Teacher mentoring

Malawi: Progress on a Shoe String, November 25, 2012

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

A happy woman

Mary: Creating an interest in books, everywhere she goes


Carrying water


Pumping is so easy with the Canzee pump. Ask any 4 year old!

Ecaiweni Conference on Micro Credit

Language barrier: What’s that.
Mary working with a women’s Self Help group, in their village on their plans


I had two contrasting contacts that made an impact on me last week. The first was an email wondering whether we had finished with Malawi, or were we still in business and the other was a contact regarding our gathering for volunteers from the past seven years in Malawi.

I suppose it’s not surprising that someone may think of our early demise, because many small organisations like us do what they can, and leave. We now spend a little less than half our lives in Mzuzu, we make no great fuss about what we do when we are at home, and our fundraising is low key and almost underground.

Early this year we revamped our board with a more formal structure and now we have Dr Ann Burnell, Professor Emeritus in Biology NUIM, as Chair, Pierce Maher, Dr Maria Corrigan, Ciarán O’Leary, acting head of the School of Computing, DIT, Kevin St, Liam Stuart, Caitriona Coyne, John Waters, Irish Times, Elaine Bolger, Roseanne Curtin, Mary and myself. Since we are a 100% voluntary organisation we have found that this arrangement lightens the load on us a bit. Voluntary, in W4Z always means no remuneration; everyone pays for travel, accommodation and all the costs of their involvement. There are no expenses of any kind or allowances paid by the charity, to anyone except the wages of our Malawi employees. We, as the founders, also pay all other expenses so that 100% of all public donations get all the way to our projects in Malawi and Zambia.

You could say that the gathering last Friday night last was our seventh Birthday, since it is seven years since we headed into the unknown, to a dot in the hills of Northern Malawi to meet a unique and amazing man: Br Aidan Clohessy, Head of St John of God Services in Mzuzu, to stay with him for two weeks and now 25 visits later we have the hospitality, wisdom, experience, advice and sound solid good sense of a Tipperary man who started from scratch, about 19 years ago, and has built up a first World Service, including a Health Science University. In typical fashion, he attributes it all to the Grace of God. In his interview with John Waters, on the night, he related; that success in Malawi began by his piggybacking on the Diocese of Mzuzu and St John’s Hospital and that W4Z have succeeded as a result of doing the same with SJOG. “It’s a good way to ensure success” he said. When asked to elaborate, he said that you must have determination and heart and W4Z is built on those virtues.

We are so happy that he came, with Provincial Br Lawrence, to cut the birthday cake (Donated by our local Superquinn). Of course he got a great welcome from all our volunteers who know him and all he has achieved in Malawi.

The various displays showed some of what we are now doing in Malawi and generated much surprise and delight, particularly for those who came to volunteer in the earlier years.

News for 2012 to date:


WATER: Our factory has manufactured over 450 pumps, this year and between Malawi and Zambia, we estimate that well over 100,000 villagers will have clean, safe drinking water, by year’s end. We also have a more formal training programme, in pump maintenance, for village women, who are burdened with the task of locating and hauling water on their heads, often from long distances. We are also doing trials on a new pump, a modifies version of our current one, for pumping up-hill and for filling tanks


PRIMARY EDUCATION: In our fourth year of teacher mentoring. Our programme now impacts over 25,000 students in two zones in the Northern region, working with the District Education Manager (DEM) and the inspectorate. It is designed and implemented by excellent practitioners from Ireland using the Malawi Curriculum and is set for rapid expansion as some top Malawian teachers have been trained to be trainers. They’ve got a little lift and they are ON-IT. For the future, the DEM and some excellent school heads are of retirement age and coming to work for us.


PRESCHOOLS We now support 21 rural schools, mainly by training caregivers, and showing them how to make and use locally-made teaching aids. In terms of building schools, the community must make and build bricks and do all the labour, and when the reach roof level, W4Z supply only the roofing material and 3 bags of cement for the floor. This arrangement ensures community ownership.



We now have four farms.

Farm 1: Here we do research and demonstration with about 100 plants, using OP seeds, No artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides. We save seeds and have greenhouses to produce over 10,000 fruit tree seedlings each year, and a multitude of other trees.

Farm 2: This we use to produce seeds of four tree types, all nitrogen fixing, one for nutrient extraction (Musango), one used for pest control (Tephrosia), and two fast growing for forage (Sespania and Glicidia).

This will enable us to supply these seeds to about 250 local farmers and also to a Seed Company in Lilongwe

Farm 3: This is a 3 hectare, citrus grove but it is also used for herb growing and researching forgotten African plants.

Farm 4: This is a depleted wilderness for research. A 20 year old man, Kondwani, with his wife and child will live here, improve the soil with agro-forestry, green manure, pigs, a cow, long crop rotation and conservation tillage in a planned eight year ad(venture) to see what can be achieved without  Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the rest. We hope that this will be a model for the future


We also have a rural birthing centre, which doubles as a health centre and a location for many and varied meetings

We support clubs for grandparents rearing grandchildren and home based care for HIV/AIDS sufferers, in the areas where we work

We have a fund for hospital medicines and baby clothes for maternity wards, in Mzuzu Central Hospital and Mzuzu Clinic. We also supply transport for the medics for their monthly clinics.

We work with secondary schools and the two third level institutions.

We have a project enabling girls to go to Secondary Schools, a few school libraries and even one on the farm.

We have Adult education programmes and one for school gardens.

We work with women’s Self Help clusters and also have a 23 acre

co-operative, commercial, model farm for women, where we work with the Ministry for Agriculture, Agroforestry and the Traditional Authorities. Here Wells for Zoë bought the land and will resell it to the women over a four year period. We bought it in April, 2012 and already 25% has been repaid ahead of schedule. This is a very new concept (shares and women’s ownership) to rural Malawi and has created much interest from many sectors.

We have a bee keeping project with almost 100 hives and a market for honey

We supported a young nursing student, who will graduate in December and come to work with us.

We have a charity shop in Smithfield run by volunteers

All this happens without taxpayers’ money or any assistance from Irish Aid, but with great help from family, friends, supporters and volunteers, always with passion and a second hand shoestring budget.

..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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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)

Can You help?

From Cassie:

Hello friends

here’s a good deed for the week…

While in Malawi, we worked in Zolo Zolo Secondary School. The school was sparse with few resources so we decided to fund the renovation of room into a library.

While there, we also thought creative writing to the students. Their commitment to learning was truly inspirational and their joy at gaining a library was overwhelming.

Whilst working in the school, I found out the names of their English text book. It is a book by MacMillan Education called Looking for a Rain God. It has been out of publication for 15 years, but with the kind help of the publishers, we have located 71 copies of the text book.

Now we want to send them to Malawi so the school will not have to share a book between 10 or 12 students. The cost to buy the book from the publishers and bring it to Malawi is ten euro…so now, we’re looking for 71 people to commit to buying a book and we’ll take care of the rest.

If you would like to be the proud sponsor of a book please contact Cassie at cassandra.lorraine@gmail.com

Mother and child

Mzuzu’s Little Mothers

This article, by Cassie Delaney examines the current education situation for young girls in rural Malawi and through interviews establishes that, in that particular region, the MDG to deliver universal primary education by 2015 is unachievable.

Cassie was on her third visit to Malawi, volunteering with Wells for Zoe, Easter 2012


“The girls come from far and they pass through many problems on their way”. Principal Rhoda Mulowayi talks to me in her office in Zolo Zolo Secondary School, Mzuzu. It is the Easter holidays and outside droves of children sing and play in the stone-splitting sun with a group of Irish volunteers. The secondary school students who prepare to sit their finals have come to ask for books and writing materials. Younger children from the community have come to catch a glimpse of the Mzungu. The shyer, timid children sit observing while their brazen older siblings approach the volunteers who entertain with bubbles and balloons and games. The scene is reminiscent of any school yard. Children run, laugh, play and fall over. But, on the perimeters of this playful scene, groups of girls carrying babies on their backs stand huddled together. These girls watch and laugh and sing but are unable to join in the rough and tumble. These girls are Mzuzu’s reluctant mothers and when asked each iterate the same thing; everyday, as their brothers and peers go to school, they are left behind to mind their younger siblings, fetch water and prepare food for their households because their place is in the home. It is these girls that have caused Rhoda concern.

The statistics are’nt new. In Sub-Sahara Africa, 31 million school aged children are not attending school. For those who can access education, 30% drop out before completing a course of primary education. In Malawi, 51% of primary school aged girls are not in school. A further 5% leave education before second level. We have spent several days in Malawi, and I have photographed many young girls who have each explained that they cannot attend school because of their commitments at home.

In Zolo Zolo Secondary School, a class of 72 students prepare to sit their final state exams. Of these students, 52 are male. “We are talking of gender equality worldwide” says Rhoda, “but for us to achieve this gender equality there is need for the girl child to be taken care of. For we have a saying here in Malawi; Educate a boy and you educate an individual, but educate a girl and you educate a nation”.

An expected opinion in Malawi is that girls should serve solely a domestic purpose. Rhoda ratifies that it is the common understanding that the place for girls is in the home. “When the mother is busy, the girl child is there to take care of the family. When someone is in the hospital, the girl child takes care of the family”. This sentiment is acknowledged by UNICEF who publically state “the socialization process victimizes girls because they are considered to be the weaker sex. Spending valuable resources such as money to pay for their education is considered a waste because they are expected to get married and be supported by their husbands. Their profile in society has remained low and their voices have not been heard”.

It would appear that the failure in Malawi’s education system is the social standing of women. When the United Nations talk about The Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (Goal 2), they often cite this standing as the obstacle they face in realising this goal. But this, in Rhoda’s view, is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are more monstrous concerns facing young girls in Malawi; concerns which significantly hinder the progress of education and equality.

Rhoda sits behind a large pine desk. Her office is sparse, dark and piled high with loose papers. There is little room for me to sit so I stand leaning over an aging steel filing cabinet. On the lime wash concrete walls, attendance sheets for the four forms indicate a low level of attendance. Outside, the children and volunteers continue to play. Rhoda leans forward, her unbalanced chair moving with her weight. There is hesitance in her voice, as though she is reluctant to continue.

“The girls fall in to a lot of temptations” says Rhoda with regret. “It is easy for the girls to fall into the temptation of having so many boyfriends. Also the girls do not have enough money and they can easily be tempted to have money and in exchange for money they offer their bodies. We are surrounded by a community of drunkards and as you know, drunkards can rape.”

“Girls are suffering”, she continues. “Those who drop out are girls. They are pregnant and we can’t keep them a place”.

Rhoda looks distantly out her office door to the children and collection of classrooms outside. The school is large but unassuming. The classrooms are bare and, if one were to pass the gathering of buildings on a weekend, one would assume the place was derelict.  In previous conversation Rhoda expressed a desire to turn Zolo Zolo in to a boarding school for girls, which she believes, will ascertain their attendance throughout all forms. But, with the school lacking in basic provisions such as desks and chairs, the promise of full boarding facilities is a long way off.

The United Nations released a report about Goal 2 in 2010 in which they stated enrolment in primary education in developing regions had reached 89 per cent in 2008. But, from conversation with Rhoda, it is clear that it is not enrolling student in education that is problematic, but rather, keeping them in education. She is adamant that a boarding school is the solution and when I ask her why, Rhoda looks at me, and bluntly states, “Because we still have these arranged marriages”.

In the Malawian legal system, there is ambiguity regarding marriage. Law states that a person over 18 can marry without parental consent and those between the ages of 15 – 18 may marry with the consent of a guardian.  The Law Commission has fought to increase the age of consent to 18 with parental consent, and 21 without. In regards to forced marriage, the constitution states no person over the age of 18 can be forced in to marriage. But, according to Rhoda, the reality in rural villages is that young girls are still being coerced into marriage to repay family debt. This practice is known as kupimbira and is a form of debt repayment where a young daughter may be transferred to the creditor for marriage for failure to pay the debt back.

Kupimbira is a taboo subject in the region and when I approach young people and ask about it, few are willing to talk. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, such practice is internationally illegal and yet, according to the few who speak, is widely practiced in Malawi.

In spite of my pale Irish skin, I join the volunteers outside to play with the young children. Someone has thought them a game of “Pile on Cassie” and when my sunburnt skin can’t hack any more, I sit down with a group of young girls. One girl, Rebecca Murawae, speaks with impeccable English. Her skin is clear, he eyes are bright and in all respects she looks healthy and happy. She is 15 and in form one in Zolo Zolo. She tells me English is her favourite subject in school. I tell her that I study journalism and joke that she should consider it because the world always needs more journalists but she laughs and says she hopes one day to become a nurse. Rebecca is a beautiful looking young woman but what catches my attention is her evident intelligence. I ask her about her family and she tells me about her sister and brother. Rebecca seems to be well educated and I assume her family are one of the elite few who can afford the fees but she skims over the issue of fees saying “my parents did some business” and I decide not to question any further.

It is getting late in the evening and I wonder about the things Rhoda has told me. I have travelled to Malawi many times, met many people and read extensive reports by the UN and have only ever heard hushed whispers about Kupimbira. Like most, I believed with international laws and the advances in human rights and education, that such practices must have ceased and that it can’t really be that common. Yet, this is not the first time I have been surprised in Malawi, and it’s certainly not going to be the last either. In an effort to return to more upbeat and casual conversation I turn to Rebecca and ask “and do you like school?”

“Yes of course!” she says with hurriedly “I like it, I like school”, she pauses “I want to stay in school”. Rebecca seems to have defied the statistics. But then Rebecca speaks again and I am quickly reminded of the unfortunate truth of Malawi.

“We have problems too though. I want to stay in school so that I do not have to get married like my sister”.

Like all the girls here, Rebecca’s future is uncertain. What is palpable though, is her intelligence.

“I want to stay so that I can assist my mother and my sister. Like my sister, I don’t want to leave school because of our problems; I want to solve our problems because I stayed in school”.

Back in Rhoda’s office I mention Goal 2 and ask does she think such a goal is achievable.

She laughs.

“One hundred per cent of boys and girls in school by 2015? No that is not even tangible. I doubt this very much. Why? Because we will always have these problems with the girls. We will always have the girls dropping out. We need to solve the problems with the girls before we can solve the problems with education”.

Village Meeting

Village Meeting
Originally uploaded by wellsforzoe

It may look like a visit to a village in the touristic sense. Go there, meet the village and leave, never to be seen again.
But we just don’t go about our business like this.
Here we see part of a Self Help Group before their weekly meeting started. They began their savings scheme in January 2011, saving small amounts. They began lending to each other in March 2011 charging an interest rate of 20%, which goes back in to the kitty. They are involved in small business and at the end of November had a loan book of 1246 Euro. Now these are some of the poorest women in the area, some are widows and few can read and write. Brian, with the purple shirt, an employee of our friends at St John of God Services, is their mentor, educator and advisor, but they do everything else themselves. All this has been achieved by these 18 women with no financial input from outside. They have achieved all by themselves, a lesson to the rest of the World!!. After working successfully in these small groups, the progress to Community needs, forming a cluster representing 10 small groups
At this stage they presented us with proposals for clean water, preschools and adult education. We are now working with the first cluster on the building of 10 preschools which will double for Adult Education. Training has began is some and we are ahead of schedule.
When I say we, I mean that we support the community, but they do all the work and. In the preschools we supply some cement, and the metal for the roof, they do all the work. We also supply training and for caregivers in the preschools and work with the Ministry of Education for training adult education trainers.
This group have 34 wells/pumps and when we came along only one worked.
Later we will bring training in conservation farming and horticulture.
These now successful business women are ready to drive this agenda, having been empowered by their own success. They are not for turning and they will go upwards and onwards.
An amazing success story against all the odds.