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.

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

Ian Sutton

Hydrogeogogist Ian Sutton volunteers with Wells for Zoe in Malawi

We grabbed this from, about out man Ian Sutton

We’ve been lucky enough to feature a wide variety of careers and different sectors in the Career Paths series and this time we have something very different for you. In this installment, we’re delighted to feature Ian Sutton, a Project Hydrogeologist who works in Water and Sanitation services and who’s work takes him all over the world.

Hello! Ian and girlfriend Tara head for Malawi tomorrow May 29, 2012, to volunteer with us on water and education related projects in Mzuzu.

Ian worked with us in 2007 while doing his thesis and  now he’s turning to check up on us to see if we’re doing things correctly!!

Harisen and Charity will meet them at the airport and renew the friendships.
This is Ian.
Name: Ian Sutton
Age: 29
Birthplace: London
Marital Status: Single
Children: None
Highest Education: MSc
Institutions attended: Trinity College Dublin, Cranfield University, UK.
Academic achievements: BSc hons, MSc

About You

1) What is your current role?
I’m a project hydrogeologist in the water sector of a multinational company mostly working on consultancy jobs. The work is varied with new interesting projects coming in all the time. We do a lot of work on operational, environmental and water resource solutions for mining companies, government ministries/agencies and water utilities. Work gives me the opportunity to see a lot of interesting places throughout the UK, West Africa and South America.

2) How did you get into your current role/ industry?
I applied for my current job after having spent about 2 years studying for and working in the water and sanitation overseas development sector. I had been a mineral exploration geologist before that. Language skills were a big help in getting my current job, as well as having experience working overseas. I am currently getting technical hydro-experience in the private industry something that I hope to be able to apply to certain aspects of the overseas development sector in years to come.

3) How many years have you been in your current role/ industry?
3 years.

4) What other roles did you do before finding your current role?
From the most recent to the oldest:
• Managed a water supply project in northern Haiti, it involved rehabilitating an old water supply network about 18km long piping water from mountain springs to several villages, a collective of farmers and a large coastal town. In total about 10,000 beneficiaries. It was a real eye opener to overseas development work, although the work required a fair bit of technical problem solving, working and communicating with local communities was by far the most important aspect.
• Gold and coal exploration and drilling supervising geologist based in Mongolia for two years. It was great fun mapping in the wilderness, logging core, and interpreting geophysics among other things. It is a great place.
• Volunteered on the Suas programme providing teaching ideas to NGO schools in Calcutta. Wonderful experience and a great way to get into development type work. Being part of the programme definitely set the tone for wanting to continue along the lines of overseas development.

5) What was the worst job you ever had?
Night shift core logging at a drill rig in minus 20 degrees with no heater and a dodgy stomach. Only lasted two nights thankfully.

6) Did you always want to work in your role/ industry or did you get into it late?
I don’t think it is ever too late to get into a certain role or industry. I have changed industry three times; from mineral exploration, to overseas development, to technical hydro-consulting. It’s good to mix thing up and not to get stuck in one position.
It can be tough to change industries and can often mean taking a pay cut, but at the end of the day the more experience you have over a wide range of environments the more useful you will be either to your own company or someone else’s. Many skills can be applied over a range of industries.

7) What advice would you give to other people looking to get a career in your industry?
For hydrogeological consulting and hydrological consulting, and probably engineering in general, get a good technical base so that you are confident in your work. It’s good to start off working in a team where you can learn from your peers.
For overseas work a good way of getting experience is through volunteering initially. People you meet along the way can also lead to work further down the line. Hold onto contact numbers and email addresses.

8) What do you like most about your job?
The variety, meeting new people all over the world and having a balance between travelling to new places and having a base to come back to.

9) Anything you don’t like?
Work can take over your life sometimes, its really important to keep a balance and to relax, when you have a lot of client deadlines it can be hard to do this sometimes.

10) What time do you get up for work?
It varies a lot, when I’m working in the field anywhere from 5am to 7am. For an office day I’d usually get up at 8:00am.

11) Where would you like to retire to?
Ireland with sunshine, a reggae bar in Jamaica, or a Spanish villa! Anywhere with good food, good company and good weather!

12) Favourite website(s)?
Don’t have a favourite, probably BBC if I had to choose

13) What would be your dream job?
Successful musician

14) What are your goals or plans for the future?
Practise more guitar!
To continue to find work that I enjoy and that motivates me.

15) And finally, the three luxury items you want if you were trapped on a desert island?

Surf board
Good company
(and maybe a luxury yacht)…. (or a trip to Malawi)

A year for solutions


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.


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!


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.


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)


  • 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


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.


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


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.


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.


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

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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

Gaisce Gold Award - DIT students

Gaisce Gold Award for DIT students

DIT Students honoured by President McAleese

Pictured at the Gaisce Gold Award presentation in Dublin Castle was (l-r):
DIT students Mark Jones, Conor Downes, Elaine Bolger, and Liam Stewart
pictured (3rd from left) with Sr. Mary Flanagan, President Award Leader at DIT.

29 September 2011: Four students from DIT Aungier Street were each awarded today with a gold medal from President Mary McAleese. The DIT awardees Mark Jones, Conor Downes, Elaine Bolger and Liam Stewart were among a special group of 70 exceptional young adults from across Ireland presented with a Gaisce Gold Award by President Mary McAleese at a special ceremony in Dublin Castle.

Gaisce ‐ the President’s Award ‐ is Ireland’s most prestigious and respected individual award programme and aims to support the development of young people, social fabric and the growth of active citizenship. Gold, Silver and Bronze awards are conferred and recipients must set their own challenges in four areas including Community Involvement, Personal Skill, Physical Recreation, and Adventure Journey. Only a small number of people persevere to the point of actually receiving the Gold award.

This year’s Awards are particularly special in that this is the last group of gold medal winners to be honoured by President McAleese as she steps down from her second term as President. She said that it had been a tremendous experience for her honouring Ireland’s youth over the past 14 years.

Sr. Mary Flanagan, President Award Leader at DIT said: “I am delighted to congratulate Mark, Conor, Elaine and Liam on their Gaisce Gold Awards. At DIT we encourage our students to give something back and we have a very active volunteering programme, so it is especially heartening to see four of our students recognised nationally through their Gaisce Gold Awards for their community, sporting and civic contributions”.

DIT volunteers

DIT Volunteers in Malawi

DIT Students in Malawi


Fourth Annual group of DIT Easter Volunteers

A number of years ago Mary read me a passage from a book called the Secret, one of those positive thinking style compositions that went something like this.
If you work with all your heart and soul for something positive, the Universe colludes to help you. Well feel is that the Universe certainly colluded and brought us into contact with the students in DIT. For those of you who haven’t heard of The Dublin Institute of Technology, it is the biggest Third Level educational establishment in the country with 23,000 students and an amazing array of disciplines.
We have had our fourth annual group of Easter Volunteers and like the others before them they were astounding. Each and every one of them made their own unique and lasting impact on people who have just the most tenuous link with existence imaginable. It just leaves me speechless each time they come, as to how they relate to the world’s poorest as if it is something in the Irish psyche that bonds us to those who are seeing the poverty of our ancestors. Or maybe those chosen to come are, in themselves, open to doing good, or maybe both.
What we ask of our volunteers is to inspire, educate and challenge, to be themselves and walk with the people. What we try to do is provide opportunities without handouts, and give back their dignity to some amazing, remote, rural women, most of whom have no formal education

I feel that this Easter 2011, one volunteer got the idea and wrote:

“Going home, I know why I am here. I am not here to do the jobs that the Malawi people could do in half the time. I am not here to teach or to preach, to lead or to be followed. I am here to work with the people, to build friendships, a network of support and encouragement that can be continued long into the future. I know that while I may be back in Ireland soon, Wells for Zoe will continue to be here in Malawi, and will continue to be a community of people that will always be there, that will always offer help and support, that will always extend the hand of friendship and that will never give up.”

The DIT students who come make a huge commitment, they raise their own funds, give up their time, pay their way and do it all with a smile. They do very early mornings, work all day and plan for the next day in the evenings. They analyse and advise and suggest ways of spending any donations they bring. We fully realize it’s a big challenge to go to such a poor country, not to go to the hotel and beach, but to work with the world’s poorest in their homes and schools and villages, playing with their children, eating their food and empowering then. It’s a big challenge, but no bother to these bravehearts

I am not a fan of the volunteering as it is commonly perceived and practiced by many nowadays. Come when you like, commit to nothing and take no responsibility, after all you’re not getting paid for it. My view is, that if you volunteer, it’s the real deal, you must be totally committed as if you were the most highly paid imaginable.
I also have a problem where people raise money from the general public to fund trips for volunteering purposes, where the output is often way short of the expectations of the donors.

I often wonder is my own quest the best way of spending my money, or should I send it to the village and stay at home myself. In reviewing the past six years in Malawi, I have now defined something of a philosophy:
I feel 40% of my effort was helping the villagers to remember what they knew themselves; 30% was encouraging them to believe in the skills and abilities they had rekindled; 25% was the pure spirit of Northern Malawian women; remote rural women, who are strong, intelligent, determined, bright, cheerful and powerful, against all the odds. Maybe I get 5% for showing up.

I imagine if the crisis in Sub Saharan Africa could be solved easily, it would already have been done alrady, after numerous studies, reports, strategies, plans and billions of dollars. But it’s not easy. It’s complex, confusing, frustrating annoying, amazing, challenging but never boring or bland.
The rural women we work with deserve canonization, considering what they achieve with nothing. Imagine what they could they do if they didn’t have to spend their lives having and feeding squads of kids, spending untold hours carrying water, and firewood, having to cook and clean and till and sow and harvest.
These thoughts come after twenty two visits to these communities. We have worked through a programme, seen joy, sorrow and frustration. I now realise it’s not about imposing what I know or can do, but finding what they can and are willing to do, and then inspiring them to move on. We have started on a path to understanding, trust and respect, and patience on my side. It takes time and effort and I’m pretty sure that little could be achieved by one whirlwind, volunteering visit by anyone. But that said, the way DIT groups slot in to an existing strategy, has an instantaneous and lasting impact

In Zola Zola School

Dancing with Umosa street children

Why I volunteered

Why I Volunteered

I wanted to come to Malawi to make a difference, to help people and communities to build wells for water and grow food and work physically hard to make a difference in Malawi. But now that’s not why I am here. My perceptions of Wells for Zoe have changed. It’s not about me working hard, digging wells, and it’s not about me making a difference. It’s about providing opportunities, support and encouragement for Malawians to make a difference for themselves.

Until now I have never imagined the importance of just being here, encouraging people, working with them, listening to them and even playing with them.

Today and yesterday the journalist students went to Zolo Zolo secondary school to facilitate a simple journalism workshop. It was amazing to see how the students enjoyed it and how they allow themselves to be free, to have fun working, to have fun dreaming and how inspired they were about the possibilities of education.

We exchanged emails and phone numbers with the students so that we can continue to work with them, to support and encourage them long after we leave. We will always be there for them.

Not only did we work with secondary students but we went to pre schools in various villages. We were really welcomed by the locals and in particular the teachers. I soon came to realise that their schools have practically nothing. We played with the children on each visit and they quickly became comfortable with us, laughing and running around and actually being children.

John and Mary Coyne have done so much here working with small communities. In Lusangazi for example, the most amazing farm has been set up by Wells for Zoe which is run completely by Malawians; a small, close knit group of people doing their own research in order to achieve the most efficient and practical way of farming and particularly the most sustainable. They have a small hostel on site which visitors can stay in free of charge and work with Wells for Zoe farmers, learning these sustainable practices.

As we drive down different roads and through different villages, it is a common occurrence for John to get out and talk to the small local farmers about their difficulties and offering them the opportunity to visit Lusangazi. It’s there for everybody.

I couldn’t imagine a more welcoming and helpful, hardworking farmers than those at Lusangazi. They are truly amazing.

Going home, I know why I am here. I am not here to do the jobs that the Malawi people could do in half the time. I am not here to teach or to preach, to lead or to be followed. I am here to work with the people, to build friendships, a network of support and encouragement that can be continued long into the future. I know that while I may be back in Ireland soon, Wells for Zoe will continue to be here in Malawi, and will continue to be a community of people that will always be there, that will always offer help and support, that will always extend the hand of friendship and that will never give up.