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

Picture2

Carrying water

IMG_0418

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.

 

FARMING

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

OTHER

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.

Lusangazi Sustainable farm - Velvet Bean

A Simple Fix for Farming

October 19, 2012, 1:05 pm
A Simple Fix for Farming
By MARK BITTMAN (New York Times)

I will always remember when I first read the following article. We were flying in to Kharthoum Airport while the pilot was pointing out fires and explosion of tanks on our first choice glide path!!. The explosions were all in my head though as we had just began our first steps on conservation/sustainable tillage a few days earlier, and we had a little affirmation that we were exactly on the right path.

Since we began farming in Malawi, I was convinced of a better way and so we have used no artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides on our farms for the past six years, while promoting green manures, rotation, ground cover and retaining residues, with minimum disturbance of the soil. All around us they burned everything, built up depleted acid soils and were generally seduced by the (dubious) science of the foreign “experts”. While the gurus of foreign nations and the onslaught of the foreign NGO brigade peddled genetically modified seed and noxious chemicals, we plodded along and tried to research what grew and how to match the pests!

On this last trip we find that our neighbours are copying what we do and even the Ministry people are advising farmers to grow and use “our” plants for pest control!!!!

Anyway, this articles excites me, but I certainly realise that the farming world has little notion of turning. Only the general public can decide how the future of farming will look by making their choices.

READ ON

IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use – if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside – and no downside at all – associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

No one expects Iowa corn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsanto about agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)

Debates about how we grow food are usually presented in a simplistic, black-and-white way, conventional versus organic. (The spectrum that includes conventional on one end and organic on the other is not unlike the one that opposes the standard American diet with veganism.).  In farming, you have loads of chemicals and disastrous environmental impact against an orthodox, even dogmatic method that is difficult to carry out on a large scale.

But seeing organic as the only alternative to industrial agriculture, or veganism as the only alternative to supersize me, is a bit like saying that the only alternative to the ravages of capitalism is Stalinism; there are other ways. And positioning organic as the only alternative allows its opponents to point to its flaws and say, “See? We have to remain with conventional.”

The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.

Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors – who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities – are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”

THIS means that not only is weed suppression a direct result of systematic and increased crop rotation along with mulching, cultivation and other non-chemical techniques, but that by not poisoning the fields, we make it possible for insects, rodents and other critters to do their part and eat weeds and their seeds. In addition, by growing forage crops for cattle or other ruminants you can raise healthy animals that not only contribute to the health of the fields but provide fertilizer. (The same manure that’s a benefit in a system like this is a pollutant in large-scale, confined animal-rearing operations, where thousands of animals make manure disposal an extreme challenge.)

Perhaps most difficult to quantify is that this kind of farming – more thoughtful and less reflexive – requires more walking of the fields, more observations, more applications of fertilizer and chemicals if, when and where they’re needed, rather than on an all-inclusive schedule. “You substitute producer knowledge for blindly using inputs,” Davis says.

So: combine crop rotation, the re-integration of animals into crop production and intelligent farming, and you can use chemicals (to paraphrase the report’s abstract) to fine-tune rather than drive the system, with no loss in performance and in fact the gain of animal products.

Why wouldn’t a farmer go this route? One answer is that first he or she has to hear about it. Another, says Matt Liebman, one of the authors of the study and an agronomy professor at Iowa State, is that, “There’s no cost assigned to environmental externalities” – the environmental damage done by industrial farming, analogous to the health damage done by the “cheap” standard American diet – “and the profitability of doing things with lots of chemical input isn’t questioned.”

This study not only questions those assumptions, it demonstrates that the chemicals contributing to “environmental externalities” can be drastically reduced at no sacrifice, except to that of the bottom line of chemical companies. That direction is in the interest of most of us – or at least those whose well-being doesn’t rely on that bottom line.

Sadly, it seems there isn’t a government agency up to the task of encouraging things to move that way, even in the face of convincing evidence.

For a year now we have a new 6 hectare farm, managed by a young couple, with this same plan. Its a 10 year plan and we’ll see how it goes. We have added agroforestry and a wood lot and of course wells and pumps, for our particular circumstances in Malawi.

Why bother with history

African Green Revolution, is no joke

Since my early days in Secondary school, I have always wondered at the benefits in history as a subject: Why, because nothing ever seems to be learned. We just repeat the same mistakes and re invent the same old wheels

Asia’s Green Revolution was an economic and ecological disaster and should have taught a final definitive answer to the damage intensive farming can cause. But what are all the gurus teaching Africa to do, you got it; repeat the same old failed model

Sustainable farming techniques are being sidelined in favour of a quick-fix solution; modern seed varieties (MVs) that produce better yields if treated with synthetic fertiliser and pesticides.

Such inputs are expensive and the seeds need frequent replacement. In Asia, the use of MVs in a head-long rush for bumper harvests has been shown to accelerate soil degradation, destroy crop diversity and encourage farmers to go into debt.

As Africa seeks to banish hunger, sustainable alternatives that can boost production, incomes and food security, help conserve soil and water and build resilience to climate change remain badly are treated as a backward joke, because a myriad of per diem agents as advising a better way and I’m sure the Mont Santos of this world are contributing to the pot as well. I have no axe to grind with either side in this biased debate between the financial and farming world, but I do know how the poor farmers in Northern Malawi should go, and I would like my grandchildren to know what good soil is, and what noxious pesticides can do to our health.

Speaking of grandchildren as we, today, await a second bundle of joy, I feel that the good message will be handed on very well. Our oldest has already made the move. Having done a PhD in Chemistry and then spent a couple of years in the strange world of agrichemicals, he went to South America for a few months, which showed him in the error of his ways. Re returned, gave up the job and now plays music full time. (That’s his story). Of course this weekend playing at the Cambridge Folk Festival is not wholly unattractive!!

The Green revolution of Asia should have warned Africa, but maybe the usual corruption, by the really corrupt, deliberately ignored the possible lessons which include widespread soil degradation, increased vulnerability to pests, farmer debts, a decline in traditional farming knowledge, increased inequality in rural communities, loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrial agriculture.

In recent years, interested parties including the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), USAID, the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations and African governments have promoted a Green Revolution for Africa where solutions they advocate seem to focus too narrowly around promoting synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, which were behind many of Asia’s problems.

There are concerns about a number of initiatives funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) founded in 2006 by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundations, and supported by DFID (and maybe the Irish Government).

Working in 12 African countries, it funds important projects promoting improved seeds, soil health, market access for farmers and finance and policy work. It also aims to increase productivity by improving farmers’ access to mainly hybrid seeds – part of the MV range – and inputs such as chemical fertilisers.

A recent report says that AGRA funded agro-dealers in eight countries are selling ‘ever more quantities of chemicals to farmers and increasing their reliance on inputs’.

In Malawi, where AGRA operates, ‘the principal beneficiaries of these efforts are the key suppliers of the inputs, mainly Monsanto,’ it says.

To me it looks like there is a pact to promote particulat products

The report says 70 per cent of the world’s nearly 1 billion hungry are smallholder farmers and the rural landless who have been long locked into a cycle of low productivity, lack of assets and services and weak market power.

Today, they also face the effects of climate change, land degradation and ground water depletion.

The report gives examples of successful sustainable agriculture techniques that can help.

They include:

–          Diversification: cultivating a wide range of crops; introducing mixed systems of crops, livestock and aquaculture; and increasing biodiversity

–          Nutrient recycling (waste from one sub-system is used as an input in another)

–          Maximum use of renewable, locally available resources (such as seeds, manure, mulch, nutrient-fixing plants)

Low external-input organic soil and crop management techniques such as integrated pest management and zero or low till farming, enabling a radically reduced reliance on, or complete avoidance of, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, looks like a no brainer, but what has that got to do with anything.

We use these techniques on our farms in Northern Malawi and encourage the farmers we work with to do the same. It’s a tough job, because even if we show them, there is such a hurricane coming from the experts and gurus that seeing is no longer good enough. Our first Ministry ally has come on board, but as I said before it’s like bows and arrows against the remote controlled drones

But after all: Who the hell do We think W are. And maybe History need to get off the page.

Who said that Malawians need AID?

Getting the best return

Mary often asks me who I’m writing for, but I never really know, who reads or who cares, but being just off the plane after 32 hours travel, maybe it’s therapeutic!!.

Six weeks in Malawi was again exciting, enlightening and generally crazy. We had the sudden death of the President, his body sent to South Africa to allow time for an attempted coup, the grand tour in the golden trailer RIP 1, the millions of dollars, allegedly, found in bags in his bedroom and in his gold plated mausoleum, the vice president sworn-in, a palpable sense of relief and hope among our village friends, and the certain possibility of a better future. We’re told,  by our Malawian friends, that Ireland, almost alone, supported him to the bitter end, something they always question.

In Malawi, this was the hungry season when most villagers are down to one meal a day, still in the cold, rainy season. The maize has grown if you have fertilizer and the wet, red soil sticks to everything.

We had hardly drawn a breath of the rarefied air, before we were reminded of our commitment to a 200 strong women’s cluster in Doroba. Four of their representatives had trudged 30 km, in the downpour, to our pump factory, in the city to say thanks for the fifty pumps, but what about our preschools? In only one year of self help success, these shy, helpless and hopeless women had become eloquent, forceful and focused. Yippee!! They knew their community needs and our requirements and had a list of five areas where preschools had already begun operations, with carers, the use of a building, a school committee and the chiefs on board. Mary decided that we should meet each community separately and make sure that they all understood that they needed WORKING committees and school gardens for a feeding programme. By the end of six weeks we now have 11 new preschools (17 in all), where all the carers have had one day’s hands-on training, with Mary and her crew, just to get them started. I have’nt mentioned the cratered tracks, the desperate journeys, the nightmares for the bony-assed!, the magical scenery and the dire poverty. All that matters now is that these communities have a common mission, to get their little ones to school and keep them there. In these remote rural areas education is prized.

Meanwhile we opened our second adult education class in another deprived area of Mzuzu. Both will be models in a new push for adult literacy. While working closely with the District Education Manager we will continue to move the process forward in the villages with preschools.

Continuing with education, our volunteers from DIT, continued work on an English language project, for secondary school begun last year, while Mary gave the keynote address, and a workshop, at an In-service day on School Management. Plans are well under way, with the Education Ministry, for a two week training programme, by experienced, Irish teachers, to enable Malawian teachers to deliver training to their peers.

Despite the fuel, forex and sugar shortages, we managed to deliver 160 pumps to our partners in Zambia which will enable them to bring clean drinking to over 70,000 remote villagers. Considering the population of Roscommon is 63,896, I figure this is a bit of an achievement!

Oh, Our beehives are going great and we bought 2 piglets for breeding on the farm.

Land ownership in Malawi is very low especially for women, but in the last ten days we managed to buy 23 acres of land, in trust, for a group of 21 women and three men to enable them to set up a model, commercial, co-operative farm

It has the backing of all nine chiefs in the area, as well as support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro forestry, all of whom attended the hand-over meeting, at one day’s notice, under their own steam and without allowances. (maybe a first)

All this was achieved by a unique farmer, Dupu Mshanga, who will facilitate the project.

The Wells for Zoë  funding will be repaid by the end of four years and then passed on to a similar project elsewhere.

They have plans for cows and pigs, (with the help of the Ministry) paprika (for which we have a market) and pidgeon pea, Bananas and bees (we have a market for the honey), sunn hemp and velvet bean, no organic fertilizer or chemical pesticides.

These self help women will achieve all this because they are women, and because they are inspired. They will empower themselves, because they are the only ones who can do that. The final remark by Dupu was that they were never the recipients of Aid, they can do it by themselves and while they appreciate our help, he agreed that, in five years, W4Z would have convinced them that they had done it all by themselves.

John (and Mary Coyne): http://www.wellsforzoe.org

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.

A year for solutions

Malawi

Malawi is a country with a myriad of problems.

“The human rights situation is degenerating rapidly. This year has seen the government, headed by President Bingu wa Mutharika, become an authoritarian regime openly resistant to criticism and human rights governance

In July, citizens of Malawi took to the streets to protest against fuel shortages, high cost of living, unemployment, repressive legislation and poor governance

The police opened fire on unarmed protestors, allegedly resulting in the death of 18 people. Journalists in particular were singled out, and were arrested, harassed and beaten. A media black-out was ordered and the press was banned from airing live broadcasts of the protests.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)

Acute shortage of forex and fuel is resulting in shortage of even the most basic of foodstuffs like salt.

The expulsion of the British High Commissioner (the first ever in the Commonwealth) has resulted in withdrawl of much needed funding for the health care system.

Other foreign donors, including Germany and the US have suspended aid to Malawi as well, citing poor governance . The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights recently passed a resolution that calls on the Government to end the campaign of intimidation against civil society.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)

The fertilizer subsidy, on which the whole plan for food security was based has been drastically reduced, where even the extremely poor will not benefit this year. Even though this exercise was hailed and supported by all the gurus of the Aid World, there is no exit strategy or plan B in place. The plan supports maize production using hybrid maize seeds and chemical fertilizer which is subsidised by a grant worth 80% of the cost. In Northern Malawi where we work, years of use of such fertilizer has depleted the soil, made it acidic and robbed it of organic material. Anyway, who knows where intergovernmental funding ever goes in Malawi or in many other countries where accountability is difficult to achieve. Boxes are ticked and more money comes. Now ordinary, thinking Malawians wonder where all the donor money has gone and what has it all achieved.

OUR SHORT HISTORY

We went to Malawi in 2005 and got a brief glimpse of a sub Saharan country for the first time. My abiding memory is looking at hungry women and girls, needlessly hauling dirty water long distances, for family needs, while an array of broken pumps lay unfixed and certainly unfixable by local communities. I also noted that the depth of the water table was in the 3 to 6 metre range. (Six months later, I visited a pump where I celebrated its installation, with hundreds of villagers to find that the water level had dropped and the pump was useless because it had a limit of 6 meter depth, a normal story).

Abandoned Pump

Pump broke and was removed. Villagers returned to the stream.

I woke up at 4am one morning before we left and vowed (after I ranted) to do something about it. It wasn’t easy. I sent hundreds of emails to individuals and organisations. The organisations who did reply suggested I give them the money, they were the experts and what would I know about it anyway. Of course this attitude prevails. Finally I contacted Professor Richard Carter, then in Cranfield University,UK and now Technical head of Water Aid and Chairman of RWSN, and then we were on our journey. We located Richard Cansdale, in Hartburn outside Newcastle in the north of Englsnd. He had spent years developing a pump originally designed by Alan Jones in New Zealand and our quest was over. This was and is the pump which really does what it says on the tin!

SOLUTIONS

Malawi is a pretty simple place technologically. Its not really a place for big, all singing, all dancing solutions, out of scale with what they already have have. Forty years of major funding has left the country poorer. Yes, the country was better off before all this democracy and Aid arrived. Throwing money at the problems of Sub Saharan Africa has not worked (but money, on its own, rarely works anywhere).Malawi instead is about simple solutions, like earthen dams, open pollinated seeds, green manure, locally brewed pesticides, simple pumps that can be fixed by local women. All the broken pumps we fix were hailed as village level maintenance, but no one ever said what village and what range of equipment it should have. Many pumps are installed by experts who then disappear, without a trace or worse still a maintenance plan or the where-with-all to implement it, if it existed

Our attitude is to solve problems where we find them, simply, sensibly and sustainably

  1. This year, we decided to source all pump making materials in Malawi so we redesigned our pump to suit the materials available. We now make it with less manufactured parts, with readily available materials and after field trials, its a winner.
  2. Seed retailers in Malawi have only hybrid seeds, so we bought land, imported O.P. seeds and multiply them. This year we produced about 500kg of seeds.
  3. Apples from Irish Seed Savers

    Malawi grows no apples, so we brought out rootstock and scions (with European Passports) from Irish Seed Savers in Scarriff, Co. Clare and we had our first crop after two years. This year we have nearly 600 seedlings with the scions generously donated and delivered by the staff at Irish Seed Savers.

  4. Vitamin C in a diet helps the ARV drugs to give improved quality of life to HIV/AIDS sufferers. We began a project to produce improved variety citrus seedlings by budding on to local lemon rootstock. We produced over 10,000 improved variety citrus seedlings over the last two years for distribution.
  5. After water, firewood is a huge chore for women, so we encourage villagers to grow thousands of acacia trees. We give them the seeds, which are inexpensive, often in return for lemon seeds!
  6. We have researched in excess of a hundred plants on the farm. One is red amaranth. I recently found that in Northern Zambia they label it the plant for pregnant women!. High in iron, it helps greatly with anaemia and as post natal hemhorrage, is a huge maternal killer in Malawi, we are spreading the message and the seeds (1 amaranth plant can produce 60,000 seeds). We now grow it at the birthing centre and ask Lilian to promote it at her pre natal classes and among women generally. In fact we come across it regularly in villages but they think it’s a weed and seriously undervalue it. Such good news spreads fast
  7. A recent survey with our SHG cluster showed lack of labour as a real issue at maize planting time. We went to our friends in Zambia to look at their conservation agriculture programme using minimum till. With the use of lime and local maize seeds give much increased yields. We have sent our guys to work and learn in Zambia and will mainstream the system on their return. Big problem, simple solution. Of course changing culture and tradition is never easy.
  8. Maize won’t grow without fertilizer and that’s too expensive is the mantra of subsistence farmers. In researching a solution we found a range of plants which add nitrogen like sunn hemp, velvet bean and tephrosia, which we have now used for 4 years with seriously improved yields and no bought-in fertilizer. This year we have added a new contender, Faidherbia Albida which has the best potential of all for the small scale, subsistence farmer. Its a big tree, which loses its leaves in the rainy season, contributes enough complete fertilizer to grow 4 tonnes of maize per hectare year after year. What a plant
Canzee Pump in action

Canzee Pump in action providing clean, safe, drinking water

The Canzee pump, conceived in New Zealand and worked on for years, by Richard Cansdale, in the UK, is an amazing piece of simple ingenuity. Mainly plastic in construction, it consists of two pipes one inside the other, with two simple non return valves using the inner tube of a bicycle, has one moving part with no friction, it seems to last forever, costs 30 Euro to make in our factory in Mzuzu and most importantly, if it does go wrong (rare occurrence), the women who use it can fix it with three nails.

The parts for this pump came initially from the UK and with the duty charged by Malawi Revenue, were now expensive. The solution was to design a new version of the pump with all materials available in Malawi. In the redesign process we have fewer manufactured parts. These new Zoe pumps are in use since June and working without a hitch.

2011

We visited Malawi three times this year, April/May, July/August and Oct/Nov. Many of our friends and neighbours now ask are you coming or going? Malawi is now our second home and we continue to experience the wonderful hospitality of Br Aidan and the St John of God Community in Mzuzu and all our friends in an ever expanding area, impacting thousands of people, all very poor, all amazing to be as good as they are. We know our people and they know us, Its a wonderful place to be, frustrating and maddening at times, reasons to laugh and cry every day, but never mundane. With everyone’s help we have had amazing successes since this time in 2005. The following is a glimpse of what we have been up to

  • Clean water to 125000 villagers, for the first time
  • The success story continues, with 10 pumps recently brought to the copper belt region of Zambia, by Chris and Daniel from Lifeline in Zambia(a Danish NGO), who have a plan to install 1000 of our pumps in the next three years. The first pumps will be made in our factory in Mzuzu, followed by a new pump factory in Zambia, with expertise and training from Malawians, their nearest neighbour
  • 31 acre farm

This is now a University of practical learning for many farmers in Northern Malawi, where the hostel on the farm provides accommodation for students. The co-operative management, planning and day to day hard work is done by four men and five women. Next year we will mainstream a new programme on Conservation Farming when our people have had training in Zambia.

Growing and multiplying green manure seeds, Sunn hemp, tephrosia and velvet bean, for distribution is important, as is research on the use of Tephrosia, Dahlia and others to produce an effective local pesticide.

High on the agenda is the production of improved variety citrus, Mango, Guava, avocado and apples. At the moment we have about 9,000 various seedlings ready for distribution, as well as trees for reforestation. At the moment we have 108 varieties of plant, (this includes 5 types of spinach and 4 varieties of sweet potato.)

The farm is based in Lusangazi, (11 km from Mzuzu City) where we support many other community efforts, like:

  • The Birthing Centre continues to meet many needs, including ante and post natal clinics, early childhood care, and home based care for HIV/AIDS.
    Weighing in

    Birthing Centre in action during a visit from the Central Hospital

    A new health centre with a house for a resident nurse and attendant is now planned following a decision by the Ministry to appoint and pay the medics. W4Z will assist by providing cement and roofing, while the community take care of site, bricks, sand and all labour

  • Padre Pio is the local secondary school. We supported the building of the school and the construction of a hostel for girl boarders.
  • Gogo Club brings us into contact with grannies who have to rear orphan grandchildren. We provide vegetables and fruit trees from the farm, regular gift parcels (soap, oil, sugar, salt and matches)

ACTIVITIES IN OTHER AREAS

  • Over the time we have built 1 Volunteer house,1 Hostel on the farm for accommodating student farmers,1 Boys quarters, 4000 sq ft factory unit, 6 Staff houses. We have also managed to build a birthing centre, and support the building of 18 primary school classrooms, 1 classroom for a girls secondary in Chitipa Catholic parish and one Secondary school and hostel for girls for the Capuchin order.

    Preschool in Mgomphola

    Latest Preschool Building in Mgomphola (unfinished as yet!)

  • Support 6 preschools with 500 two to six year olds.
  • Casca is our preschool trainer and caregiver. He visits the six preschools we support on his bicycle, and has empowered the village caregivers and porridge ladies by supervising and encouraging them. He gives weekly reports on all their activities.
  • Have developed and deliver an in-service programme for primary teachers in co-operation with the District Education Managers and School Inspectorate, in the Northern region, which is becoming the basis of professional development in schools.

The second course was carried out in July and August by Niamh O’Brien, Fiona Gearty, Maureen McFeeley, Noreen O’Riordan  Máire McHugh and Mary Coyne, in conjunction with Anna Sichinga, District Education manager, Mzuzu. 200 teachers attended in 4 centres. As English is the language of education our objective was to facilitate the teaching of English in the early years through games, activities, songs, poems and dance. We used the Malawian curriculum and demonstrated practically wit 50 to 100 children.

As a follow up, Mary visited 5 schools and 20 classrooms in Oct/Nov. The teachers were delighted to demonstrate their newly acquired skills Phase 2 is planned for Summer 2012, so we are actively seeking volunteer teachers. Can you, or anyone you know help?

Partnership projects

  • The Irish Trinity of SJOG, W4Z and Ungweru, 3 NGOs are now working more closely together in many projects areas.
  • Patnership with SJOG, led by Br Aidan Clohessey was furthered when we got involved with their Self Help project. They work with 40 groups of women who have a savings system and provide loans to each other. To date we have provided new pumps and prepared others. Cluster Representatives from the groups regularly visit the farm to learn and take home seeds and seedlings.
  • Ungweru under the leadership of Fr John Ryan, professor of mathematics in Mzuzu University, (30 years in Malawi), engages with communities, identifying needs, facilitating community participation and providing training to communities on HIV/AIDS, Nutrition, Rights. W4Z install and maintain pumps and provide seeds, citrus seedlings, expertise and training in all aspects of conservation agriculture and food security.
  • We also work with Mzuzu University, Mzuzu Technical College and The Natural Resources College in Lilingwe,(the biggest such College in Malawi) who send us interns and students to the farm, to learn practical aspects of all elements of their Degree courses.
  • We partner Every Home for Christ, a Malawian CBO, Global Concern, an Australian NGO, Lifeline in Zambia, A Zambian/Danish NGO, Ripple Africa, a UK NGO, on pumps and the provision of clean, safe drinking water water
  • We partner CADECOM the Catholic Church relief agency on Citrus Seedling production and Numerous farmers co-ops on seed production and green manure seeds in particular.
  • We also partner Mzuzu City Assembly, Mzimba District Assembly and The Ministry of Agriculture with whom we have Memoranda of Understanding.
  • We are a member of CONGOMA, the association of NGO’s
  • We have developed a wide range of friends/advisors on the net, from all around the globe, like Professor James Brewbaker in Hawaii, William Hatcher from ECHO in the US, Professor Richard Carter, RWSN, UK, and others in India, Israel, Uganda, Germany, Norway, and Brazil, who keep up to date with what we’re doing and regularly send information and advice

SCHOOL SUPPORT

Our Lady's School, Terenure

Our Lady’s School, Terenure, Mini-Marathon in Dublin

We have an amazing array of schools and teachers helping us out, from Our Lady’s in Terenure (our longest association) to St Michael’s House Special Primary School in Ballymun, where the President of the INTO visited last week to thank them for their huge efforts. I’m sure the in between schools won’t mind being unmentioned, but we have thanked them personally. Having been in Education ourselves, we know the value of visiting schools and explaining what we do and how we do it, helping out in Religion, Science, Geography and SPHE classes, and delivering a message of huge inequity in our World, but also immense hope for a better way and a better future. A special mention here to Wooton Bassett School,UKfor their enormous efforts for an organisation they know only from the internet and for a people they will never see (Thanks Hester)

We thank everyone most sincerely for their trust in us to deliver 100% of their donations to the people who need it, without Black holes, Bureaucrats or Bean Counters.

DIT

Support from DIT is ongoing and extensive. W4Z is now a DIT Society enabling us to benefit from their many fundraising and information activities. For the past four years, we have been supported by Easter volunteer students from Business and Management, Engineering, Journalism, Early Childhood Ed and Manufacturing Engineering. 4 students from Computer Science did their placement with us in 2011. 5 students from Social Care, 2 from Chemistry and 3 from Broadcasting and Film Making will join us for placements on 2012

DIT Students

DIT Students Easter Volunteering in Malawi

We became fellows of the College last year. W4Z is one of the many very active societies. Mary is also on the advisory board of DIT Community Links project, Students Learning with Communities, with whom we work closely, providing opportunities for students and promoting the needs of the developing world

FUNDING

We have developed a three year Strategic plan (not a word I like, but to be in the NGO business, you must have the lingo). We now package all elements of what we did up to date and attach them to already established Women’s Self Help Savings groups (like 20 member credit unions of women already achieving what I consider to be the impossible with no input from us except advice)

Self Help Gathering

Women’s Self Help Group meeting in a village before they get down to business

Even after less than a year of success (with the guidance of SJOG services and support from Germany), these women have, regained their lives, grown in confidence, grabbed their voice, can verbalise what they need: things like clean drinking water, preschools and adult education and are hugely motivated, knowing that all their success is attributable to themselves: We will also work with them on community gardens, to demonstrate the possibilities of Conservation farming and alternative foods. The final piece of the jigsaw is, a new cash crop, for them, Paprika, to replace the failing tobacco business. Our partners ECO have the market and we are now growing our first crop for seeds as the seed in Malawi is of poor quality after years of re-use.

We call it our POP: a Permanently out of Poverty project and it certainly has all the ingredients needed to achieve this amazing turnaround in the lives of some of the world’s poorest, but amazingly spirited women.

It will operate it, in the Mzimba District, an area with 850,000 remote rural people, barely scratching out a subsistence existence. There we will work with the traditional authorities and hope to engage with up to 150,000 villagers. We plan 50 preschool buildings used also for Adult Education

The plan includes:

150,000 more people with access to clean, safe drinking water, Hygiene Education and sanitation

50 buildings with equipment and training for preschools, supporting communities to break the cycle of absenteeism and dire poverty, encouraging attendance by supplying one meal every day and facilitating transfer to primary school, 50 community gardens providing a hub for teaching and demonstration. These buildings, with full community support will double for Adult Education and often be used as clinics and even Churches.

Also on the plan is 500 Bee Colonies, 100,000 acacia trees, 20,000 improved variety, citrus seedlings (some from Florida,California and Israel) which we propagate on the farm and a variety of Mango, Avocado, Passion fruit and apples all from our farm.

We also enable girls to attend secondary school, by asking all of you to pay their fees which gives real hope for the future. Of course some will be married off, become pregnant or drop out, but, in the long term, the future of Malawi will be determined by the education of its girls. We are really passionate about this, where one term can cost as little as €20, (plus books, copies, pens, and sometimes a bike) in a Government Secondary school where they have qualified to attend

By centering our programme in motivated and successful women’s groups, putting all this in place IS possible and gives a village an opportunity to become self sufficient and maybe even realize a fraction of their potential.

Sorry to go on about the Women’s Self Help groups. The first level is with village (or groups of villages). The second level are clusters of groups, (where we work) and the top level is a planned Federation (a Political Voice, which will be heard, because these women are not for stopping)

Will it be easy? Of course not.

Will it take time? Yes

Will it be worth it? CERTAINLY

Can we do it?

We have the money in the bank to fund the first two years at the moment, we might live for three more years and our guys in Malawi are becoming more capable by the day, however:

Charity Shop

A teddy bear’s picnic at the new charity shop in Smithfield, Dublin

If you feel that there is inadequate attention to financial, socio cultural and institutional sustainability can you advise and see how you might help. Besides this ambitious plan, we plan 1000 pumps for Zambia as well, bringing clean water to more than a quarter of a million villagers. In this we will have the support of Lifeline in Zambia, who are already on the job.

FUNDING IN THE NEAR TERM WILL BE DIFFICULT

We applied to Irish Aid for funding for this initiative, but they tell us they have better and more rewarding things to fund. So we are really taking up begging in a big way.

We will soon(!) open a Charity Shop in Smithfield, Dublin.

As usual any help would be great.

Considering that the cost of giving a villager clean, safe drinking water is just one Euro, small money makes a big difference.

CLEAN WATER CHANGES EVERYTHING!

A video by our friends at Charity: Water is worth a look

More Stories on: https://wellsforzoe.wordpress.com/

Pictures: http://blipfoto.com/wellsforzoe

More pics www.wellsforzoe.org/news-flickr.html

Face book: http://www.facebook.com/wellsforzoe

Volunteers Page: http://w4zvolunteers.wordpress.com/

People think we’re mad, but we know its true.

Being mad allows you to do lots of crazy things!!

If you know any, even slightly mad teachers, maybe they might join us for a few weeks in summer 2012.

They could do amazing things, like change lives forever, maybe even their own

Thank you to all our family, friends, wellies and volunteers who continue to encourage and keep us going

May you have a Happy Christmas and the New Year you have dreamed of.

Mary and John Coyne