Change for the better: Arlene Harris, Irish Examiner Nov 23,2007

SMALL CHANGE by Arlene Harris

Please Don’t Forget Us – this was the moving request from some of the poorest people on earth to the Fitzpatrick family from Cork as they bid farewell to Africa after two months living and working with people less fortunate than themselves.

In 2005, Pat and Johanna Fitzpatrick and their four children, embarked on a life-altering mission to Mzuzu in Northern Malawi to visit their friend, Fr John Ryan who has spent almost thirty years trying to alleviate suffering and deprivation in this corner of the globe.

Johanna and her family were so disturbed by the hardship they encountered in the seventh poorest country in the world that they vowed never to forget the people of Mzuzu and upon return to Ireland set up a fundraising project.

“The visit affected all of us deeply,” says Johanna “We had never been to Africa before and didn’t what to expect. It was all a culture shock, but we were amazed at how soon we got to love the people and the place – Malawi is known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’, and the people are the reason why – they are so hospitable, smiling and loving.”

“We decided that we couldn’t, and didn’t want to forget them,” she says. “So we came up with the idea of Small Change. “The name signifies that we are trying to make small changes for the people of Mzuzu but it also means that what we in the West often regard as ‘small change’ in monetary terms can make a huge difference in Africa.”

Last year the Fitzpatrick family put together a calendar using photographs taken on their trip. They printed 1,250 copies and managed to raise €35,000. This year they hope to increase that figure and help purchase basic commodities such as blankets, food, fertilizer and building supplies for Fr Ryan’s African parishioners.

“The poverty we encountered in Mzuzu is beyond what any of us could have imagined,” Johanna says. The people there are coming in to the hardest and hungriest time of the year now and as we begin to make plans for spending millions celebrating Christmas and New Year they contemplate the possibility of starvation, and death.”

You can help make a difference to their lives by:
 Buying the 2008 Small Change calendar
 Attending the Table Quiz in Garryduff on December 6th
 Carol singing on 22nd December in the Mahon Centre
 Making a donation

For more information contact or call 021 4343851
To find out more about Fr John Ryan’s work visit

Girls carrying bricks

Johanna’s ‘Cuties’

Even at this young age, girls in Malawi have to earn their keep, in this case carrying bricks. So taken was Johanna Fitzpatrick, by the cuties that she has included them in her 2008 calandar.

Johanna, Patrick and their family have a sister organisation to Wells for Zoë in Mzuzu (they do complimentary work with many of the same people) and the work they do in association with Fr John Ryan and his parishoners is truely amazing.

You can read about their work and their new Calendar in today’s Irish Examiner.

You can contact them at 021 4343851 or

The name of their organisation is Small Change, but there is nothing small about the changes they are making.
To see more of their work with Fr John Ryan go to

Many face hunger in Malawi despite bumper harvest: Nyasa Times

Many face hunger in Malawi despite bumper harvest: Nyasa Times
Agencies on 13 October, 2007 14:04:16

Despite a maize surplus, some half a million Malawians affected by drought may face food shortages before the 2008 harvest, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) official said yesterday.

“Some 520,000 people in four districts which were affected by drought are on close watch as they may face risk of food shortages before next year’s harvest,” said Matthews Nyirenda.

Nyirenda, citing a recent report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, composed of donors and the government, said four of the country’s 28 drought-affected areas were being watched closely.

The districts include Karonga and Mzimba in the north, Ntchisi in the central region and Mulanje in the south.

The WFP would soon review the food security situation in the districts and, depending on the outcome of the assessment, would provide humanitarian assistance through targeted food distribution, Nyirenda said.

Despite being swamped with surplus maize from two bumper harvests, food security is still a pressing issue in the poor southern African nation.

Malawi, which annually needs 2mn tonnes to feed its 12mn people, is this year in surplus of about 1.1mn tonnes. About 400,000 tonnes have been exported to cash-strapped Zimbabwe.

The surplus has been due to subsidised fertiliser and prolonged periods of rainfall, agriculture experts say.

The country met its food needs for the first time in seven years in 2006 with a harvest of 2.2mn tonnes.

About 45% of Malawians live below the poverty line and on less than a dollar a day. – AFP

Posted by John Coyne, 15 November, 2007 02:50:19
As someone just back home from a three week trip to Mzuzu where I have a water and irrigation project, I have a slightly different take on the reasons for the impending maize shortage. When I visited in April I found that all of the areas where we work (around Mzuzu)had serious problems, either they had not got coupons for the subsidised fertilizer or when they got them the fertilizer was already gone. Either way the maize yield was low. The areas where this occurred should be known and corrective action taken. Instead when we bought some maize yesterday for the hungry villagers we work with, we found that maize at Admark has risen to 30Mkw per kilo, a full 50% over their buying price. The reason given: to prevent traders buying and making a profit. In an ideal world these villagers would be entitled to some of the much hyped maize surplus free from the Goverment and not have to rely on aid from external donors. I feel that the exports to Zimbabwe showed bad judgement at least and a more prudent course would be to wait for the 2008 crop first and in the intervening period feed your own hungry. Where I work the soil is depleted from using artificial fertilizer or none at all, so we work with people who are making and using compost and the process is very successful. Long term subsidies on fertilizer will prove unsustainable, so maybe now is a time for change in policy, towards an organic future.

Malawi Maize prices rising says Nyasa Times

The price of maize is rising in Malawi and the staple grain is now getting scarce despite the country having registered a hamper harvest this year.

Maize was selling at K8 per kg as recently as April, but the price has been shooting up and is now selling at K30 per kg in most places such as Ngabu in Chikwawa district, according to s survey by Nyasa Times.In Blantyre a 50kg bag is fetching at K1, 600.

Companies that make chicken feed like Protofeeds in the commercial city of Blantyre are buying maize at K31 per kg.

An official at National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) disclosed that government is currently failing to find suppliers to supply 30,000 metric tonnes of maize to the new Mangochi silos because the agency is offering the buying price of K17 per kg, which is far below the market price.

“Admarc has only 300 tonnes of maize, of which 150 tonnes is in Luchenza,” disclosed the source.

He said the country no longer has surplus in maize because it was largely sold to Zimbabwe to abate starvation in Robert Mugabe’s country following a political concession between President Bingu wa Mutharika and Mugabe.

The NFRA official predicted that by the end of November, maize will be very scarce in Malawi.

“This situation has left experts wondering how Malawi will be able to fulfil its commitment of donating 5,000 metric tonnes of maize to Swaziland and Lesotho when there isn’t enough maize to feed Malawians,” said the source.

President Mutharika pledged to donate maize to the two African monarchies that face famine this year.

Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture were coy to comment referring us to the Minister responsible.

President Mutharika is in charge of the ministry and could not immediately comment as he is reportedly recuperating from a hernia operation abroad and his deputy Binston Kutsaira was also unavailable.

NFRA general manager, Edward Sawerengela, also declined to comment on the matter.

Making a difference in Malawi: Sunday Business Post, by Donal Gorman

Making a difference in Malawi by Donal Gorman
Ireland’s Sunday Business Post

Sunday, 18 November 2007
John Coyne and his wife Mary have set up the humanitarian organisation Wells For Zoe, which helps people to obtain clean drinking water, writes Donal Gorman.

‘We‘re going to paint them another colour,” said John Coyne, before turning the key in one of the three Irish Army Nissan jeeps parked in the back garden of his Lucan home.

The engine roared into action, ready for its new duties in an area with a much warmer climate and more testing terrain than the green fields of the Curragh in Kildare. The jeeps were donated by the Irish Army to Wells For Zoe, a humanitarian organisation set up by Coyne, and will end up in southeastern Africa after a sea and land journey from Mayo to Malawi.

‘‘Mayo was the place hit worst by the famine and, in Malawi, they are very close to famine,” said Coyne. ‘‘It’s always on the edge this time of the year, especially with the maize crop being so bad the previous year.

‘‘To get the jeeps out, we would hope to drive across to Rosslare, then get them shipped from Southampton to Durban, then drive up through South Africa, Mozambique, into Malawi. It’s about a 2,000-kilometre run.”

In Malawi, the jeeps will be clocking up miles on the bumpy dirt tracks, linking more than 40 locations where Wells For Zoe operate. The non-governmental organisation (NGO) was originally conceived to provide clean drinking water for villages in and around the Mzuzu area of northern Malawi.

But since its foundation in 2005, the sustainable development group has become involved with other issues, ranging from micro-credit systems to water storage, irrigation and farming. Coyne, a semi-retired Irish businessman, set up Wells For Zoe with his retired teacher wife, Mary, after a visit to Malawi with another Irish aid organisation.

After visiting villages, talking to the inhabitants and seeing the situation for himself, it became clear to Coyne that clean drinking water was the greatest need for villagers. The sources at the time contained water which was often filthy and contaminated.

‘‘When I came back from my first trip to Malawi in 2005, I knew that the water was there,” he said. ‘‘It wasn’t very far down; all that was needed was a pump to get it up.

‘‘I tried every aid agency I could think of and I e-mailed people here and in Malawi. I’d get no replies at all, or I’d get replies which said ‘give us your money and we’ll do it’. I said I didn’t want that.”

Through his research, Coyne came across Richard Cansdale, an inventor based in Northumberland in England, who had developed a hand pump using simple technology to maximum effect. Cansdale was working for SWS Filtration, which has contracts with hotels in the Caribbean and Europe, as well as with a large fish farming processing plant in Ireland.

Cansdale found he was spending an increasing amount of his time on nonprofit projects, such as introducing the hand pump to communities in developing countries.

Wells For Zoe, in fact, takes its name from Cansdale’s daughter who was killed in a motorbike accident when she was 22.

At its most basic, the Canzee pump is a pipe within a pipe which doesn’t require any piston seals, meaning that it can last for years with no possibility of breakage. The pump can bring up water from 25 metres below ground but, with the high water table in Malawi, there is often water as little as four metres under the surface.

Coyne travelled back to Malawi with Cansdale and they began to install the Canzee pump – originally in villages involved with the Saint John Of God outreach programme.

‘‘Because we believe in the dignity of ownership, we operate on the principle of ‘a handup without handouts’,” said Coyne.

‘‘We believe that clean water is the first step on the development ladder. When supported by simple irrigation and organic farming, people can become self-sufficient.

‘‘We get agreement from the chief to donate a portion of land for the village garden. Profits from the garden make a substantial contribution towards the cost of the pumps and dams over time, and help to set up their micro-credit schemes.”

In M’bama village, where there are about 52 inhabitants, they have been using the Canzee pump since September last year.

Instead of a four kilometre walk for water, there is now clean water for consumption and domestic use within 20 metres of the village.

The children of the village take it in turns to pump the water, and it quickly fills a 20 litre bucket. Harrisen Amin, who is from the town of Mzuzu and works full time for Wells For Zoe, said: ‘‘It’s amazing, it’s so crazy that people are in great need of water, and it’s just below their feet. This reserve of water should last for more than ten years.”

Zambia village is located about 36 kilometres northeast of the busy town of Mzuzu. The village is a cluster of mud huts, built on the decline of a hill sloping towards a river valley where great change is happening.

There are 73 villagers, many of whom arrived in the hills from the lakeshore at Nkhata Bay. The endless miles of red scorched earth give way to acres of green growth at the foot of the hills.

It is a valley that is changing an acre at a time – from brown and red to green. As well as having access to clean water, with help from Wells For Zoe, the people of Zambia village are using a dam for water storage and water diversion irrigation techniques, as well as a micro-credit system to grow crops.

A group of 20 men and women form the Kayombo club which works the land.

They have built a dam with cement, blocks and earth. Water is diverted in a manmade channel which runs for about one kilometre alongside land irrigating plots of soya bean, rape seed, sugar cane, maize, yams, cassava, tomatoes and mustard seed. All of the products can be sold at the market in Mzuzu.

Beyond the crops, more acres are being prepared for planting and irrigation by members of the co-op. Young children muck in with the women of the village, racing wheelbarrows of soil.

‘‘Before they took up the irrigation techniques, the villagers were relying on the rains to come. Now they plant throughout the year,” said Amin.

‘‘Their maize crops can be harvested three times a year, with a four-month cycle.”

While maize is the most common crop grown in Malawi, it is temperamental and the harvest can fail. Wells For Zoe encourages alternative food sources as much as possible.

‘‘We have provided seeds at a very low cost, which can be repaid eventually when the crops start to bring in money for the villagers,’’ Amin said.

‘‘They now grow cabbages, tomatoes and even Irish potatoes. They grow soya, which the government buys. The chief has donated 20 acres of land to the group and now people are helping themselves.”

Sonda village is in a valley about eight kilometres outside Mzuzu. Planting first began here in April and now, acres of green growth replace what was once scrub and wasted land. Coyne said: ‘‘For some reason, time seems to have passed the people by. They have no innate concept of agriculture.

They didn’t know what they could grow or what they could eat, so constantly ate this maize flower.

‘‘We suggested alternative seeds to plant, and last week they were sending egg plants, carrots, onions, beans and cucumbers to the market. We have employed a local woman as a permaculturist, who teaches villagers how to prepare recipes for the alternative crops which have never been grown here before.

‘‘Even the agricultural instructors, people from Bunda (agricultural) college, don’t know how to grow carrots or beet. There’s a whole range of stuff that you’d think people who graduated from agricultural college would know, but they don’t.

‘‘They know about maize – there’s 45,000 ways to grow maize – tobacco and maybe coffee.

‘‘They still haven’t given up on the old colonial system, where they grow the cash crops but forget to feed themselves.”

A co-op of ten women and four men work here daily, growing vegetables and rearing fish and chickens bought using a micro-credit system. The group utilise the irrigation techniques taught by Wells For Zoe, diverting water from a small stream; a man-made pond provides a year-round water supply.

The maize in Sonda has grown eight feet high, using compost instead of government subsidised fertiliser. Fertiliser is expensive, the system which distributes coupons is corrupt and, in the long run, it will damage the soil, so Wells For Zoe insists that the group uses compost.

Under a micro-credit system, significant numbers of chambo fish – which are unique to Malawi – have been introduced to the water storage pool.

‘‘The good thing about the chambo fish is that it multiplies by a lot,” said Amin. ‘‘Fish sell at the market for between 150 and 200 kwacha (roughly between 75 cents and €1).” The group has 50 chickens, which will fetch 600 kwacha at the market. Within six weeks, the group will receive capital from the chickens, and can pay back the no-interest loan. Profit is put back into the co-op.

The coming year looks busy for Wells For Zoe. Planning permission is being sought for a factory in Mzuzu to manufacture the pumps, which Coyne says will cost €30 each. All the elements and machinery for the factory are in a container in Newcastle ready to be shipped out and set up, although issues over taxes have to be resolved first with the Malawian authorities, who have attempted to charge 100 per cent duty on pumps.

Wells For Zoe has recently bought six acres of land in Lusangazi, about seven kilometres from Mzuzu, to produce vegetable seeds to provide to farmers at reasonable prices. And word is spreading – in August next year, 33 students from Blackrock College in Dublin will travel to Malawi with Wells For Zoe for an alternative post-Leaving Cert experience.

Malawi factfile

Located in south-eastern Africa, Malawi borders Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west and Mozambique to the south. Lake Malawi runs most of the length of the country to the east.

Malawi has a population of 12.6 million people in an area of 118,484 square kilometres. The threat of famine is never far away, due to reliance on the maize crop. A full-scale famine was narrowly averted in 2005. Official figures state that 14 per cent of the population is living with HIV, but the actual number is believed to be much higher.

In 1994, after three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi became a multi-party democracy. Although removing much of the repression of Banda’s leadership, democratically-elected Bakil Muluzi ran a leadership popularly criticised for corruption.

President Bingu Mutharika was sworn into power on May 24, 2004, after winning presidential elections. His term has been characterised by a high-profile anti-corruption campaign.

Within a year of taking office, Bingu resigned from his party, the United Democratic Front, and established a new grouping called the Democratic Progressive Party, after accusing his previous party of opposing his anticorruption drive.

The first Irish ambassador to Malawi, Liam MacGabhann, presented his letters of credence to the Malawian government on November 6. Based in Lilongwe with a diplomatic staff of three, McGabhann is joined by the head of development, Vinnie O’Neill.

Since 2003, Irish Aid has provided funding of €10.8 million to Malawi, focusing on rehabilitation and disaster-preparedness activities and the strengthening of Malawian civil society organisations. Since the beginning of the year, €2.2 million has been disbursed to a range of organisations.