The only people paid by Wells for Zoe are our Malawian employees.
While focused on clean water in poor, remote, rural villages we found there was a huge need to help with irrigation and farming, open pollinated seeds were unavailable and so we bought and developed the Lusangazi farm. It is primarily a research and teaching farm, where we try to grow vegetables, which may be suitable, from all over the world, but also looking closely at forgotten African plants, when we can get seeds. We use almost no artificial fertilizer but rely mainly on making compost (hard work which Malawians don’t like) and on growing green manure, like velvet bean, sun hemp, etc. We also avoid chemical pesticides by using a concoction of brews from local plants headed by tephrosias, aloe vera, tobacco and whatever Benidicto can find.
Leaf fungus, in our citrus seedlings, is a perpetual problem and hard to crack, but we are on it. The hostel on the farm is where we bring farmers to learn about irrigation, composting and seed production. We send them away with seeds, seedlings and hopefully a measure of inspiration.
Teaching about vegetables is tough when there’s no generational culture in place, and people are focused on tobacco, maize and coffee. We have a passion to improve soil which is seriously depleted by years of chemical fertilizer and will be eternally grateful for the tremendous work and knowledge of Gillian and Chris who so generously gave their experience and vast knowledge to the farm, later to be passed on to more and more of Northern Malawi.
The Birthing Centre or Health post, in Lusangazi also developed from a need. I passed the old shed (with Chipitara in Tumbuka, meaning Hospital, painted on the wall), one day with Harisen and met the ever smiling Lillian; saw a new born baby and the blood on a concrete slab, which was the birthing bed. Action was needed, so we got on it and with some help from the community built a little place. I now love her and the place. She runs it with all the love and attention that every newborn deserves. It was not in our plans, but when it soon has a solar water pump, lighting, toilet facilities, a septic tank, a garden for the greens and a small extension for the outreach clinics, I think I could leave Malawi happy, even if we accomplished nothing else, such is it’s importance to the community.
The project that has caused us most stress is Áras Kate, our pre school in Salisbury line. Bureaucracy, jealousy, corruption, misunderstanding and evil were a daily problem.
While I was responsible for the building, Mary did the talking, cajoling, challenging and facing reality. The place is now in the hands of the local community of Salisbury Line and run by a board of trustees comprising, the City Assembly, the local Chiefs, the area Development Committee and Wells for Zoe. Mary was appointed the Educational Director and Charity is also one of the trustees. She may not look like a former trade unionist, but she has a very sharp intuition and intellect and will serve the community well particularly if she can believe she is twenty years older!!!!. The situation is a lot less complicated now and in due course we will expand the building with two new classrooms, a kitchen and store, and when land is later allocated by the City we will begin building a primary school and resource centre. We thank all our volunteers for their amazing work in this most deprived of areas, afflicted by all the evils of urban poverty anywhere, then throw in the added bonus of AIDS. You have made people’s days and maybe changed some lives, just by being there. We love it, it’s a great place to be, and with homework clubs and adult education, people will want to move there. Of course it’s in its infancy; it was only opened on Feb 9, 2009. What do you want, it’s already a miracle!!
At the moment it costs about 80000kw per month to run.
The future may hopefully see a big input from DIT, social science and early childhood development disciplines, in terms of research, placements and training accreditation.
Our big focus is still on the delivery of clean drinking water, which strange as it may seem, is not as easy as it looks. One has to break into the market, especially with a new pump like ours. There are many vested interests in Northern Malawi, focused as much on Evangelisation as hydration. We find many broken pumps and wells and need permission from the original installers to repair or replace them. Maybe half of the pumps installed in the past twenty years don’t work on any given day, but the donors or installers are nowhere to be found after the original razzmatazz and photo ops of the installation day. A pump maintenance plan is a major part of our programme.
Over the past three months we have compiled a list of pumps in need of our assistance but this years continuing rain means it will be at least October before we can put any plan into action, when water tables are at their lowest. All our pumps are free to the villagers and where they supply the labour and bricks, we supply the pump and the cement free of charge
In August we plan to work with Ungweru (Fr John Ryan’s group). CADECOM (the development arm of the Catholic Church) are another of our partners. We have a few pumps for Ripple Africa and many other village projects. We have 150 pumps ready for an Australian NGO, Global Concern, to be delivered to Zambia as soon as the water tables are suitable and they send us their people for training. We are also hoping Andrew will expand past three pumps in Tanzania. If someone told me when we began this venture that we could bring clean water to a population maybe the size of Leitrim, I would have taken that for my life’s contribution, but we’re not finished yet. This is all a slow process where constant care and supervision are needed. It’s not a place for a mad rush and a photo op. If developing Malawi were easy, billions of cash would already have solved it, BUT it’s not all about money but about people, inspiring, educating and challenging, simultaneously and together!.
Malawi is not for everyone, some people simply don’t get it. We do our best to provide opportunities, without handouts. There are many in the Aid Business who want the gratification of bringing the goodies and have a lot to learn about Dignity. This culture of sporadic handouts has made many in Malawi into dependant beggars. We are trying to things differently, and together we, can change people’s lives forever. Most of our volunteers have managed to do this. What an amazing achievement in your life?
Our lives are now full time Malawi. I sleep eat and think W4Z. Little here is spur of the moment or haphazard even though everything may look a mess. As a bigger picture evolves, planning will be done with the communities so that it meets their needs, always mindful of hours and days of research done already. We have failures but treat them as learning experiences. All plans must be done here and a plan for Sonda may not fit in Doroba. Malawi has a million failed plans cooked up in New York, London and wherever, and delivered by people who believed that they knew better. But after forty years of this system, many rural Malawians are now poorer than they were thirty years ago.
Our operation runs very much on a shoestring budget and so it should. Harisen and Charity are amazing people and yet another accident brought us together. Br Aidan, St John of God Services, our guru, thinks W4Z is successful because we have the right person in charge, Harisen, something he is very proud of because he first employed him. I took a chance on Charity. We naturally have had our ups and downs but always realise that they are gems.
We have employed maybe twenty people to also be leaders, but had to let them go for one reason or another. Alipha has great potential but wants to be a nurse, while Alinipher is still learning her trade, painfully at times.
Elaine, as part of her placement, has spent many days with Harisen over the past month and at Easter helping him with his big deficiencies, planning and keeping records. Progress has been amazing, but we learned something bigger still: the amount of work he gets through in a day. He is responsible for everything and to everyone. One day last week we had 46 employees on different jobs, in different locations. He had also to arrange transport, ferry a multitude and even secure food for a few, keep me going, settle disputes with chiefs, arrange meetings, pay bills, negotiate deals, order and check deliveries, and whatever else came his way. On the other hand Charity, while being infuriating by having no phone or credit or petrol is invaluable in her counselling skills and her ability to talk to everyone. She too, seldom writes notes but when info can be extracted then you find her work includes visits to the hospitals, meeting the chiefs, delivering clothes to newborns, paying wages, buying bicycles, operating complex loan deals, keeping William out of the way of the law, while trying to organise his finances. She is the first port of call for all our workers with their problems and above all she is extremely honest.
Our biggest spend at the moment is around building and transport, where anything imported is at least as expensive as Ireland.
Failte House was built for volunteers and was a huge success this summer. We also have planning for a four bed motel type structure on the grounds depending on the success of what we have. All of this extra work will be loaded on Harisen naturally. Because of the work involved in selling produce from the farm would incur, we have decided to scrap the plan and use these as a research tool. Our workers will now be the benificiaries. They will eat them at lunchtime, make a comment and take some more home. Our focus is on research not business
There are many other projects like Luvuwu and its students at Zolo Zolo Secondary school (funded and driven by DIT), M’Bama, Sonda, Ekaiweni, Kazando (with its new preschool almost complete), Elamouleni and the Capuchin Secondary school where we are beginning a fund for girls Secondary education (four girls each year). We are also funding hostel accommodation for girls: same deal as other areas, paying for the cement and roofing; Fr John will do the rest.
Our link with DIT, the biggest third level institution in Ireland is now firmly in place thanks to Elaine, Liam and their friends. We now have working relations with seven disciplines, all of whom are making positive contributions independently. The visit of Ciaran and Fred means we now have linked DIT with Mzuzu University and Tech as well as with Ungweru and SJOG. This is no extra work for us but part of our policy of PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES without HANDOUTS.
Our ideas and plans will only be limited by the quality of Malawian personnel we can find and train, and the quality and quantity of volunteers we can encourage to come here and maybe take over sections of the operation to run with.
If you can see yourself becoming part of all this madness leave us your contact details.
You might also tell us how you feel that you can help or if there is a specific area or project you might like to work on.
On behalf of ourselves and all the people you journeyed with we offer our most sincere thanks, knowing that life for many will be changed, for the better, forever, by your coming.
Africa: Money Will Not End Famine
2 September 2009
There was a time in Africa when elders would “talk” to the drought and negotiate their way into receiving rainfall. With their unique understanding of causation, elders would either sacrifice a black sheep or ask a virgin girl to bathe in a lake in order to draw the attention of the rain gods.
Would that they could do so now.
With an estimated 50 million Africans in dire need of food aid and an additional 120 million facing starvation if immediate measures to alleviate the situation are not taken, the general assumption has become that developing countries do not have what funds are necessary to increase food productivity.
Too little time has been invested in seeking to understand why Africa, with its vast farmlands and its brilliant and innovative sons and daughters, still goes hungry as the rest of the world battles with obesity.
Computer experts are aware of malware, the “malicious software” that is designed to infiltrate a computer without the owners’ informed consent.
The general computer user is familiar with viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware among other programmes that cause harm to the operating system.
As we talk about famine in Africa, we should take a moment to evaluate the hostile and intrusive programmes operating in the background as food aid in particular and aid in general run in the foreground.
Ask yourself, for example, why a majority of Africans have changed their diets.
Kenyan nutritionists point out that we have ignored high value foods and replaced them with junk, sacrificing thousands of Africa’s domesticated and wild edible crops at the altar of modernity.
Crops whose production should be scaled up by virtue of their ability to adapt to Africa’s climate have instead been framed as crops of poverty.
Crops such as the tamarind, millet, sorghum, indigenous peanuts and potatoes have been kicked out of the menu in favour of wheat and beef.
Over 50 years of food aid targeted at Africa have been marked by a corresponding increase in episodes of famine, which points to the possible existence of a food “malware” – a malicious system that changes people’s dietary habits in favour of imported foods.
The same malware has penetrated agricultural schools, where it trains graduates to promote the new foods as opposed to upgrading local varieties.
Worst of all, it has penetrated political leadership, corrupting their minds with the quest for kickbacks to the extent that they do not invest in local solutions as foreign solutions can loaded with the possibility of a quick 10 per cent.
In the absence of an effective “anti-virus” this malware loads its intentions on the hapless operating systems of Africa’s nations, forcing them to become perpetual beggars.
It is my contention that, to reduce the incidence of famine on the continent, Africans must develop an effective system for detecting the “malicious background operating system” that has not only denied them the opportunity to promote their local cuisines but has also exposed their land to grabbing.
It is time we invested in our indigenous crops, turned our rural populations into celebrated food suppliers through incentives and invested in technology to free our continent from perennial famine.
Contrary to common belief, money is not the solution to Africa’s famine problem. Neither, for that matter, is food aid. What we need to do is get rid of the malware operating in our system.
James Shikwati is the director of Inter Region Economic Network
Copyright © 2009 Business Daily. All rights reserved.
Just back from three weeks in the Mzuzu area of Northern Malawi, with mixed emotions of delight, sadness, frustration, rage, joy, appreciation of my life and the opportunities it has afforded me, gratitude for the freedom that the hard work of my parents and ourselves has given me, freedom to do and give to others, freedom that an accident of birth has given me and which I am now hell bent on giving back.
In August last I got my first taste of urban poverty in Malawi, well in fact Mary did. I had been asked by three very positive and forceful women from the Mbawemi women’s group to look at their orphan day-care centre and see if we could help. I really had no interest in Orphanages; taking children from their communities, families and land rights… and only a little more in orphan day-care. I felt there were too many people doing it, with so many scams, waste and corruption, while I was trying to adhere to my abiding business philosophy of sticking with what you know. So like every good husband I chickened out and left it to Mary.
She checked the women out, in so far as one can and found an amazing bunch of sisters, who were volunteers; nearly as poor as the people they were helping, driven and desperate. They had begun this project in 2005, their building was awful, their hearts were big, their dreams were in technicolour, they were doing something, and they needed a hand – a helping hand and not a handout. We decided to, give it a go.
In November son number one, Éamonn and myself spent a busy week, doing a land deal, making the purchase, and employing a local builder. Bad mistake with the builder, as he was slow, just as useless as most men in the area and he stole half of our cement, but TIM (this is Malawi), corrupt from the top to the bottom, all Christians, very little Christianity. So we terminated him and his crew.
The blessing in disguise was that we found Peter and his gang, who are as hard working as you could meet. They took over on Dec 29 and the official opening took place on February 10. For the past few weeks we worked against all the odds; the rainy season, an unhelpful, and most times intoxicated chief, an indifferent and obstructive male population, dire poverty, a wet, low lying site, unhelpful neighbours and official bureaucracy who couldn’t care less. In fact very much like Ireland when you are trying to build something.
On the final morning, Mercy, one of the women hugged me and apologised for all the difficulties we had needlessly encountered, I just laughed and explained how I felt very much at home, very much like the planning process in Ireland I explained; You apply for permission on land where building is allowed and all hell breaks loose, obstructionists come out of the woodwork, like termites she asked; very much I answered; they object, tell lies, question your motives, defame your character, spread rumours, cost you money and after about two years the final level of bureaucracy say yes: always yes in my case. So what’s new: we laughed? She said you’re a tough customer, I smiled and let her know that we WILL realise all of our dreams.
Part of the dream was realised on February 9 with the opening of Áras Kate, a 1700 sq ft wonder. 260 little ones will be cared for and fed here every morning from 7.30 till 11. The one meal of porridge made from maize flour, soya, ground nuts with a little salt and a lot of sugar, will make a serious impact on their lives. Later in the year the sweetener will be honey from our 330 hives in the forest, the maize, soya and groundnuts will come from our land in Lusangazi and the vitamins from dried moringa leaves.
The process is simple really; its just community at it’s best. Of course it’s not a million kids, it’s not a Madonna affair, it’s only each one of 260 beautiful creations, who may now be given a shot at life by the generosity of a doting grandfather six thousand kilometres away.
Next we plan a drop in centre for battered and bruised women, for grannies and carers, a place to meet and laugh a little; a homework club for students, a little enterprise centre, small business loans at zero interest, first or second chance learning for young and older mothers and whatever needs arise.
All this is happening in the middle of the most serious depravation, starvation serious male alcoholism and all the abuse that goes with it.
Did someone mention a UN charter for children; would that person stand up and be counted?
If you think you can help, I assure you that you can.
Lend us your hands.
Thank you all for allowing me a little rant after a 32 hour journey!