Why I Volunteered

My name is Julie Thornhill. I am a student at Dublin Institute of Technology. I am currently studying Early Childhood Education. Thanks to Wells for Zoe I was very lucky to have the opportunity to come to Malawi this April and learn so much about the people and the country.

During my stay, so far I have seen and worked at various pre-schools. I have also visited and spent time in classrooms for children with special needs in St. John of Gods. I met some patients and parents at Mzuzu General Hospital. All of these visits are relevant to Early Childhood Education because I’ve been able to compare different education systems which will help me to become a more competent practitioner.

I have been observing services to identify areas which may be improved on by a group of Social Care students due to come in January.

Prior to this trip I had been looking forward to working in Áras Kate, the pre-school Wells for Zoe have put so much work into, however due to difficulties this was not possible.

Overall I have been thoroughly impressed by the work of John and Mary Coyne. Their commitment and devotion to the NGO has been vital in improving the lives of so many Malawian people. My time here has inspired me to continue working with this great group of people. I look forward to exploring future possibilities on how to make Wells for Zoe even more exceptional than it is today.


A forgotten story: Jacob’s Well

A forgotten story: Jacob’s Well

I suppose sometimes when I write, it’s a bit of a rant, but today there’s a bit of an ulterior motive, a catch, which is serious, maybe a matter of life and death.
For the past week we have been visiting schools, like 750 girls in a secondary school over two days, a transition year group and finally a group of special needs students in the primary school in St Michaels House in Ballymun, which was an amazingly humbling experience where we met each one of them and their carers and teachers, showed them our pictures, got them involved, let them mess with the model pump, got unexplainable attention and feedback.
One great thing about these seriously challenged young people (from 5 to 18) is their ability to find out you name and then continue to address you, using it.
For those of you who didn’t manage to get Sunday Mass, the Gospel reading was on the Woman at the Well, about this outcast Samarian woman being asked by Jesus for a drink of water. It’s a wonderfully deep story and was well commented of by our priest in Mullinavat on Sunday. He declared that he had only a hint of an idea of what it means not to have clean water, that water IS life, that water-drenched people, in Ireland here can’t imagine thirst, or what its like to be given a drink of cool, clean water. That parable has great meaning for us in our Malawi mission.
Where we work in Northern Malawi, women and girls walk at least a million miles, each day, in search of water, any kind of water, just so long as it’s wet. Most times it comes from streams and swamps or holes in the ground where animals and humans compete for whatever is available, which often is pest ridden and smelly.
These women roll off their mat on the floor in the only clothes they have before dawn, bring their daughters, mothers, aunts, nieces and maybe a granny to set off for maybe a four or five mile trip, over all types of terrain to the nearest location. They skim off the top and fill their 25 litre containers, help each other to hoist them on their heads and head back home. They are mostly hungry, often sick because diarrhoea and water related diseases are ever present in their systems, without shoes, pregnant, or even carrying babies who may have to be fed on the way, as they go.
Of course they will sing, chat, laugh and pray on these daily, futile treks. They will thank God for all they have, as well, because they have never seen anything else. They will arrive home in bright sunshine, collect sticks, make a fire and cook, feed everyone, till, sow, harvest or prepare soil, go to bed in the dark until the process begins again the next morning, 24–7–365, without breaks, holidays or appreciation.
Now the simple plastic pump we make in Mzuzu changes all this. The water is clean and pure and close at hand, women get a life they never knew, girls get a chance to go to school like never before, women have time to grow stuff or start little businesses. They still have the same amount of backbreaking work, but without the sickness and maybe even a little earned income.
There are two significant facts in this:
• We can help communities access, pure clean drinking for less than 1 Euro each and
• Mostly avoid this million mile daily trip.
(I explain it like this: even in the district of Mzimba, one of the areas in which we work, there are 850,000 people and a minimum of 250,000 carry water every day. If their round trip is 4 miles, then those women and girls walk a million miles every day)

So we have an idea, to invite people to do this million mile challenge.
Walk a mile, anytime, anywhere, on one day or over a number of days and give us one Euro so that we can give another person clean water.
Walk in solidarity with those amazing women, they will bless you forever.
Clean water is often the difference between life and death, often death in Malawi.
I’m sure it’s puzzling to most readers as to why we are fiddling around with one euro donations, why don’t we put an advert on tele and collect thousands.
BUT we decided, at the beginning, to pay all expenses ourselves, keep costs to a bare minimum, spend nothing on advertising and keep everything in scale.
If one Euro can give a person clean water for life, then one euro is the scale and a reasonable donation to ask for, especially in these harsh economic times.
A point I make to students, by holding up their bottled water, (everyone has a bottle of water nowadays. Bring the bottle home, fill it from the tap just for one day and buy water for life for one of the poorest people in the World.
If you want to change someone’s life this year, 2011, then this may be your chance.
Clean water changes lives totally and completely and it costs 1 Euro.
Now back to the kids in St Michael’s House, primary school: I had shown the idea of the million mile challenge to a teacher who comes to Malawi to volunteer this Summer and after explaining the situation to children parents and staff, the word came back to say that they were all up for it, They could walk a mile, no bother, and give a pump to those poor people.
As Mary went on with her talk
One little girl with red hair and a big smile asked! When we buy the pump, Mary, for these poor people, will we have to carry it a very long way to Malawi, Mary, being good at the delegation, assured her that I would do all that for them! This one sentence was enough to send me back to Malawi on April 4 newly enthused and inspired, to suffer bureaucratic indifference, political corruption, chiefs without hope, fuel shortages and cratered roads, mixed in with two months without sky sports, showers or sausages.
Robert, my helper, who claimed allegiance to Gortahork, in Donegal, lives in Gardiner St and without a hint of a Donegal accent told me that he knew all about having no water after the frost. He knew he couldn’t have a drink, wash, flush the loo or have a shower and it wasn’t nice.
The woman at Jacob’s well knew all about clean water as well, collecting it was her daily chore, she asked Jesus where his bucket was, suggesting maybe that he was a typical man.
After our talk in one school it was heartening to get a letter from a father of a student we spoke to saying:
“My great picture and no sound, son, sat me down, tonight, after your talk, went on for an hour about water, pumps and Malawi and convinced me that we should all get together, as a family and buy a pump for a village. We enclose a cheque for €130 which may be my best investment we ever made. Now I have women in Malawi praying for me, a son who is my best mate and when we get the pictures lots to talk about; a common interest”. Not a bad day’s work.
Oh about the girls, they have more ideas than the contents of a small novel, and over 60 are signed up for the mini marathon.
This is part of the million mile challenge, walking for water. Did I say you can walk, run, skip, hop or even skate board. You could do it with your team, school, class, club, granny or even walking the dog, at home or on holiday.
Maybe you could promote the idea for the beginning of the new school year.
I did say there was a catch, but it’s just a Euro.

Volunteer Testimonials

Lynne Swan

Why I Volunteered

My name is Lynne Swan. I am 20 year old journalism student from Dublin, Ireland. I was selected as one of eleven students to volunteer with Wells for Zoe in Malawi during Easter 2011. I wanted to come here as I had heard about the great work Wells for Zoe had done and are continuing to do in Malawi by providing opportunities for Malawian citizens and letting them know that just about anything is achievable.

Since my first day here I’ve learned the true value of communication within the communities here. I’ve heard numerous stories of how Wells for Zoe changed hundreds of people lives just through word of mouth and thus being able to find out which communities need clean water.

I absolutely love being here helping out John and Mary and meeting the amazing Malawian citizens but at the same time I cannot wait to go home and spread the good word of the constant work of Wells for Zoe here in Malawi.

I definitely want, and very much hope, to come back to Malawi again so that I can help to continue the amazing and life changing work Wells for Zoe do here.

This is the fourth year that DIT students have come here to help with the NGO and I hope that there will be many more students volunteering here in the near future. We visited schools, fixed pumps for the wells, visited Mzuzu Central Hospital and have gone to local communities to identify needs and talk to villagers.

It has been an absolute honour to have been able to converse with so many wonderful Malawian people and I truly believe that they can achieve what ever their hearts desire once NGOs like Wells For Zoe are around to inspire and assist them in doing so.

Having spent just over a week here so far I am in awe of what could be achieved if we stayed longer or came back again. John and Mary Coyne have achieved so much with Wells for Zoe and I am proud to be able to say that I have assisted them with even just a tiny percentage of that great work.

I’ve made life-long friends and met people that I will never, ever, forget.

Wells for Zoe takes water pumps to Mzimba

Wells for Zoe takes water pumps to Mzimba
from The Nation Newspaper, Malawi’s National Daily.
Thursday, 26 May 2011 10:49 Albert Sharra – Correspondent

John Coyne demonstrates how to assemble the pump

December 26 2002 is a day that will never go out of the memories of 32-year-old Mary Msimuko of Msira Village, Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba. This is the day she buried her husband and two children who succumbed to cholera in two consecutive days, turning her into a childless widow.

According to Msimuko, the three got cholera after drinking contaminated water from a nearby river which is the main source of water for people in the village, who do not have access to tap water and boreholes.

“Doctors told me that the three died of dehydration caused by cholera. The water we were drinking was contaminated by running rainwater because the streams were not protected and when doctors came to taste the foods and water at our house, they found out that the water was contaminated,” she said.

But Msimuko is not the only one who has lost her family members to waterborne diseases. In 2005 and 2006, when the country received heavy rainfall, many people lost their lives to such diseases in the district.

Statistics kept at Mzuzu Central Hospital indicates that about 10 people in Mzimba lose life to waterborne diseases every rainy season due to lack of clean water.

Mzimba is the largest district in Malawi. With a population of over 850 000, only less than 200 boreholes have been constructed since 2000.

According to an environmental officer at Mzimba District Hospital Chimwemwe Jella, the fight against disease outbreaks and sanitation has been poor because most people rely on river or stream water.

But people in the district have every reason to smile with the coming of an Irish organisation called Wells of Zoe which is running a project aimed at supplying communities with clean drinking water in the district and the surrounding areas.

The organisation is installing shallow well pumps in the communities and already, over 4 000 pumps have been planted in Mzimba and part of Nkhata Bay and Karonga since 2006, benefiting over 100 000 people.

Speaking during a media tour, one of the project co-founders Mary Coyne said her organisation came up with the project after noting that most people in the district were drinking unsafe water.

“Water tops in any health issue and we were shocked when we first visited the country in 2005 to see women walking long distances carrying dirty water. As a charitable organisation, we decided to assist by providing water pumps. So, we decided to come up with a simple pump which can be repaired by anyone cheaply and we are happy today that the pump is efficient,” Coyne said.

The simple water pumps are made using two plastic pipes, a nail and a rubber disk cut from the inner tube of an old tyre, but it pumps water from as deep as 18 metres.

The Wells of Zoe is also training the communities on how to repair the pumps.

According to Coyne, the pumps are durable and each has a capacity to support over 500 people in a day.

To ensure that every community has access to these taps, the organisation opened a factory that manufactures the pumps in Mzuzu and community leaders can go and ask for one for their communities free of charge.

They are only asked to provide a place, sand and bricks for the construction.

One of the beneficiaries, Group Village Headman Kadambo, said the project is a relief to his community which had no access to clean water.

“We believe cholera and diarrhoea cases will be eliminated because we now have clean water,” he said.

Director of Water and Sanitation at Water for Life, a non-governmental organisation based in Lilongwe, Masautso Ng’ube, says the simple pump is a relief to Malawi because the boreholes have a shorter lifespan.

“Government has been drilling many boreholes countrywide, but very few are still working. I feel if we can embrace this simple pump, our communities will never go short of clean water,” he said, asking Wells of Zoe to open other factories in the Southern and Central regions.