Undulating countryside, depleted soil, thatched houses, subsistence
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).
Pump broke and was removed. Villagers returned to the stream.
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.
Apples from Irish Seed Savers
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
Canzee Pump in action providing clean, safe, drinking water
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.
Birthing Centre in action during a visit from the Central Hospital
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.
Latest Preschool Building in Mgomphola (unfinished as yet!)
- 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
Our Lady's School, Terenure, Mini-Marathon in Dublin
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
DIT Students Easter Volunteering in Malawi
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)
Women's Self Help Group meeting in a village before they get down to business
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:
A teddy bear's picnic at the new charity shop in Smithfield, Dublin
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/
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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