Six weeks of Learning

We returned home on Wednesday last Sept 3 after our latest 6 week adventure in Malawi. Besides all our projects, we had the new experience of volunteers, on a large scale. We had two groups from Blackrock College, Dublin totaling 44 Post Leaving Cert students and 22 parents, some returning DIT Students, back for more punishment and a few of the usual suspects, 73 in total; and making a contribution to the Malawian economy and each in their own way having a significant impact on the lives of the people they met and worked with.
All we asked is that they should all make a move towards the people they met and in the process try to inspire, educate and challenge, wherever possible. I would rate this process as a complete success. A connection was made and the learning and understanding process needed to be seen to be believed. ( a look at the pictures on will give some indication of the relationships which developed.
My big worry during all this activity was that we, as an organization, might get distracted and lose some focus on our primary objectives, but after checking with our staff in Mzuzu and checking on the results of a survey we asked our volunteers to fill out, I feel that we kept our focus throughout while adding so much to our programme.
How does one reflect on 6 weeks of unbelievable action and emotion? We had sports days, football, netball, education, school building, knitting and singing. We dug a well, built two fishponds, visited orphan care centres, initiated a home based care for HIV sufferers, built a school garden, built a state of the art tennis clay court, had fun, and made lots of new friends. It was magical, moving, thought provoking, inspiring and exhausting all at the same time.
In the few days since the dust has settled, a little analysis has revealed mixed messages on many projects.
The site for the pump factory has been prepared for the arrival of the containers, with the machinery, the electricity supply arranged but not in place yet, the crew arrive on September 24 and I have everything crossed that all will be in place. Assurances in Malawi are always a bit dodgy!!
The seed farm in Lusangazi is turning in to a wonderland of growth and research.
Binna in the propagation is now budding his lemon rootstock with oranges and tangerines. They have a new well and a large fishpond. We have planned a building for a nursery school for staff children and others. Our hope is that young mothers will come, learn to read with their children and maybe learn something of horticulture, bringing home seeds and seedlings to try out. It is a great centre of hope and optimism.
We are constantly trying to improve our work in villages. We have a number of approaches, which we amend, tweek and analyse. We have the voluntary co operative approach, which needs very close management and hand holding, as people lose their focus easily. We have a new area, Kasando, where the chief has given each household a plot of their own, at the request of the women, but I feel we will have to build the dam and do a lot of hand holding, with this very backward community.
We also try direct labour contract work and versions of all of these with modifications. I feel individual land ownership would be a great help.
We are not prepared to wait for the five year plan, after keen analysis we need to act quickly and plan for a better solution which people will work with. If they are not with you, you are wasting your time. Somewhere in everything we try, are amazing success stories and huge disappointments, but years of hunger seems to have convinced people that hunger in inevitable. Taking care of every minute detail seems to have great merit.
The availability of aid and handouts over the years has taught many to rely on the white jeep rather than their own ability.
Self motivation is a rare attribute.
Leadership is often non existent.
Men and boys continue to disappoint.
Women are the real hope, but they’re often overburdened with chores, pregnant, sick, under nourished or all four.
Poorly paid and trained primary teachers, overcrowded and under equipped primary schools mean that the quality of appropriate education leaves a lot to be desired. Education on gardening and farming are academic only, even though the new curriculum looks great, all talk but no action is often the norm in Malawi, so our promotion of school gardens is most appropriate.
Today in Mzuzu maize costs 80 kw per kilo compared to 20 kw per kilo this time last year, while chemical fertilizer has moved from 4200 kw to 11000kw per 50 kg bag. We continue with our promotion of compost making and our latest experiments are with green manure. The conversion is hard when every expert and vested interest is on for a new green revolution which Africa rejected the first time around and few bothered with plan B!


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