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.
Monday 23 May 2011: Duncan, the Mobile Plumber
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.