A little Sunday Morning Rant, (for our amazing volunteers July 25, 2010)

Elaine Bolger brings two Educational establishments, DIT and Mzuzu University together. Beside Elaine is Fr John Ryan, Professor of Mathematics

Wells for Zoe is a small, Irish, sustainable development organisation working with some of the world’s poorest in Northern Malawi. It is almost irrelevant now that it was founded by John and Mary Coyne from Lucan, Co Dublin; such is the support it gets from so many people and in so many ways. It has never sought Government funding and depends on the generosity of the public for its development. The Coynes do however pay all administrative expenses and naturally they pay for their own flights, travel and accommodation while in Malawi, which now is about five months each year. This enables all donations to be spent where they are needed, in Malawi.
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.

women of malawi

Women of Malawi

The title maybe indicates the main focus of my life at the moment, but it is the name of a wonderful organisation working in Malawi as well , http://www.womenofmalawi.org. The driving force is Dr Valerie Donnelly and I have taken the following from the website.

My name is Valerie Donnelly. I am a practicing Obstetrician in Mount Carmel Hospital, Churchtown, Dublin 14 since 2000 and am presently the Lead Clinician. I qualified in 1985 from the Royal College of Surgeons and trained in Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Ireland and Australia.
I first went to Malawi in November 2007 to help give a course in Emergency Obstetrics with the Irish College of Anaesthetists to Clinical Officers. I visited a local hospital and was so overwhelmed by the poor facilities, lack of supplies and of trained staff, the workload of the doctors and condition of the mother. Even in the hospital many of the babies died and the maternal mortality was totally unacceptable. The mothers are sick with anaemia, malaria, HIV/AIDS and general malnutrition.
Infant mortality, within the hospital, is 10%. Maternal mortality, within the hospital, is 1 in 2000. This compares to a ratio of 1 in 100,000 in Ireland. UNICEF publishes a figure of Lifetime risk of Maternal Death of 1:18. The principle cause of maternal death is haemorrhage. Many of the women have severe anaemia due to a lack of iron in the diet. The provision of iron to pregnant women would have significant impact on the maternal mortality rate.
I returned in July 2008 to work at the hospital for a month as a volunteer. I brought supplies of sutures and drugs which I knew to be lacking. I transported these by DHL while I was there so that I could ensure they got to the right place.
In November 2008 I went back to the hospital and brought 27 boxes of supplies, theatre gowns, ventouse cups, sutures, drugs, drapes etc., Many of these items were donated to me and I organised pick up and distribution through the hospital agent, including an Ultrasound scanning machine. While working at the hospital I interviewed and gathered information on more than 500 women. I began to identify some of the most important issues were knowledge about pregnancy and the general wellbeing of the pregnant women. Most of the women were poorly educated and unaware when they should come to the hospital and many left their visit too late. Also many of the women were severely anaemic which was the major contributor to their problems and, I believe, to the deaths of some of them. In addition a lack of simple medical supplies lead to poor outcomes of routine medical procedures.

In January 2009 I returned to give another teaching programme with the Irish College of Anaesthetists.

In March 2009 I will visit again to set up a project to get information to the women in the villages. I am also looking to coordinate the delivery of an operating theatre to a district hospital. The operating theatre is the gift of an Irish entrepreneur.

On behalf of the Women of Malawi I thank you for your support.

The death of a mother in childbirth is a tragedy in any society. Women and children are our life for the future. In Ireland, when a woman dies in childbirth, this event can make headline news. 1 in 100,000 women die in labour in Ireland. In Malawi the maternal mortality rate is 1 in 1,800. In a single government hospital in Malawi, where I work, two or three women die each month. 85% of Malawian society lives in a rural agricultural setting, and this is where the majority of mothers deliver their babies. There is little data on the rural populations in Malawi, which means that the above-mentioned maternal death rate is likely higher – we actually have no accurate idea how many women die in childbirth in rural areas though this is being addressed by government bodies at present.
While there are many ways to help reduce maternal mortality The Women of Malawi Charity has decided to focus on three core issues.Proven ways to reduce the carnage in childbirth are:
Improving the mother’s health during pregnancy.
Having a skilled attendant at birth;
Educating the women about childbirth and;Preventing anaemia.
The main cause of death in childbirth is from haemorrhage. Mothers die because of lack of blood for transfusions, but they would not be so prone to blood loss if their iron level were higher in the first place. (Iron is a major mineral in blood that contributes to coagulation.) The average iron levels, at Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin where I work, during pregnancy is 11-12. At Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe where I volunteer on a regular basis, the average iron level is 6-7 in expectant mothers. This leaves the women susceptible to infections and death due to haemorrhage, and complicates delivery with preterm birth and small babies.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this cause.
Takulandilani indepo, Zicomo
(Welcome and Thank You in Chichewa, the language widely spoken in Malawi.)

Mothers who die, and worse, on International Women’s Day

We brought a new mattress, but the sooner we have a new building the better.

We brought a new mattress, but the sooner we have a new building the better.

Because I am not someone who reads books my family sent me off with loads of appropriate articles for my two week break in Madeira, knowing that I won’t stop working anyway.
One series from the New Internationalist has me in tears, having learned earlier that it was International Women’s day, whatever that may mean, when it’s at home! The old Malawian priest, who had spent most of his days in California, was engaging on this, and on transfiguration, which was the gospel for today.
In February, Charity, our human relations guru in Malawi told us of one of our women (she lives where we work in Lusangazi) who assists villagers, with the birth of their children in her home. She is a birth attendant and has got some government training. The news came on the last day of our visit and we are relying on pictures for the visuals.
We asked how W4Z could help her out. The shopping list was short and shocking; she needed plastic for the roof to keep the water out, a plastic apron, plastic gloves if it was possible, wellingtons, a torch and later a mattress. This to me, looks like the biggest big step backwards from the stable Bethlahem.
This women needs all the help we can give, like a new building, a water pump for clean water, a concrete floor, hygienic walls, a little equipment, not to mention drugs, painkillers. You might well ask, how would I know, but when I had kidney stones recently, the nurses told me that the pain is something like child birth; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy; I wanted to die it was so bad.
We didn’t commit to Malawi to do anything for thousands of people, we thought in terms of one at a time; one well, one pump, one dam and now alleviating the suffering of one woman or one newborn.
You might think it simplistic, but should we wait for someone else, the government maybe, UNICEF or the UN, who will spend fortunes on research and white jeeps; no, we’ll give it a try and we are now on it.
BUT it is not that simple. Most, 34% of maternal deaths are as a result of haemorrhage, which needs serious consideration, as does the whole package of HIV/Aids, Infection, Hypertension, Anaemia or Obstructed labour. Childbirth seems natural and simple yet it’s not.
Thankfully advice and help is on the way from homebirth midwife and daughter in law, Melissa and friend Johanna.
If this program is to expand, we need training for these remote, rural, birth attendants, Midwife help, ante and post natal clinics and of course an ambulance service.
In Malawi, there are 16 maternal and 37 neonatal infant deaths every day. Drastically understaffed, 95% of the country’s midwives are based in urban centres while most of the population, and deaths, are in the countryside. Nurse midwives are scarce in rural areas, because the work can be seven days a week, as babies don’t recognise weekends. People with such qualifications prefer to work for NGO’s, with less work and more pay, if they stay in Malawi at all.
In Malawi, most rural women give birth at home as a result of the long travel distance and the poor roads; the average travel distance is 20km, on foot, on a bicycle or a wheelbarrow!!
Now comes the worse bit!
The most demeaning nightmare any woman could suffer is what is called an obstetric fistula, caused by prolonged labour where pressure of the child’s head on the pelvis tissue creates a hole which leads to an inability to control urine and faeces. A practice in parts of Malawi which exacerbates this is that the decision to seek medical help is in the hands of the Uncle. You can imagine what happens if he is not cooperative, not around or drunk.
Another traditional or chosen belief is that the first born should be born at home, so that the father should attend, believing that complications indicate infidelity. Pregnancies at a young age, also adds to the number.
Finally Malawi has one doctor and four clinical officers, qualified to carry out fistula repairs in all of Malawi, for 16 million of a population.
Oh! About 8 million won’t ever have this problem.
Every child born is a miracle, but every fistula repaired must be the greatest miracle of all for those women who are chased from their homes, banished by their communities to live and die destitute.
Malawi will tell you it’s the warm heart of Africa, what a load of rubbish
If our little action saves one life, then it will be worthwhile.
Would you like to help us?