..and her name was Katie Taylor!

Journalist On The Run

Check out this amazing video of the ‘Thai Tims’, kids from a school in Thailand, singing loud and proud about the legend that is Irish Olympic Gold medallist Katie Taylor.

Absolutely love these kids, such an inspiration for all.


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Nicole and the farm kids


Volunteering with the little people

Volunteering has always been in my blood, my parents did it, but at that time it didn’t have a label, it was part of our life. To me volunteering is simply doing a service to one or many people without considering any possibility of a reward. It’s taking the B team, when all the glory is with the A team, slipping in to ask if your elderly neighbour needs anything from the shop, putting yourself out, going the extra mile, caring and being generous with your time and considering others. Of course there are the really difficult tasks like providing respite to someone with a challenged child or adult and a whole host of quiet, unknown, and undisclosed acts of hospitality that just go unrecorded every hour of every day.

Of course there are many things that are called voluntary work like chairing multitudinous committees, managing super teams or promoting issues in the public eye, many of which appear on election literature later to gain the rewards. I find this disturbing and sad and realise that is opportunism not volunteering.

At the bureaucratic level we have training for volunteers, policies for volunteers, sending agencies, monitoring agencies staffed by people in plush offices, on substantial salaries and as a friend says: milking the system, all on the generosity of the selfless. There is a worldwide phenomenon of, if we regulate it, we can employ more bureaucratic types and then,  we can charge people for doing it, and of course bureaucrats never miss an opportunity

After 6 years of bringing volunteers to Malawi we have had just over 400 volunteers and almost all of these have brought their own, individual and memorable contribution to the people we journey with.

We could have started and continued with aims and goals and outcomes. We could go for a SMART plan and spend our time on office work. (Oh it means Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). Now we could have done this, but we asked ourselves, who, are we doing this for. Our Malawian friends know what we do and our volunteers will pick it up very quickly and just as quickly tell our donors. Job done without bureaucracy! Strangely the political classes know only one way to go.

Malawi has had 40 years and more of Strategic Plans, most of which have failed miserably, so why should we add to their burden. If we do plans, they will be with the people we try to serve and for their benefit. We have no expectation of a reward, no Evangelism, no hope of putting it on CV’s or hope of promotion.

This morning, April 17, 2012, 7 of this year’s volunteers from the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT (the largest third level educational institution in Ireland) set out for the airport, 400km away, at 5 am. They will arrive in Dublin at 7 pm tomorrow and hit class on Thursday morning having made an indelible mark on Malawi. Who knows how lasting it will be, or what ripple effect it will have. What I do know that they themselves will never be the same. We had Cassie (Journalism)and Sinead (Engineering) here for the third lime leading the group of fourteen then Claire, Ali, Georgie, John and Tommy, all film and media students.

They had all come through the interview system which is done by former volunteers, came to our gatherings to absorb our ethos from Mary, myself and former volunteers. We usually meet in Lucan, have a bite to eat, a chat and get to know each other.

We expect them to be themselves, bring their big hearts, journey with the people on whatever a daily task is. Try to Inspire Educate and Challenge those they meet, knowing that we promote opportunities, and don’t allow handouts.

They see and live among people in dire poverty and our policy is that they should have smiles on their faces and be prepared for fun at every possible opportunity. How can you relate to mothers? Play with and admire their kids. Bubbles are a great icebreaker in any village. Glum faces, smart suits and clip boards get you nothing except what they know you want to hear. Laughs and hugs and fun make the bond every time. Irish people can do this and make the connection in minutes. That’s why our volunteers are so loved by all, even in the remotest villagers, where white faces are scarce, where the little ones will often run away and cry at first: but not for long!!. These people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!! What’s a PhD to a woman who never had the chance of going to school, can’t read or write and has barely enough to eat? Without a heart and understanding it’s useless.

Many of our student volunteers have had two or three jobs to fund their trip. The deal is that they pay their way and cost Wells for Zoe nothing. Our hostel costs them 5 Euro per day to cover Water, Electricity and Security.

What do they do is a regular question? Well we have numerous programmes on the go and they spend at least the first day seeing most of what we do. Then they chose what they want to try out. Nightly debriefing and planning keeps us going, and time flies when you’re having fun!

Naturally the film and media people worked on a documentary, but also got amazing insights as Malawians love talking. Cameras are no bother to them.

They also did a course in the teaching of English to the teachers in ZolaZolaSecondary school. The original idea was to do the course with the students but an edict from on high ordained that there should be no teaching in Government secondary schools over Easter as it might give unfair advantage to those who got it. Of course the bureaucrats forgot that all the private schools where their children go could get as much tuition as they needed. Unfair advantage, to a community based school with no Government funding?? What a load of pig manure. Leaving the rant aside, this course worked so well that the District inspector and Heads of schools has asked for it to be continued and expanded and as a result Mary got to give the keynote address, at an inset conference for the inspectorate and local second level teachers. I would rate this achievement as remarkable and also confirm that it came at no cost to our donors or even the Irish taxpayer!!

We and all our volunteers have learned again that, in Malawi, you must be prepared for situation A, B and C at least, and have the character to be unphased by any eventuality.

Maybe I should tell a little story to typify the daily happenings. Cassie and Sinead got up early on Friday last, got a taxi and brought a 41 year old man, whose children they got to know over the years, to the Central hospital. They paid for his care and left a phone with the nurse so as she could make contact. He was admitted and died within 48 hours. We are all so sad, but happy that the, reaction of the heart, by the girls, meant so much for his dignity and that of his family.

How can you measure this, its impact and the ripple effect in Salisbury line where he lived. What would it cost the bureaucrats to achieve this? He was just one unknown man, who was battered and bruised by Geography, his culture, tradition, and poverty, who finally got to pass-on with some measure of dignity. It took an hour of their time on their way to do a day’s work. People can’t be trained to do this. What they had was heart and a caring spirit, and a habit of journeying with these poor people, like Stanley’s dad, as they call him. You can’t do this living in a five star or even a two star hotel and doing the four by four, ritual. This is real volunteering, real caring. I know there is a paid-forward waiting for them somewhere along their journey, well there should be, but they didn’t do it for that. The Universe has its own way of colluding. This is our dream, caring for individuals, not ticking boxes for millions

There is a book of, other stories about these and our past volunteers. They have been, and continue to be special people, who make a real difference to real people by their presence here.

We love them and wish them well in their future lives. They are better people because they came and cared.

When our volunteers come, we don’t put on a show (I’ve seen the shows). They get to see everything both good and bad, things that are successful as well as our failures. We want them to see how and why things fail, but we don’t plan for them. We want them to see Malawi in the raw, warts and all.

Their overall impression from them, of their time in Malawi: Magic, best time of our lives, where did the time go and we’ll be back, as with those who preceded them, they certainly will.

Malawi is not for all. Some people just don’t get it. Before volunteers come, in so far as we can, we try to rid them of their preconceived notions and most of what they have heard, learned and seen about Africa. Africa is a huge continent with an amazing array of cultures and traditions and diversity. Malawi is Malawi, with its own tribes, cultures and traditions and certainly not a homogenous, inert mass of humankind. You can’t assume that a plan devised by one village will work 50 km away. Even though there may be 13 or 14 million people here, we work, not with the millions but the individual people we journey with each day.

Working with small, women’s cluster groups we get to know them, little by little and they us. It’s a patient and painstaking process like taking layers of an onion, but is there and other way? Trust and friendships develop over time and eventually, in most cases, the seemingly impossible happens and people empower themselves.

This is the Africa of Wells for Zoe where most of our volunteers learn that there is a new and simpler way to help: a small, personal and direct relationship with the dark Continent.

Is development aid to Malawi anything more than Neo-Colonial Life-Support?

By Nick Wright August 8, 2012 · Nyasa Times

A reflection on the new state of Malawi

President Bingu wa Mutharika (with encouragement from Robert Mugabe) was beginning to develop a policy in Malawi that was designed to free Malawi from aid dependency. It was a poorly-conceived policy, and very crudely executed, like everything under Bingu’s immediate direction, but it had the potential to free Malawi from its humiliating status as international beggar.

There was something almost heroic in Bingu’s defiance of the world-order as he, the leader of one of the poorest countries in the world, sent the British ambassador packing and told the donors to “go to hell”. His sudden death in April of this year changed all that. His Vice-President, Joyce Banda, took his place according to the rules of the Malawi Constitution, and reversed that policy. The donors (IMF, DfID, EU, USAID etc) are now pouring back into the country with their bags full of aid-money: hoping to get things back to the old order when that money was injected direcly into the Malawian government as “Budget Support”. Back to the good old days of past-president Bakili Muluzi and his UDF party who knew how to get rid of that money quickly, and without fuss.

No-one has a good word to spare for Bingu these days. The foreign-exchange bureaus are functioning again and the petrol pumps have fuel to sell. Bingu’s appetite for personal self-enrichment and luxury, always suspected, is now obvious for all to see. His scowling, bullying, finger-wagging brand of leadership has been replaced by a more open, more honest and more colourful presidency with a genuine freedom of speech and of the media. The Police and the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation are no longer agents of dictatorship.

These are very important developments and the western donors are as pleased with them as are the Malawian people.

But is Malawi in danger of losing something important as the aid-money begins to flow again into Lilongwe .The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is a good example. It is back again as Malawi’s biggest donor, with £90 million. to spend every year there from its overall budget of £8,000 millions. DFID will be followed by a new British High Commissioner to occupy the vast British embassy in Lilongwe. The hundreds of Malawian NGOs and international charities with offices in Lilongwe are lining up again to spend that DFID money, as are the government ministries (Agriculture, Education, Health) which no longer have to worry their heads about awkward policy- issues and budgets. With an exchange-rate of 436 kwacha to every pound, £90 million pounds converts to so many devalued Malawian kwacha that no-one needs to worry about exhausting that pot. There’ll always be another western donor standing eagerly by, to fill any awkward holes. Hilary Clinton is due into Lilongwe at the end of this week.

In Britain, and in much of Malawi, DFID is considered to be a benevolent and politically-neutral player on the world stage: concerned only with reducing poverty. Indeed, the money DFID spends on fertilizer- and seed- subsidies in Malawi: (that part of it, at least, which gets past the corrupt Malawian middlemen who are given the government contracts for its purchase from South Africa and Saudi Arabia and for its transportation to the Malawian farmers) DOES some real good for the poor. There really IS poverty-reduction in Malawi, if only for a few months.

BUT does this aid come at a serious political price? Is DFID really politically neutral? Is Joyce Banda’s “good behaviour” as interpreted by the western donor countries irrelevant to it? Is President Banda, for example, free to re-value her hugely de-valued currency without the donors’ authorization? Is she allowed freely to interfere in the tobacco-market, as Bingu so often tried to do, against the US tobacco-buying monopolies and on behalf of Malawi’s tens of thousands of poor tobacco-farmers? Is any of this aid money allowing Malawians to be more self-sufficient? I guess not.

Joyce Banda is the darling of the West, at the moment, and will remain their darling as long as she does what they tell her to do. Paul Kagame, in Rwanda, who was, only yesterday, the blue-eyed boy (so to speak) of the US and British political establishments has now been stripped of his DFID aid-money because of his support for the “wrong” side in the DRC.

As long as the aid money keeps flowing to Malawi, will anyone care about the almost-invisible strings attached to it? The strings will always be pulled by very nice, university-educated, well-intentioned, people, in London, like Andrew Mitchell (the British minister currently in charge of International Development). These people would reject any accusation of “neo-colonialism” with genuine indignation and they have a huge British government department to prepare their self-justifications. Malawian politicians in Lilongwe will hardly feel the pressure exerted by these strings until they dare to renege on the unwritten contracts. Then there’ll be no mistake about the pressure, as Malawian subsistence-farmers are forced to confront serious famine once again and as Malawian voters threaten to change their minds about their political masters. What is a political master worth in Malawi if he doesn’t have “development” funds at his disposal?

The British Empire of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was administered by nice and well-educated men like the British prime minister, David Cameron, and his Conservative party-colleague, Andrew Mitchell, who believed that they were doing good for the silly “natives” in Africa. It was called “Civilization” then, and is called “International Development” now. In the cold light of history we can now see that the British Empire did as little lasting good for the colonized natives as it did for Britain itself. It actually impoverished them both.

DFID is following a very, very, familiar track.

*Nick Wright

Miriam with present

There is always a Malawi solution.

Wells for Zoë is in its seventh year in Malawi and learning something new every day, about the people and their ability to cope, imImageprovise and initiate. Very poor people must have super coping mechanisms or they would already be dead.

From the beginning we worked on the principal that there would be no hand-outs, but must confess that there has always been slippage or failure to do what we knew was better, because firstly we are driven by the heart and secondly it took me a while to learn the art of patience in getting things done (but I’ve learned).

Sometimes even the best laid plans succumb to the sight of starving children, mothers giving birth in hovels and people dying from cholera while there are still pumps in the factory. Most times we strike excellent balances between heart and head, like with pumps, where communities dig wells, supply bricks, sand, and all labour, while we bring the pumps.

Since I was very little, I was taught that trying and getting it wrong was a learning process, while making the same mistake twice was bad judgement and bad business. I have worked hard on this all my life and now in Malawi, our people are free to try anything, make mistakes, and learn.

I always appreciated that even the poorest village women had amazing intelligence and spirit to succeed, but as I work with them and listen, I realise how much AID has got in the way of progress.

MICA school is a top rate example of how Malawi can cope without us. Miriam and Casca, the founders of MICA, came to work for us in Áras Kate in Salisbury line, both initially as volunteers. It was obvious from early on that they had a gift for teaching. Mary worked with them and later sent them on a short training course. When they could no longer work in Salisbury Line, they both did a training course in Adult Education and while Casca now manages nineteen preschools, Miriam runs our Adult Education programme.

During the Summer of 2011, Miriam started a small preschool in her own home, but soon it was too small, so she set about finding a suitable building, a local Church which could be rented, by a very helpful and caring pastor.

In her discussions with Mary it was obvious that her plan was better than we could ever have devised.

MIriam and Casca went for it, setting up MICA preschool. They organised their open day, registered over 60 little ones (3 to 6 year olds). Our Summer volunteers helped with, books, other bits and pieces and craic.

They changed the model. The little ones bring their lunch with them and those with a lunch share with those without. Jen and Grace, other carers from our Salisbury Line days, joined, as volunteers at first, and now a small school fee pays their wages.

This is another story about inspiration, education and challenge. They have met the challenge head-on and now they have one of the best preschools in Mzuzu.

They use the school to hold training courses for other carers and constantly up-skill themselves.

After a few weeks of help from newly qualified, Julie Thornhill, this place could compare favourably with a preschool in any suburb of any city in the world, but this is a pretty deprived area of Mzuzu.

The rent for the school is less than 2 Euros per week!

They get by with a little help from their friends!! (The Beatles get the final word)

Sorting before planting, picking the best

Why we should worry about seeds

Monsanto Buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds Company

by F. William Engdahl

I get to worry when I talk to the poorest farmers in Northern Malawi, where we work when I look at the seeds they use. They are all hybrids. For Maize and Rice and Cabbage and Soya and even tomato…all hybrids. Worse still when we have a pest on our farm,they can list off a collection of the most noxious chemicals all available in Mzuzu. If the likes of Montsanto and their like with questionable pasts, can be bothered with one of the poorest countries on the planet, they mean business!! The fact that a chemical company, posing as something altogether different can OWN patented seeds, puts doubt over the safety of the world’s  food supply. 

The United States Government has been financing research on a genetic engineering technology which, when commercialized, will give its owners the power to control the food seed of entire nations or regions. The Government has been working quietly on this technology since 1983. Now, the little-known company that has been working in this genetic research with the Government’s US Department of Agriculture– Delta & Pine Land– is about to become part of the world’s largest supplier of patented genetically-modified seeds (GMO), Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri.

Relations between Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land and the USDA, on closer scrutiny, show the deep and dark side of the much-heralded genetic revolution in agriculture. It proves deep-held suspicions that the Gene Revolution is not about ‘solving the world hunger problem’ as its advocates claim. It’s about handing over control of the seeds for mankind’s basic food supply—rice, corn, soybeans, wheat, even fruit, vegetables and cotton—to privately owned corporations. Once the seeds and their use are patented and controlled by one or several private agribusiness multinationals, it will be they who can decide whether or not a particular customer—let’s say for argument, China or Brazil or India or Japan—whether they will or won’t get the patented seeds from Monsanto, or from one of its licensee GMO partners like Bayer Crop Sciences, Syngenta or DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

While most of us don’t bother to reflect on where the corn in the box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes or the rice in a box of Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice come from, when we grab it from the supermarket shelf, they all must originate with seeds. Seeds can either be taken by a farmer from the previous season’ seeds, and planted to produce the next harvest. Or, seeds can be bought new each harvest season, from the companies which sell their seeds.

The advent of commercial GMO seeds in the early 1990’s allowed companies like Monsanto, DuPont or Dow Chemicals to go from supplying agriculture chemical herbicides like Roundup, to patenting genetically altered seeds for basic farm crops like corn, rice, soybeans or wheat. For almost a quarter century, since 1983, the US Government has quietly been working to perfect a genetically engineered technique whereby farmers would be forced to turn to their seed supplier each harvest to get new seeds. The seeds would only produce one harvest. After that the seeds from that harvest would commit ‘suicide’ and be unusable.

There has been much hue and cry, correctly so, that this process, patented ‘suicide’ seeds, officially termed GURTs (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies), is a threat to poor farmers in developing countries like India or Brazil, who traditionally save their own seeds for the next planting. In fact, GURTs, more popularly referred to as Terminator seeds for the brutal manner in which they kill off plant reproduction possibilities, is a threat to the food security as well of North America, Western Europe, Japan and anywhere Monsanto and its elite cartel of GMO agribusiness partners enters a market.

There is more at: http://tothedust.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/monsanto-buys-‘terminator’-seeds-company-3/