An Answer

For the past eight years, we’ve been working to build a different kind of organisation. One without big money, buildings and bureaucracy, One run on the energy of the volunteering spirit and one with faith in the ability of the poorest to have a solution to their own problems. It’s wonderful, now, to be able say that IT WORKS.

When we first went to Malawi at Easter 2005, we got a glimpse of what the water crisis really meant. We looked with great sadness, amazement and dismay, at broken pumps, pumps not fit for purpose, expensive pumps, beautiful pumps and then women and girls carrying filthy water, long distances on their heads. I suppose we scratched our heads and wondered where all the millions of aid was going, when this most crucial of steps in the development process seemed to have no solution.

We figured that solving this problem must be so difficult, since no one appeared to have cracked it. We had two options, go home, forget about and pray that some expert would solve it, or do something about it. Being stubborn and obstinate the second option looked like the way to go!!

I emailed hundreds of organizations (and there are thousands) who said give us your money, we do pumps, but since I had seen their puny, short lived solutions, I figured that back to the drawing board may be the way to go.

We knew that access to clean water changes things, but we had no idea just how much. The rewards now, after our eight year of struggles, are immeasurable. All we have done is voluntary, were we, M+J, pay all the organizations running expenses and are full time Malawi! We decided, from the start, to follow a path less travelled, the scenic, volunteering route, where people regularly advised us to leave it to the experts with the support of small donors and even a few bigger ones. We are so grateful to those people who have invested their money in a system less tried and tested, living with the poorest, listening to their stories, dreams and plans and always there to support with advice and training. Their country, their lives, their future, our inspiration, has been most rewarding: a wonderful period of common discovery, among equals.

 

So what have we learned…?

 

We were very happy arriving in Malawi with a most amazing and unique pumps. We installed them with and for the people. They dug wells, made bricks and did all the work, while we brought the pumps. BUT we soon found that they wanted to work with us on other issues. The accepted clean water as the beginning of a whole new life, but now that they knew us, they knew that we could work together and do more. They had, in fact, got dreams and plans, mainly short-term. Their plans included preschools, farming adult education, business. In locations, where they had not become disenfranchised by Aid and bureaucrats they were prepared to think, plan and dream dreams. Very soon it looked like pumps were forgotten and life could begin in earnest, and now, since the women can maintain their pumps with ease, the lives of village women and girls will never be the same. If you want to measure the cost of changing a life, just imagine that it costs just €1 to give a person clean water, in Northern Malawi, where we work.

 

Of course it’s a team effort, but our team is very small yet. We need more advocates, ambassadors and vocal volunteers, not principally for money but to change the way people look at development. Our message is simple, at a human scale and inexpensive. We don’ worry too much about numbers and statistics, we consider each individual as the most valuable We work with, and believe in Malawian people, mainly women, moving them to empower themselves. We don’t look at poverty or depravation; we look at situations and solutions. We look at connectivity, which is now so easy nowadays. We need to be neighbours and good friends, and then the tiniest of help can work wonders, but it has to be a bottom-up approach. Micro solutions really work.

 

We realize that partnership is important. Away from Malawi we are in awe of all the people in schools, churches, offices and homes who show they care and work tirelessly for the cause. We’re humbled by it all.

 

We never planned for growth and expansion, but it has come through the efforts of others, particularly in Malawi, where we have installed, repaired and replaced over 2000 pumps, thus bringing clean, safe drinking water to over a quarter of a million of the poorest  

We hadn’t planned farming, training, research, seed and seedling production, but its all there to be seen and run by bright, intelligent and hard working Malawians, many of whom have little formal education but who are so eager to learn.

We never thought of preschools, yet we have 22, run by the most willing Malawian rural women, who care for the little ones under trees, in cowsheds, schools and deserted buildings. We work on training and they get on with it. Buildings will come later.

We never dreamed of Adult Education but our women have dreams. Dreams of beginning at Standard One and learning to read with their children, technicolour dreams of going to Secondary schools and even more do-able plans to be able to feed, educate and support their families. If I could write, there a hundreds of individual stories of bravery and courage persistence and prayers.

And we had no idea how fast anything would happen. In reality a few hundred people with clean water was what we wished for back in 2005. So if someone mentioned an education project impacting 16 schools and over 25,000 primary school students, I might have inquired about their state of mind, and a birthing centre in the bush, and a pump factory and Malawian employees who run the show on their own, and sending girls to Secondary school, and building and supporting primary schools and libraries. And I’m breathless

But this is where Wells for Zoë, You and us and them, the Universe has certainly colluded!

 

Today…

We have maybe 100 regular donors

Most donate less than €100

Our biggest supporter(s) is a Our Lady’s School, Terenure, Dublin 16, where everyone appears to be involved, and where the feeling of goodwill is electric.

Our investment in buildings in Malawi will soon pay all our wages

We work with 5 Government Ministries at local level, where all are committed to progress without hand-outs

Our water project is expanding in 3 countries, working with partner organizations who share a similar philosophy

We have no paid staff, except our Malawian employees.

Our future will hopefully see more Malawian staff employed and retained if they can fit-in:

More training and up-skilling for our current staff; more involvement in the project by all employees; more setting up and handing over of commercial co-operative women’s farms like the one in Doroba, enabling people to empower themselves.

But who knows?

We have learned a lot in 8 years. Our employees, volunteers, villagers and partners have made seismic and sustainable strides, with our approach of inspiration, education and challenge and they are not for turning back now.

 

On Sunday night two DIT students: Tommy Flavin and Claire Cunningham who volunteered with us at Easter 2012 and are finalizing a documentary, interviewed us for about two hours on video. Their final question was:

Why would anyone want to leave the comfort of Lucan and travel 8000 miles to poverty, hardship and hard work; we thought it over guys and our final answer is: We can’t imagine anything more exciting?

International Aid

International Aid
by Evans Munyemesha

Over the past two years we have seen amazing women in Northern Malawi take hold of their lives and empower themselves. Their success is based on a simple premise that the very poorest can do the impossible when allowed to come up with and act on their own plans. It is called self help and is done with a little inspiration, education and challenge with NO external financial inputs. When I say none I mean NONE.

I just grabbed this short bit so that someone might read it!! because it shows up, what we are doing, for the monster that it is. Maybe we can look at the current situation as the poor in the developed World donating to the rich of the developing World with a large portion going back to the rich in the developed World. It might be amusing if it were not so serious

With international ‘aid’ to soon reach $100 billion a year (from $60 billion), it will be the final kick in the teeth of the poor, crippling further their Third World economies. Indeed, (as I have found out after researching through reports and what-not), it’s often profoundly dangerous to the poor and inimical to their interests to have ‘aid’ imposed upon them: It has financed the creation of monstrous projects that, at vast expense, have devastated the environment and ruined lives; it has facilitated the emergence of fantastical and devious bureaucracies staffed by legions of self-serving hypocrites; it has sapped the initiative, and creativity and enterprise of ordinary people and substituted the superficial and irrelevant showiness of imported advice; it has sucked potential entrepreneurs and intellectuals in the developing countries everywhere into non-productive administrative activities; it has created a ‘moral tone’ in international affairs that denies the hard task of wealth creation and that substitutes easy handouts for the rigors of self-help; in addition, throughout the Third World, it has allowed the dead grip of imposed officialdom to suppress popular choice and individual freedom. Call it what you will—but I will call it for what it is: Noble Colonialism! Ain’’t that a ‘female dog’?

And there’s more to come

An oasis in a desert of appalling misery

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.

In the circlePart 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!