Wells for Zoë is in its seventh year in Malawi and learning something new every day, about the people and their ability to cope, improvise and initiate. Very poor people must have super coping mechanisms or they would already be dead.
From the beginning we worked on the principal that there would be no hand-outs, but must confess that there has always been slippage or failure to do what we knew was better, because firstly we are driven by the heart and secondly it took me a while to learn the art of patience in getting things done (but I’ve learned).
Sometimes even the best laid plans succumb to the sight of starving children, mothers giving birth in hovels and people dying from cholera while there are still pumps in the factory. Most times we strike excellent balances between heart and head, like with pumps, where communities dig wells, supply bricks, sand, and all labour, while we bring the pumps.
Since I was very little, I was taught that trying and getting it wrong was a learning process, while making the same mistake twice was bad judgement and bad business. I have worked hard on this all my life and now in Malawi, our people are free to try anything, make mistakes, and learn.
I always appreciated that even the poorest village women had amazing intelligence and spirit to succeed, but as I work with them and listen, I realise how much AID has got in the way of progress.
MICA school is a top rate example of how Malawi can cope without us. Miriam and Casca, the founders of MICA, came to work for us in Áras Kate in Salisbury line, both initially as volunteers. It was obvious from early on that they had a gift for teaching. Mary worked with them and later sent them on a short training course. When they could no longer work in Salisbury Line, they both did a training course in Adult Education and while Casca now manages nineteen preschools, Miriam runs our Adult Education programme.
During the Summer of 2011, Miriam started a small preschool in her own home, but soon it was too small, so she set about finding a suitable building, a local Church which could be rented, by a very helpful and caring pastor.
In her discussions with Mary it was obvious that her plan was better than we could ever have devised.
MIriam and Casca went for it, setting up MICA preschool. They organised their open day, registered over 60 little ones (3 to 6 year olds). Our Summer volunteers helped with, books, other bits and pieces and craic.
They changed the model. The little ones bring their lunch with them and those with a lunch share with those without. Jen and Grace, other carers from our Salisbury Line days, joined, as volunteers at first, and now a small school fee pays their wages.
This is another story about inspiration, education and challenge. They have met the challenge head-on and now they have one of the best preschools in Mzuzu.
They use the school to hold training courses for other carers and constantly up-skill themselves.
After a few weeks of help from newly qualified, Julie Thornhill, this place could compare favourably with a preschool in any suburb of any city in the world, but this is a pretty deprived area of Mzuzu.
The rent for the school is less than 2 Euros per week!
They get by with a little help from their friends!! (The Beatles get the final word)
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 email@example.com
In the shower this morning, with sparkling water falling on my head I reflected on all the people in the World who lack this essential for life and also on the huge effort that women have to make to locate and carry, often dirty water for their family needs. Suddenly the following memory flashed back to light
It was late evening in a remote village in Doroba, about 35km from home, but every one of them over tracks with backbreaking craters and not for the fainthearted. We were on a preschool-day where we were meeting whole communities and Mary was outlining the benefits of preschools and what we were requiring them to contribute to the process. She was doing all the work while Nicole, Kate and Aoife and myself were just making up the numbers!! This was the last of four preschool groups, so we were all ready for home. We were just taking the final group photograph of the day when this old lady approached me. She was probably sixty but looked ninety. She said “can you come to look at our pumps now”? I was hot, tired, hungry, my poor bones ached and I was all set to do the scary drive back home. Now I needed a quick lie!!. In a flash I replied that the women were tired and they had to rush. But she interjected, “you promised”. “You promised last week that the next time you came you would look at where we get our water, and we’re all here” (about 20 of them, all women). Well if I promised, I promised. I looked closely at this, probably sick, half starved bundle of bones, thought of my 85 year old mother and said hop in, as I made place in the front seat for her.
I asked “where do we go”, knowing that we were at the end of the line, the end of what had any resemblance to a road. They pointed, “just, over there”, along a goat track where a few already wrecked, ancient brick lorries, had flattened the small trees and grass. Now this was the real wilderness, I had no Harisen, so I’m on my own with a group of possessed women. Four kilometres later we arrived at over there. I thought: With a quick turnaround all would be well, but no such luck.
I know if Harisen was there he would probably drive all the way to the pump location, but he wasn’t and probably having his dinner by now. So off we go led by this rejuvenated auld one, running and jumping over gorges like a kid goat. Where is it: “Just over these trees”, but when we arrive there was another landmark and then another up hills and down, following these crazy women.
After about 1km, I sat and thought, should I continue or go back. I was dead, but they came, pulled me to my feet, and said quietly, “It’s not too far now”. Well it wasn’t, not for them: just another kilometre. We saw where she wanted her well. We planned what was to be done. She had no problem with things like the size, the digging, carrying bricks sand and stones, as long as we would bring the pump and cement They all prayed and danced and sang while telling me that there would be ten pumps in all, which was great for us, when all could be done together.
As we hiked back they told me that God would reward me. “What God”? I replied, “there’s no God”, I said, because if there was, He wouldn’t have me out here, in this godforsaken place, with you crowd of mad people. The just fell apart laughing and took turns pulling me up the hills, making the path and minding me.
They are wonderful people, I love then, They’re God’s own people, and that’s how much they want clean water.
I haven’t been back but I’m told that they all have clean, safe drinking water now, all two thousand or so. Of course they’ll thank God, not me, but that’s not a bad deal.
When I returned, Mary and the gang were really tired, thought I had been kidnapped, or led astray. They slept on the journey back despite the undulations.
I will think before I promise in the future Well, No I won’t.
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.
For the past two months, as well as our almost daily skype conversations to mobiles, we get a weekly report from the Alinipher on the farm, Casca from the preschools and Duncan on the pumps. We are constantly amazed at how much is going on and how things have improved and at the quality of the content.
Date :7th October 2011.
Hei John & Mary,
Here is the report for Lusangazi Farm which Alinipha gave me.
* We are transplanting cabbage and boricole.
* We are planting Beetroots direct and peas.
* We are planting coco yams and strawberries.
* We are sowing sunn hemp, Mahogany and Msangu in tubes.
* We are planting sweet corn.
* We are doing heavy watering due to shortage of water but problem solved this week because we received heavy rainfall and water table increased.
* The water level in dams have increased and we have more water in the garden since Thursday this week.
* We are planting Dahlia around orchard and planting Bananas around orchard,we have took this amountn of rainfall to plant these because at first it was too dry.
* A message to Mary is that we have a letter from City Assembly.
* The are saying that the will be a training of the caregives.
* Place is City Assembly.
* They need 6 caregives from our schools*
* I wish all the Best!!!
GOD BLESS YOU ALL
When the going gets tough, do the tough get going or maybe sometimes get the message, up tent and pegs and get the hell out of Dodge. This was our dilemma on May 2, 2011
We had come to Malawi, for the first time, just six years ago and feel we have made unbelievable progress (for us) with the poorest rural people you are ever likely to see anywhere. Rural poverty is different than the urban variety in that rural people generally survive better: they should be able to feed themselves at least, if they have any tradition of farming, and sell a little to buy necessities, but Aid, bad advice and poor governance have robbed them of their dignity and courage. Many people here, men mainly, have lost the spirit to survive and if there is any hope, it’s with the women.
I mention aid as the first blight, in that people have become dependent and wait for the €70,000 white jeeps to arrive and get them out of another spot, the Government having previously exaggerated the need, wasted much of the money on reports (done by white consultants) and sent what remained with the delivery boys.
In the past six years we have spent our time trying to inspire, educate and challenge villagers to get off their asses and do it for themselves, pushing ahead with communities who have taken the first steps. Our top attention goes to the provision of clean drinking water close to villages. The community (the men) dig the wells sometimes up to eighteen metres deep (the height of a four story apartment block), supply and build the bricks, sand and labour. We supply a simple, very sustainable and repairable pump, which we make in Mzuzu, and the cement.
To be honest most wells are six or seven metres deep and the average cost to us is about €130 per village meaning water for life can cost less than one Euro per person.
Clean water has a phenomenal, life changing impact. Water related illness disappears immediately. Words like diarrhoea, a bigger killer than aids, disappears from the vocabulary. Cholera, an almost instant killer vanishes, and women get back some rudiments of a life. Girls can get to school, bad and all as it might be. Women can grow gardens, often with our help and a horrific life becomes a little more bearable.
All this seems like something we’d want to stay for, and continue, but Malawi has changed in recent times. Suspicion and paranoia about the activities and influence of foreign NGO’s is all around us, and there’s a view abroad that we’re going back to the latter years of the reign of the dictator Kamuzu Banda, who ran a hoard of community spies, and not so nice people, who reported to the powers that be, lots of people were disappeared, some reported to be fed to the crocodiles in the Shire river and any semblence of law evaporated in the hot Malawi sun.
I’m not saying in any way that we have got that far, but a recent edict directed the President’s supporters to deal with dissenters and anyone critical of the current regime.
It’s interesting that today (May 2) the president announced May 14 as a National Holiday to honour the former president of Malawi, Kamuza Banda, and anyone who has read even the most abbreviated history of Malawi, and his illustrious reign, will appreciate what I mean. The comment that Malawi can live in prosperity if it learns from this great son of the land and decide to live by the values he stood for (from a full page Ministry Advert in the Daily Times ) maybe even the slightest bit of misleading. Now it is true that many of the older village men would concur with this but with maybe with just the slightest touch of selective amnesia, rose tinted glasses or even a bit of alzheimers. Maybe it’s more of a reflection on the current state of the country rather than a factual recollection of what was.
I suppose at this time rulers all around the world are looking at North Africa and what may be loosely called people power. Autocratic rulers everywhere are under scrutiny from all angles and must be worried about their collective futures .
If I look at one particular case: the UK, who had to welcome home their High Commissioner from Malawi, having been thrown out because he told it as it is, something that every canine conversation is about, on the streets these days. Like most of the developed world the UK has financial problems, taxes and interest rates will go up, they are spending ship loads of money on humanitarian aid, in places like Malawi and have now the cost of bombers in Libya. If I were a Health worker in Malawi, I would worry about my future, as the UK is the biggest funder of healthcare and medicines. Maybe getting rid of the British High commissioner was a stroke of genius. Being powerful enough to be first country in the commonwealth to ever send home an ambassador (even Mugabe didn’t go that far) has to show that Malawi’s sun has indeed risen.
During the past three weeks, not alone did we have had to visit Emigration and Government Information Services (the stazi) to give an account of our movements, we had Inland Revenue crawl all over us: all this mainly, I feel, at the instigation of a single individual.
There are thousands of foreign NGO’s in Malawi, we are tiny and they’re on our case, so what’s going on? More than vague suggestions are always made of arrest, eternal damnation or expulsion.
Maybe this rant should end with a laugh.
Two weeks ago, one of our employee’s, who looks after 5 rural preschools and visits one each day, was on his bike at about 7.30am and while passing a read block was detained by police. He was charged with speeding and told that they would keep his bike until the fine (€10) was paid. He left his bike, walked 2 miles to the school, 2 miles back and eventually when he confirmed that he had no money, and was walking away, they threw his bike at him.
When we arrived at the factory this morning, after 7.30, Duncan was loaded up and ready to roll, to fit two pumps. One was a broken pump which hadn’t worked for years and the other was on a new well .
Haven’t seen him since, but I’m sure the news is good.
In the wake of ever increasing fuel costs and the lack of fuel for long periods as a result of forex problems, we have decided to keep the show on the road and bought a new bike for our new guy Duncan.
He loves the job and the bike and the whole affair.May 2011
You can laugh (or cry) at the following email
Here is my report plus the G,P,S details of some pumps that we have installed so far.
We went to Ekwendeni following up those letters you left plus other new wells namely; Makalanje, V H Simon, Halazie, Shonga and Engcongoleni.
On 14 June I went to maintan a pump in Thandazga,
On 15 June I was with steve digging a well at the factory,
Today I went to Chimwemwe Kazando to take the mesurement of the new well, I will go there before Friday to make a cover and show them how to construct the whole well.
1.Village name;E,E Ngoma
No of people;28
GPS: S 11*28.410 E033*59.106 Depth,6.8m
2.Village name;Vwenya Mzumla
No of people;128
GPS; S11*24.325 E033*57.880 Depth;4.6m
3.Village name;V,H Luguba Mhlanga
No of pple;196
GPS; S11*22.601 E034*00.765 Depth;3.9m
No of people;357
GPS; S11*28.811 E033*57.445 Depth;3m
When things are going well in Malawi, it’s time to worry. This came from Duncan today: He finishes
The traffic policeman told me that not to carry pipes on my bike any longer failing which I will be arrested.
If we check with the police there will be no law, statute or mention of such. But because of corruption, stupidity or plain badness, this is their law, one man’s law and unless we pay them off this is THE ONLY LAW.
In one week, this young man (21) has helped 4 villages and gain access to safe, clean drinking water for the first time and some brainless f***** in a uniform has invented a reason to intervene, in the hope of collecting a bribe.
This is everyday life in Malawi and it’s at all levels from the top down.
Millenium Development Goals my ass.