An email from Ratheniska Primary School, Co.Laois, Ireland

Brendan Fingleton is an engineer, I first met him a number of years ago, on a night when I had just returned from hole from Malawi, 30 hours travel and all that when I gave a talk to the Young Engineers Society!!. To make the story very short, he has just finished a stint volunteering with us in Malawi and is currently working in Australia, like many other young bright stars, of our potential future here. Liam will do well anywhere he goes, as he certainly did in Mzuzu.

His email goes as follows 

John and Mary how are things?

 I am sitting in Cairns about to head to bed. I hope all is good at home in Dublin. I assume all your Wells for Zoe projects are going good or in the right direction. I am sorry I have never got back to you with a summary of the bits and bobs that I did and learnt in Malawi. I have been looking at all the pictures on the site and they are all great. Makes me realize the amount I got to see and do when I was out there. I would like to say thanks again. It looks like this is your all-action time of year and have plenty of projects keeping you busy. 

I hope the shop is going good.

Anyway, I emailing you to show you some of your work is getting around and down to some kids in Laois. My sister is a teacher in our old primary school. She sent me a questions from the kids in her class. I tried to answer them as best I could and I thought you might be interested. I assume you have seen stuff like this before.

Anyway that you might be interested. And there is some pictures I sent them in the next email.


I have tried to answer the questions as best I could below. Let me know if you have any more.

On Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Karen Fingleton wrote:

Hi Brendan,

This is the senior infants here. We are e-mailing you from Ratheniska school.

We are learning about where water comes from. We learned all about a boy called Daniel. He lives in Uganda. He and his family get water from a well.

Miss Fingleton told us that you used to make wells in Malawi. We would like to know how do you make wells?

We know that there is water under the ground everywhere in the world. We know that beside rivers it is only a couple of meters below ground! But up on mountains it can be 100m below ground!

Aoibheann wants to know where did the water come from?

The water is below the ground. The soil is very wet if you go deep enough. So when you dig a hole the water will flow from the soil into the hole.

Luke wants to know how did you make cement for the well?

We go to the cement and buy it in bags like in Ireland. The cement comes from grinding stones in a quarry into dust. We then add sand and water and that makes cement. And when you let it dry it becomes really strong.

Pádraig wants to know where did you get the bricks?

The bricks come from the ground. In Malawi the ground is really strong but also wet. So they put the wet clay into a mould, like pouring water into an ice cube holder. They then stack all the wet bricks in a pile and let them dry out! Then they put the dried bricks in a heap with big poles underneath, cover the bricks with soil and burn the timber. This is called firing. This makes them strong.

Joanne wants to know how did you travel to Malawi?

I got the bus from Portlaoise to Dublin airport. Then I got the plane to London, England. This took 1 hour. Then I got a plane from London England to Addis Abba in Ethiopia. This in Africa. This took 8 hours. I then got a plane from Addis Abba, Ethiopia to Lilongwe, Malawi. This is the biggest city in Malawi. I stayed there one night and then I got a bus to Mzuzu. This is the same distance as Dublin to Cork. The trip took 8 hours as the buses are very old and slow and they stop in every little town and let everyone they see onto the bus.

Orla wants to know if the well used buckets or a pump?

We use a pump. We put a lid on the well and slot a pump down the middle of the lid. This stops dirt getting in to the well. Every time you lift up the pump and push it back down you get about 1/2 a liter of water. This is easier than lifting a bucket up an down, which would be very heavy. But the Malawi women, boys and girls fill buckets. These can contain 25 liters of water. They then carry them on there heads. They might walk for 30 mins then.

Mateusz and Eimear want to know how long it took to build a well?

First you have to dig the well. This can be the hardest and longest part. Some times this can be done in a day. The well might only be 3 meters deep. But it can also take nearly 3 weeks, if the well is 20 meters deep. You then build the bricks. Then you have to make the pump which is very easy and cheap if you know exactly how to make it and have all the materials. Then you have to make the lid from cement. Then you put the lid in place. So sometimes it can take a couple of days but more times it can take weeks and weeks.

Finn and Katie want to know how did you make the pump at the top?

You make the lid from concrete (sand, stones and cement) with a small hole in the middle for the pump. Then you lift the pump up really high and then slot it down the hole until it is in the bottom of the well in the water. Then you screw the pump to the concrete to make sure it stays there for a long time.

Grace wants to know how did you get the water in the well?

When you dig the well you put bricks inside in circle for as far down as you dig. Then all the water in the soil flows in between some bricks at the bottom into the well.

Pádraig says ‘Safe journey home‘ ( but Miss Fingleton knows that you won’t be coming home for a while and that’s OK too, so safe journey whenever then is)


Love Senior Infants and Miss Fingleton.

Go raibh maith agat.

We thank Miss Fingleton and her Senior Infant class for all the excellent questions


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