Born in a Stable

Born in a stable

(mainly from June 21,2009)

The Christmas nativity story is well known to Christians all over the world. The Census, the 90 mile trek to Bethlehem, the donkey, no room in the inn and the manger, the farm animals, the angels, the star, and the wise men’s presents are re-lived in the warmth of the festive season over and over again.
This song by Pierce Pettis puts the miracle in place for me, it’s one of my favourite Christmas songs and an ode to Mary, the mother of Jesus who was a real woman, who had a real child birth.

by Pierce Pettis

No banners were unfurled
When God stepped into the world
Held in the arms of a little girl
Named Miriam

Who would ever believe
Your fiance, your family
The teenage pregnancy
Of Miriam

But laws of nature were suspended
Death sentences rescinded
Throughout all the world
And all because of a little girl named Miriam

Medieval paintings glaring down
Stony figures judge and frown
Wearing a halo like a crown
Could that be Miriam

Gentile temples stained glass swirls
Cherubim with golden curls
How unlike your Hebrew world

I don’t know if you ascended
I don’t care what’s been amended
There was one sure miracle
The faith of a little girl named Miriam

Oh you are blessed indeed
Blessed is the fruit of your tree
Yeshua kings of kings
And son of Miriam

No banners were unfurled
When God stepped into the world
Held in the arms of a little girl
Named Miriam
Named Miriam
Was it a real stable, was it a cave, was it part of the inn, was it the room over the animals, was there water, a midwife and lights are all realistic questions, , for me.
Mary (Miriam in Hebrew), a teenage girl, had her baby, in less than perfect conditions in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, a frightening fact in the Ireland of today.
No hygiene, heart monitors, HSE, consultants, or ultrasound: how could it be done?
If Jesus was born in Malawi last Year, Mary would have a 1 in 8 chance of dying in the stable during or after the birth. Jesus would fare a little better having a 90% chance of surviving the birth, but a bigger risk of not reaching 5. For all our sakes, as Christians, it’s a good job that they chose Palestine.
So why am I talking about Christmas on the longest day of the year with the sun cracking the stones outside: because I’m thinking of the six or seven thousand women who die, needlessly, in Malawi each year in, or as a result of childbirth.
Malawi has a population of, maybe 14 million people, with maybe three quarters of a million births annually, has seven child friendly hospitals offering rudimentary services, spends about 4 euro per capita on health and where trained midwives are few.
We work with the rural, remote poor where the statistics are worse.
The tragedy of a mother dying anywhere is horrific, but in Malawi where women do practically ALL the work it is a calamity. On the other side about seventy or maybe a hundred thousand babies die neonatally, annually (registration of births is extremely haphazard in areas where babies are not born in hospital), and that’s a very considerable number.
A World Health Organisation comment:
Malawi’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world.
– Women there have a one in eight risk of dying in childbirth or as a result of pregnancy complications – that’s 961 times greater than women in Ireland- – No other death rate in Malawi is so unequal.
From what I know, birthing in Malawi is often assisted by what are called Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA’s), women who have got some little training and who have acquired some skills. I make a very crude comparison to my youth on a farm where if a cow had complications with calving, there was a man who had the skill to deliver the calf safely.
Now horror of horrors, the Malawi Government, in it’s wisdom, have terminated this little help and banned the TBA’s, without any type of replacement. Can’t imagine it was a woman living 50 miles from a hospital, with no transport except maybe a bad bicycle or a wheelbarrow, thought this one up. Probably a man, who won’t experience childbirth or doesn’t care, or some female airhead from an air conditioned office in New York, London, or even Dublin. Some cultural, ritual practices in Malawi are barbaric, But working with communities and education on reproductive health, in the villages, really works, but this ban is just a recipe for more suffering and death.
My first thought would be to train the TBA’s while you try and improve the hospital situation, a practice in many developing countries, but maybe the donors wouldn’t like it, or pay for it.
Christmas in Malawi is hard. No turkey, pudding, tree, santa claus, lights, snow, or even reindeer.
Most remote families live in the crib, a young mother with a new baby knows exactly how Mary felt.
Maybe you can look at the crib differently this year. And make Him the reason for the season.

Capacity-building for non-government actors. (the language of AID?)

What have politicians done for them?
By Nyasa Times
Published: December 17, 2009

In the 50 years since I was in Malawi as a young boy, life in most African villages has not changed in the slightest.

Before leaving Britain for Central Africa earlier this month, I saw the news that Gordon Brown was to place on the table at Copenhagen more than £1 billion in British aid to developing countries, to help them to combat climate change. The offer sounded generous. But could we, I wondered, ever really monitor how the money was spent? Could we micromanage its distribution? Alternatively, could we trust recipient governments to spend it for us?

In Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, where I landed three days ago, I passed a prominent sign on the outskirts of the city, notifying the public of the offices to which a driveway led. It read: “Capacity-building for non-government actors.”

“What does that mean?” I said to my companion, a well-educated Malawian woman with fluent English.

“We don’t know,” she said. “We’ve been trying to find out. We think it might be something to do with training for charity workers.” She paused, then added, half to herself: “They are talking to themselves.”

Truly they are talking to themselves. They are trying to say training for charity workers without using the words training, charity or workers. If C. Northcote-Parkinson (of Parkinson’s law) were alive today, he would be writing not about the Admiralty but about international development. And I find myself making an unexpected connection between that exchange with my Malawian companion and an earlier conversation she had had with our Malawian driver.

“I say!” he had called to her, to gain her attention. The rest of their conversation was conducted in their shared language of Chichewa, but “I say!” had caught my ear.

I’ve heard it used in Malawi before and since. It means almost what it used to when employed by the officer class in Britain: something between “Look here”, “Do I have your attention?” and “Gosh”. It has almost certainly came into the local idiom via our colonial officers in the days when Malawi was the British Protectorate of Nyasaland.

My uncle was a forestry officer in the central region of the country, and to stay with him one Christmas I travelled on my own by train (a great three-day adventure) from what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), via Mozambique, 50 years ago. Now I am back here in the sub-Sahara: a subcontinent I know well. This time I’m travelling under my own steam, with friends, in true rural Africa, a land I love.

Malawi is a friendly, safe and gentle country, welcoming to strangers, and not by African standards notably inefficient or corrupt. But what strikes me most — more than any of the changes I see in the cities — is how little has changed in the lives of the vast majority of the people of Africa, who live on the land.

Fifty years ago “I say” had entered the lingo, and if overseas aid remains centre-stage here for much longer, perhaps “capacity-building” may pop up in the Chichewa language too, as part of the idiom, along with a new political language of Africanisation that independence has brought. All else remains the same.

During the half-century in which Harold Macmillan’s winds of change have blown themselves — in political terms — into a gale, half a century in which revolutions both violent and peaceful have thrown off the yoke of six great European empires and all the colours of the countries on the map have changed, half a century of tremendous political struggle, half a century about which it would be possible to fill a whole library with works of political science describing, analysing and disputing the processes of imperialism, decolonisation and liberation … during the half-century between what I saw when I was 10 and what I see now at 60, life in the average African rural village is unaltered.

As a little boy I spent a week alone with my young brother staying in a remote village in Mashonaland in Rhodesia. My mother had organised this through an African friend, believing her children should know how other people live. That was 1959. This week I returned to a small village near Lake Malawi, where I went last November to write (for The Times Christmas Appeal) about the work of a small British charity. I am not exaggerating when I say, without qualification, that nothing — nothing — has changed for better or worse or at all, in village life. You could rewind the video 50 years and you would not spot a single feature that placed us in 2009 rather than 1959 — none, that is, except the lines of my face. Oh, there is, perhaps, one: the new pumps we were installing are of a more primitive design than the 19th-century style lever-pumps that used to be installed in colonial days, as these often proved too complicated to maintain in remote areas in Africa.

I do not, from this, conclude that colonialism was good, or that African independence has been bad. No, they have both proved largely irrelevant, hardly scratching the surface.

When we British marvel at how so small a nation managed to govern so much of so large a continent, with so few colonial officers on the ground, we overlook the fact that we weren’t really governing at all. We were just there. We were marching around, building and mending a few (rather bad) roads, policing (after a fashion) with the help of tribal chiefs and elders, and generally flying the flag. And on the whole, and for some time, the locals couldn’t be bothered to remove us.

Modern African governments in most African cities — so far as their rural hinterlands are concerned — are just there too: strutting around a bit too; mending a few bridges; sticking up signs announcing plans and schemes; jetting off around the world (as our Colonial Service sailed or flew back and forth) and suppressing opposition as our colonial predecessors did. Primary education has spread, but most rural children never go on to secondary school, and if they did there would be no jobs for them. Infant mortality remains, as it always was, unbelievably high.

From this we should perhaps draw no conclusion at all: for or against Africa. We should instead observe that in large parts of the world, and for billions more of our fellow human beings than it suits us political obsessives to acknowledge, politics hardly matters.– The Times (UK)

Dominican College, Wicklow

Found this piece in the Wicklow People.
The Guys in Dominican College are at it again. They have been great supporters
and Caitriona O’Connor manages every cent in Malawi, a Kerry woman to the last!!
Happy Christmas to you all.

Wednesday December 02 2009

Lots of rehearsing and planning are presently underway in preparation for the forthcoming Talent Show in Fatima Hall. De La Salle will also take part in the contest. Tickets for the show are presently on sale at €5 each. 20 per cent of the takings will go towards ‘Wells for Zoe’ a charity project in Africa.

Accepting Donations on

Áras Kate APPEAL
Hello Guys.
We saw the need,
We built the school,
We trained the staff,and they’re fantastic,
We feed the kids, which costs money,
3 Cents each per day, or 168Euros per month for the whole 250 kids plus any stragglers who arrive, like Gogos and under twos.
We need:
42 donors at 4 Euros a month,or
168 donors at 1 Euro a month or
a load of donors at 3 cents a day.

Can some genious take this on.


This is what I do in Malawi most of the time.
Not much of a plan, is it?

The link for donations is
Thanks, Simon

Northern Malawi hit by earthquakes

Malawi shaken by new tremors By Nyasa Times
Published: December 7, 2009
Earth tremors hit Malawi for a second day on Monday and police said at least six people had been injured, two seriously, and buildings damaged in the uranium-rich northern Karonga district.
Hundreds of people fled their homes when an earthquake first struck on Sunday.
Karonga police spokesman Enock Levason told Reuters a woman and her child had been referred to Mzuzu Central hospital after a wall in their house fell on them. Four other people were being treated at a district hospital.
“The tremors are still occurring. A number of houses and school blocks have been destroyed, but we’re still assessing damage in other remote parts of the district,” he said.
Director of the Malawi Geological Survey Leonard Kalindekafe said his department had recorded 12 occurrences of tremors and continued to monitor the situation.
The tremors started at 1700 GMT on Sunday and residents in Mzuzu, Malawi’s third largest city about 150 km (about 95 miles) south of Karonga, also felt them.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported four earthquakes measuring between 5.1 and 5.8.
In 1989, a 6.6 earthquake killed at least 9 people and injured 100 in central Malawi and left another 50,000 homeless, according to the USGS.

Gig at the Button Factory

One of the amazing aspects of Wells for Zoe, is our support. We have support from people we don’t know and some of whom we have never met. The following mail comes from the latter, someone who has given us huge money over the past few years. He is Gearóid O’Dea and I would love if millions of you could support his gig on December 9 at 1.30pm in the Button Factory
He writes
Hi John,
Gearoid here, we are back in business for a gig in the Button Factory on the 9/12/09. Hopefully we’ll sell as many tickets as possible, which leads me to ask you if you would mind promoting us at any chance you can get, be it on the web or in interview etc. Here are the details and I hope all of the work is going really well. P.A.L.M. charity gig 9/12/09. Come one, come all it’s time for another excellent night and the best part, it’s for a good cause. This time we venture to the Button Factory on the 9th of December. With generous acts using their time to do something great including ‘The Chapters’, ‘Killer Chloe’,’Lorcan Mak’, and ‘Tongue and Cheek’ with others to be confirmed. Tickets cost €10. Doors open at 10:30pm. The proceeds are going to Wells for zoe ( as usual, and we cant wait to see their great work, helping people lives grow towards a higher standard of living and clean drinking water. Go on, have a great night for charity.

Cheers Gearoid.
gearoid o dea []