A day in the life; Women at the Well

No sadness on show

The Drop Off

Its little things that often strike you in Malawi, like one morning, I dropped Mary off in Áras Kate at 7.15, with the intention to be in Lusangazi farm for the start of the day at 7.30.The morning was chilly as the sun waited to burst on the scene. As we bumped along the last half mile, we heard the usual Gogo Mary and Gogo Johnnie, waves and smiles everywhere as the creathures got their last scrub before school, with many donning their only presentable outfit which somehow or another would be meticulously clean, maybe threadbare but always clean. Turning in we saw the usual queue of women scrubbing buckets and pots with sand and waiting their turn for water at the pump, which by the way is a totally illegal structure, banned by every bye law and statute that the City Fathers could dream up, but because the city can’t supply clean water and to avoid any outbreak of cholera, they act as if it doesn’t exist, and of course these women don’t care about bye laws, just clean water. As the women wait in turn to lift the 25 litre containers, first on to the knee and then onto the head, they chat and help each other and go away smiling, only posing for the photo op, with a smile. They are the salt of the earth and are single mothers, abandoned mothers from 14 to 40, ladies of the night, forced by extreme necessity to risk their lives in order to feed their children and themselves and grannies with squads of dependants, all battered and abused by an accident of birth, the world, men, society and tradition. They struggle every day, with AIDS, alcoholism, hunger and pain and still they smile for a photo. I ask them are they stealing my water and they giggle yes!

The pump is a wonderful yoke, put in by DIT students at Easter 2009, at the wrong time of the year (the water table too high), re dug by the community in September, is perfectly free of all pollutants, treasured by all, it serves at least 500 families in the area as well as the school. It was never lined with bricks or fully completed; you would never get time as there is a constant queue of users. We get regular tests done on the water and it’s always perfect. Maybe it’s St Bridget; a favourite saint of mine, mind you I never asked, but maybe She’s on it!
I wondered on my, supposed to be, quick turnaround, how they cope, talk and laugh as they wait, how they survive, widows rearing their own children and those of their dead siblings, grannies rearing housefuls, in the midst of squalor and horrific conditions no matter where the economists or the social care specialists, decide the poverty line should be.
But here they have clean water, their children have a preschool and one good meal a day, many come to adult education classes, learn to knit, speak and write English, learn a bit of maths, the kind they need, a bit of health education. They love the art and the netball. Mary is working on hairdressing!!
It’s a miraculous start, a work in progress, an oasis and a lighthouse all in one, in the midst of desolation.
It costs about €400 per month to run, for the 11 staff and food for 250 and anyone else who comes along in need.
My day was mad as usual, working on a pump and piping to a tank which will hold about 50 cubic metres of water for irrigation, directing, advising, ranting, getting drenched twice, to the amusement of all, planning a hen house for 40 newly acquired laying pullets and whatever else came my way.

The Pick Up

A happy woman

<a I got back about 3.30, just to see if Mary wanted to meet the Senior area Chief, but I suppose I could have guessed; she was sitting on a tiny, pink, plastic stool with a little gathering of maybe 5 or 6 five year olds, reading, exchanging views and ideas on the stories they had read, completely oblivious to the sheer mayhem around them, with complete concentration and in a world of their own, they grasped every possible opportunity to learn
There was netball, football, outdoor and indoor classes, swings, seesaw and skipping in what appeared to me to be all in the same location, totally and wonderfully insane. All I could wonder was what would a little bureaucrat from the Health and Safety Authority say, or do or write. It was a truly magical feeling, a spiritual or as we call it a Sacramental moment, one that gets to your very soul, whatever that may be, a moment that’s repeated most days in this most neglected of places.
I thought of Kevin Costner’s film, Field of dreams, where the idea was that you build it and they will come; we built it and they come in droves!!

Nearly ready

At one end of the netball court, a little crowd were holding up the pole for the net, literally, it had fallen, but no one wanted to wait for the tools to come, so some of the supporters were called into action. With a short time out, Charity and Casca went into overdrive and the game was on again, with little delay. Netball is a serious business here, where given half a chance every woman will play. Bouncing boobs, child on back or hitched up chinche is no deterrent to getting a game. The crowd is always vocal, partisan and bigger than Lucan Sarsfields get on a good day, for a league match!!. For those magical moments of play, everyone seems transfigured and lifted out of their daily slavery, a field of dreams indeed. To set the scene, this is a court where the soil was levelled, the markings scratched with a hoe, the poles are blue gum and the baskets are bicycle rims nailed on to the poles, an invention of some crafty DIT students!!. Minimum cost, like 50cents for the poles and maximum enjoyment. (Since then the Feeneys have got into action, painting the poles). The little girls were playing netball without a net, interspersed with little boys playing football, or following a ball at least!!

Ciara and her students

Ciara’s little gang were reading as well, with some of the older boys explaining the stories in Tumbuka and all were obviously settled in for the evening. The classrooms were full of knitters, sewers, readers, mathematicians, adult classes and homework doers; there were even Amhráns and Bodhráns. all throwing shapes and taking breaks, this is Heaven, this is hell, anyone for the last few ices, says Christy Moore?. The knitters were doing their loops and learning English at the same time and simultaneously, Niamh was doing the story of 10, what an operator, Marie was doing matching with her brood. Such was the industry of everyone, that no one noticed the breastfeeding, the small boys peeing by the fence, or that there were enough babies there to fill Holles Street on a slack day. This was all happening in this slum/swamp area, with many of the outcasts of even Malawian society. So don’t let anyone tell you that the ills of the developing world can be solved by money: no, everything is about people, like Miriam Whittle, Elaine, Julie, Michelle, Gillian, Caroline, Chris, Miriam, Sharon ,Áine, Claire, Paula, Kate, Caitriona and Jane caring enough to spend a month with the poorest, walking their journey, visiting their houses, holding their babies, feeling their pain, smiling, waving, cuddling, teaching their children, showing family photos, taking and displaying picks, blowing bubbles while all the time, discovering their own potential and realising all they have to offer; at all times educating, inspiring and challenging.
This area of Salisbury Line has been lifted and energised, by building a small building, training some inspiring Malawian teachers and carers, many with little formal education, throwing in some unbelievable teachers and students from Ireland and elsewhere and a few bits of clothing for the kids, and simple bits for the school, stir the pot, get the City Assembly and the Chiefs on board and my God, has the place taken off. Wells for Zoe acts like a catalyst, while the active ingredients blast on.
This place belies its 16 month existence. It is an enchanting and endearing place to be, where one is surrounded by smiling faces, positive and powerful women, who haven’t even begun to realise their potential, where everyone is always so anxious to learn. It’s only the beginning. It has only two classrooms at the moment, but when the City fathers finally agree, we will add two extra classrooms a kitchen and a store, funded by a most generous friend. Things can only get better. A new netball court and play amenities will follow on new lands designated by city. The future will see a new model Primary and the benefits this will bring. All this will be supported by Wells for Zoe as part of a Board of Trustees, with the City Assembly, The Chiefs and the Local Development Group, a true Community project.

It's a hard life for girls

But back to where I began, the well. In the midst of all the bedlam of the day the caravan of water carriers continued, the faces in the late afternoon had changed, girls now replaced many of the mothers and Gogos, but the train went on, unabated.

Happy as usual

I felt that maybe we were back in Biblical times, and the story of the Woman at the Well. The Lord would have his work cut out here to find one woman alone, such was the activity around our well. His Parable might have been altogether different here.
For anyone with an interest, this is a favourite story of mine
It’s from Samaria 2000 years ago and tells of this woman at the well: she had married five men. And the man that she lived with now was not her husband.
Like the women of Salisbury Line, this Samaritan woman was one who had suffered from ignorance of her worth. Perhaps, she just didn’t have any other way to survive, and had to depend on a man who wouldn’t even marry her, she had to make compromises.
I’d say many of my morning women are doing just that and I love them for it. They haven’t a sin among them.



He aint heavy, he's my brother

16th Visit to Malawi 30th March
Mary Coyne

Sometimes I think our influence on, and connection with people in Wells for Zoe is as much about Ireland and Irish people as Malawi and Malawians. DIT students and college staff are now part and parcel of our ongoing development. On our recent visit 16 DIT students travelled with us. This was the 3rd annual DIT Easter Trip organised by Elaine and Liam, our co-workers in Ireland. Elaine and Paul travelled on placement duties and remained for one month.
Like every trip there were many steps forward and just a few backwards too, but every trip provides us with a deeper understanding of the Malawian way of life and many new experiences. Working with the young people from DIT is an invigorating experience for me. It gives me the drive and stamina to go forward in spite of any hiccups. At Mzuzu Technical College I witnessed a coming together of “minds and cultures” as the DIT students met their counterparts studying Business and Marketing. Questions and answers flowed backwards and forwards and “sense” was made of many aspects of their courses including the current world economic situation! Textbooks or lecturers could never have equalled this debate in terms of educational value to both parties. Elaine challenged her Malawian new found friends to make business proposals which they would study and possibly offer assistance with support from DIT in Ireland. John from Wells for Zoe offered financial rewards and support and the ‘scene’ was set for the next episode! Two weeks later Elaine revisited, twice, to collect the results, which were few and disappointing. But the seed was sown and I have no doubt there will be progress yet to report in the future. Achievements so often are made through a series of small steps and this has been our experience in Malawi. Elaine is returning again at the end of June and will pursue this project further. What a wonderful first hand experience for a business student during her placement! And this was only one of many such opportunities.
Alinipher was employed as manager of the farm in Lusangasi. It could be described as a daunting task for a 26 year old woman in a male dominated country, but not for Alinipher who was confident and competent and driven! She wanted to achieve and had so many plans that “slowing her down” was problematic! Elaine again was on hand and became her mentor. They “journeyed” together through every aspect of the duties and daily routines and long discussions followed. Questions were answered, more questions were asked and further planning was done.
Lunch on Saturday with Alinipher, her husband and son, followed by a shopping expedition for boots and “things” cemented the relationship and the partnership. No wonder Alinipher’s work to date is blossoming and the weekly reports and financial statements are “awesome!”. Of course the texts between Alinipher and Elaine are ongoing.
Adult Education has taken off in Aras Kate since February ’10. Casca and Miriam are in charge of the operation. They have received some in-service with more to follow hopefully. They have classes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-4pm and netball on Thursday afternoon. There are approximately 30 women and one man attending. The enthusiasm evident in the classroom was palpable. Pencil and copies with sharpners and rubbers on standby, are the tools of the trade. In true Malawian style they have a “proposal” for me to supply “biros” and more copies. They told me they were ready for upgrading!
Our DIT friends were on hand to offer their support and plans were made for an “art” class. What an unforgettable experience, it was fun for all of us and what wonderful results were evident! They painted a sunset, mixed colours and returned home with their ‘Monet like’ exhibits. We photographed them as they left, proudly holding their pictures for their friends and family and family members to admire. A request for a second session soon followed. This time they did potato and leaf prints. The teachers and DIT students joined in, and even some of the babies who come to class with their mum’s held a brush and made their mark too! “Wonder and awe” and “sacramental” moments come to mind when I relive those experiences!
The adult education classes continue with some “students” coming early to receive ‘supplemental support’ as they find the going tough. We look forward to the support of our many teacher volunteers who are joining us July 2010. There will no doubt be many more experiences to relate and wonder at.
I did mention “steps forward, and some backward”. On reflection I can now only remember the forward steps, because eventually the “seemingly” backward steps become forward ones too. Hope springs eternal!

Drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding for a Board of Trustees was a “job and a half”, a once off experience I hope.

Day1 was a “reconciliation Meeting” with “Mbawemi”, The Chiefs and Members of Development Committee from Sailsbury Line, Wells for Zoe, and The Chief Executive of the City Assembly with planning and executive members present. It was scheduled for 8am but eventually got underway at 10am after a rather ‘noisy’ group of (invited by Mbawemi) supporters were eventually persuaded to leave as it was a closed meeting. Two hours later the Chief Executive summarized a plan of action to draw up “a memorandum of understanding for a board of Trustees for Aras Kate, Preschool in Sailsbury Line”. All parties departed to prepare their statements.

Day2 The meeting was scheduled for 8.30am and by 10am all parties had arrived except Mbawemi.. Proceedings started with the reading out of a letter from them stating they had a Board of Trustees for Mbawemi and would not be partaking in further discussion. This did not deter the plan of action and the rest of us presented our prepared proposals. We were all agreed on the way forward, without any misunderstandings. This was a very pleasant experience and we felt really pleased as we decided on the date for out final meeting to finalize affairs.

Day3 Our sense of security and well being was short lived as Mbawemi women and “two pillars of society” arrived on Day3. They wanted a full discussion at 10.15am for the 8.30am meeting. By 11.15 the signing and agreement of the document was put “on hold” for a further two days to allow for “internal discussion” within the Mbawemi Board. Spirits were low in the Wells for Zoe camp but the other members considered the postponement for two days a good idea as it insured that no further excuses could be made and we were assured by the City Assembly that Wednesday morning was the final hurdle and all would be sealed and signed.

Day 4 8.30am meeting and by 10am Mbawemi women and City Assembly hadn’t shown up. 10.15am the City Assembly Executives arrived and as promised we set about finalizing the document. By 11am we were signing the final draft. Wells for Zoe finally handed over Aras Kate to the Board of Trustees. Our first board meeting was held and officers were elected. Mr. Mkandawere, the Chief was elected Chairman and addressed the Board.
After registration in the City Office we celebrated with Fanta and biscuits!!!

UN declares clean water a human right!

Is this declaration like most of those pronouncements by the UN; useless, toothless and a total waste of time and energy. The lives of 3.5 million (this year) of the world’s poorest depends on it’s implementation. Maybe someone should sneak in to the UN chamber and switch their pretty bottles of chilled, bottled water for the type used by a billion of our less pampered people. A reality check!</strong<

The UN General Assembly declared access to clean water and sanitation a “human right” in a resolution that more than 40 countries including the United States did not support.
The resolution adopted by the 192-member world body expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.
UN anti-poverty goals adopted by world leaders in 2000 call for the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to be cut in half by 2015.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Bolivia, was approved by a vote of 122-0 with 41 abstentions including the United States and many Western nations although Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and Norway supported it.
Bolivia’s representative said many rights have been recognised including the rights to health, life, and education.
He said the Bolivian government introduced a resolution on the right to adequate water and sanitation because contaminated water causes more than 3.5 million deaths every year – more than any war.
US diplomat John Sammis told the General Assembly that the United States “is deeply committed to finding solutions to our water challenges,” but he said the resolution “describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law”.
The resolution called the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation “a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.
It called on UN member states and international organisations to provide funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries “scale up” efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all people.