such practices must have ceased and that it can’t really be that common. Yet, this is not the first time I have been surprised in Malawi, and it’s certainly not going to be the last either. In an effort to return to more upbeat and casual conversation I turn to Rebecca and ask “and do you like school?”
“Yes of course!” she says with hurriedly “I like it, I like school”, she pauses “I want to stay in school”. Rebecca seems to have defied the statistics. But then Rebecca speaks again and I am quickly reminded of the unfortunate truth of Malawi.
“We have problems too though. I want to stay in school so that I do not have to get married like my sister”.
Like all the girls here, Rebecca’s future is uncertain. What is palpable though, is her intelligence.
“I want to stay so that I can assist my mother and my sister. Like my sister, I don’t want to leave school because of our problems; I want to solve our problems because I stayed in school”.
Back in Rhoda’s office I mention Goal 2 and ask does she think such a goal is achievable.
“One hundred per cent of boys and girls in school by 2015? No that is not even tangible. I doubt this very much. Why? Because we will always have these problems with the girls. We will always have the girls dropping out. We need to solve the problems with the girls before we can solve the problems with education”.
It may look like a visit to a village in the touristic sense. Go there, meet the village and leave, never to be seen again.
But we just don’t go about our business like this.
Here we see part of a Self Help Group before their weekly meeting started. They began their savings scheme in January 2011, saving small amounts. They began lending to each other in March 2011 charging an interest rate of 20%, which goes back in to the kitty. They are involved in small business and at the end of November had a loan book of 1246 Euro. Now these are some of the poorest women in the area, some are widows and few can read and write. Brian, with the purple shirt, an employee of our friends at St John of God Services, is their mentor, educator and advisor, but they do everything else themselves. All this has been achieved by these 18 women with no financial input from outside. They have achieved all by themselves, a lesson to the rest of the World!!. After working successfully in these small groups, the progress to Community needs, forming a cluster representing 10 small groups
At this stage they presented us with proposals for clean water, preschools and adult education. We are now working with the first cluster on the building of 10 preschools which will double for Adult Education. Training has began is some and we are ahead of schedule.
When I say we, I mean that we support the community, but they do all the work and. In the preschools we supply some cement, and the metal for the roof, they do all the work. We also supply training and for caregivers in the preschools and work with the Ministry of Education for training adult education trainers.
This group have 34 wells/pumps and when we came along only one worked.
Later we will bring training in conservation farming and horticulture.
These now successful business women are ready to drive this agenda, having been empowered by their own success. They are not for turning and they will go upwards and onwards.
An amazing success story against all the odds.
For the past two months, as well as our almost daily skype conversations to mobiles, we get a weekly report from the Alinipher on the farm, Casca from the preschools and Duncan on the pumps. We are constantly amazed at how much is going on and how things have improved and at the quality of the content.
Date :7th October 2011.
Hei John & Mary,
Here is the report for Lusangazi Farm which Alinipha gave me.
* We are transplanting cabbage and boricole.
* We are planting Beetroots direct and peas.
* We are planting coco yams and strawberries.
* We are sowing sunn hemp, Mahogany and Msangu in tubes.
* We are planting sweet corn.
* We are doing heavy watering due to shortage of water but problem solved this week because we received heavy rainfall and water table increased.
* The water level in dams have increased and we have more water in the garden since Thursday this week.
* We are planting Dahlia around orchard and planting Bananas around orchard,we have took this amountn of rainfall to plant these because at first it was too dry.
* A message to Mary is that we have a letter from City Assembly.
* The are saying that the will be a training of the caregives.
* Place is City Assembly.
* They need 6 caregives from our schools*
* I wish all the Best!!!
GOD BLESS YOU ALL