Teacher mentoring

Malawi: Progress on a Shoe String, November 25, 2012

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

Anything is possible if you have clean, safe drinking water

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

A new variety apple budded on to a local rootstock

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

Duncan going on his bike to fit a new pump

A happy woman

Mary: Creating an interest in books, everywhere she goes

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Carrying water

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Pumping is so easy with the Canzee pump. Ask any 4 year old!

Ecaiweni Conference on Micro Credit

Language barrier: What’s that.
Mary working with a women’s Self Help group, in their village on their plans

 

I had two contrasting contacts that made an impact on me last week. The first was an email wondering whether we had finished with Malawi, or were we still in business and the other was a contact regarding our gathering for volunteers from the past seven years in Malawi.

I suppose it’s not surprising that someone may think of our early demise, because many small organisations like us do what they can, and leave. We now spend a little less than half our lives in Mzuzu, we make no great fuss about what we do when we are at home, and our fundraising is low key and almost underground.

Early this year we revamped our board with a more formal structure and now we have Dr Ann Burnell, Professor Emeritus in Biology NUIM, as Chair, Pierce Maher, Dr Maria Corrigan, Ciarán O’Leary, acting head of the School of Computing, DIT, Kevin St, Liam Stuart, Caitriona Coyne, John Waters, Irish Times, Elaine Bolger, Roseanne Curtin, Mary and myself. Since we are a 100% voluntary organisation we have found that this arrangement lightens the load on us a bit. Voluntary, in W4Z always means no remuneration; everyone pays for travel, accommodation and all the costs of their involvement. There are no expenses of any kind or allowances paid by the charity, to anyone except the wages of our Malawi employees. We, as the founders, also pay all other expenses so that 100% of all public donations get all the way to our projects in Malawi and Zambia.

You could say that the gathering last Friday night last was our seventh Birthday, since it is seven years since we headed into the unknown, to a dot in the hills of Northern Malawi to meet a unique and amazing man: Br Aidan Clohessy, Head of St John of God Services in Mzuzu, to stay with him for two weeks and now 25 visits later we have the hospitality, wisdom, experience, advice and sound solid good sense of a Tipperary man who started from scratch, about 19 years ago, and has built up a first World Service, including a Health Science University. In typical fashion, he attributes it all to the Grace of God. In his interview with John Waters, on the night, he related; that success in Malawi began by his piggybacking on the Diocese of Mzuzu and St John’s Hospital and that W4Z have succeeded as a result of doing the same with SJOG. “It’s a good way to ensure success” he said. When asked to elaborate, he said that you must have determination and heart and W4Z is built on those virtues.

We are so happy that he came, with Provincial Br Lawrence, to cut the birthday cake (Donated by our local Superquinn). Of course he got a great welcome from all our volunteers who know him and all he has achieved in Malawi.

The various displays showed some of what we are now doing in Malawi and generated much surprise and delight, particularly for those who came to volunteer in the earlier years.

News for 2012 to date:

 

WATER: Our factory has manufactured over 450 pumps, this year and between Malawi and Zambia, we estimate that well over 100,000 villagers will have clean, safe drinking water, by year’s end. We also have a more formal training programme, in pump maintenance, for village women, who are burdened with the task of locating and hauling water on their heads, often from long distances. We are also doing trials on a new pump, a modifies version of our current one, for pumping up-hill and for filling tanks

 

PRIMARY EDUCATION: In our fourth year of teacher mentoring. Our programme now impacts over 25,000 students in two zones in the Northern region, working with the District Education Manager (DEM) and the inspectorate. It is designed and implemented by excellent practitioners from Ireland using the Malawi Curriculum and is set for rapid expansion as some top Malawian teachers have been trained to be trainers. They’ve got a little lift and they are ON-IT. For the future, the DEM and some excellent school heads are of retirement age and coming to work for us.

 

PRESCHOOLS We now support 21 rural schools, mainly by training caregivers, and showing them how to make and use locally-made teaching aids. In terms of building schools, the community must make and build bricks and do all the labour, and when the reach roof level, W4Z supply only the roofing material and 3 bags of cement for the floor. This arrangement ensures community ownership.

 

FARMING

We now have four farms.

Farm 1: Here we do research and demonstration with about 100 plants, using OP seeds, No artificial fertilizer or chemical pesticides. We save seeds and have greenhouses to produce over 10,000 fruit tree seedlings each year, and a multitude of other trees.

Farm 2: This we use to produce seeds of four tree types, all nitrogen fixing, one for nutrient extraction (Musango), one used for pest control (Tephrosia), and two fast growing for forage (Sespania and Glicidia).

This will enable us to supply these seeds to about 250 local farmers and also to a Seed Company in Lilongwe

Farm 3: This is a 3 hectare, citrus grove but it is also used for herb growing and researching forgotten African plants.

Farm 4: This is a depleted wilderness for research. A 20 year old man, Kondwani, with his wife and child will live here, improve the soil with agro-forestry, green manure, pigs, a cow, long crop rotation and conservation tillage in a planned eight year ad(venture) to see what can be achieved without  Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the rest. We hope that this will be a model for the future

OTHER

We also have a rural birthing centre, which doubles as a health centre and a location for many and varied meetings

We support clubs for grandparents rearing grandchildren and home based care for HIV/AIDS sufferers, in the areas where we work

We have a fund for hospital medicines and baby clothes for maternity wards, in Mzuzu Central Hospital and Mzuzu Clinic. We also supply transport for the medics for their monthly clinics.

We work with secondary schools and the two third level institutions.

We have a project enabling girls to go to Secondary Schools, a few school libraries and even one on the farm.

We have Adult education programmes and one for school gardens.

We work with women’s Self Help clusters and also have a 23 acre

co-operative, commercial, model farm for women, where we work with the Ministry for Agriculture, Agroforestry and the Traditional Authorities. Here Wells for Zoë bought the land and will resell it to the women over a four year period. We bought it in April, 2012 and already 25% has been repaid ahead of schedule. This is a very new concept (shares and women’s ownership) to rural Malawi and has created much interest from many sectors.

We have a bee keeping project with almost 100 hives and a market for honey

We supported a young nursing student, who will graduate in December and come to work with us.

We have a charity shop in Smithfield run by volunteers

All this happens without taxpayers’ money or any assistance from Irish Aid, but with great help from family, friends, supporters and volunteers, always with passion and a second hand shoestring budget.

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Miriam with present

There is always a Malawi solution.

Wells for Zoë is in its seventh year in Malawi and learning something new every day, about the people and their ability to cope, imImageprovise 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)

The Promise

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.

Mother and child

Mzuzu’s Little Mothers

This article, by Cassie Delaney examines the current education situation for young girls in rural Malawi and through interviews establishes that, in that particular region, the MDG to deliver universal primary education by 2015 is unachievable.

Cassie was on her third visit to Malawi, volunteering with Wells for Zoe, Easter 2012

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“The girls come from far and they pass through many problems on their way”. Principal Rhoda Mulowayi talks to me in her office in Zolo Zolo Secondary School, Mzuzu. It is the Easter holidays and outside droves of children sing and play in the stone-splitting sun with a group of Irish volunteers. The secondary school students who prepare to sit their finals have come to ask for books and writing materials. Younger children from the community have come to catch a glimpse of the Mzungu. The shyer, timid children sit observing while their brazen older siblings approach the volunteers who entertain with bubbles and balloons and games. The scene is reminiscent of any school yard. Children run, laugh, play and fall over. But, on the perimeters of this playful scene, groups of girls carrying babies on their backs stand huddled together. These girls watch and laugh and sing but are unable to join in the rough and tumble. These girls are Mzuzu’s reluctant mothers and when asked each iterate the same thing; everyday, as their brothers and peers go to school, they are left behind to mind their younger siblings, fetch water and prepare food for their households because their place is in the home. It is these girls that have caused Rhoda concern.

The statistics are’nt new. In Sub-Sahara Africa, 31 million school aged children are not attending school. For those who can access education, 30% drop out before completing a course of primary education. In Malawi, 51% of primary school aged girls are not in school. A further 5% leave education before second level. We have spent several days in Malawi, and I have photographed many young girls who have each explained that they cannot attend school because of their commitments at home.

In Zolo Zolo Secondary School, a class of 72 students prepare to sit their final state exams. Of these students, 52 are male. “We are talking of gender equality worldwide” says Rhoda, “but for us to achieve this gender equality there is need for the girl child to be taken care of. For we have a saying here in Malawi; Educate a boy and you educate an individual, but educate a girl and you educate a nation”.

An expected opinion in Malawi is that girls should serve solely a domestic purpose. Rhoda ratifies that it is the common understanding that the place for girls is in the home. “When the mother is busy, the girl child is there to take care of the family. When someone is in the hospital, the girl child takes care of the family”. This sentiment is acknowledged by UNICEF who publically state “the socialization process victimizes girls because they are considered to be the weaker sex. Spending valuable resources such as money to pay for their education is considered a waste because they are expected to get married and be supported by their husbands. Their profile in society has remained low and their voices have not been heard”.

It would appear that the failure in Malawi’s education system is the social standing of women. When the United Nations talk about The Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (Goal 2), they often cite this standing as the obstacle they face in realising this goal. But this, in Rhoda’s view, is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are more monstrous concerns facing young girls in Malawi; concerns which significantly hinder the progress of education and equality.

Rhoda sits behind a large pine desk. Her office is sparse, dark and piled high with loose papers. There is little room for me to sit so I stand leaning over an aging steel filing cabinet. On the lime wash concrete walls, attendance sheets for the four forms indicate a low level of attendance. Outside, the children and volunteers continue to play. Rhoda leans forward, her unbalanced chair moving with her weight. There is hesitance in her voice, as though she is reluctant to continue.

“The girls fall in to a lot of temptations” says Rhoda with regret. “It is easy for the girls to fall into the temptation of having so many boyfriends. Also the girls do not have enough money and they can easily be tempted to have money and in exchange for money they offer their bodies. We are surrounded by a community of drunkards and as you know, drunkards can rape.”

“Girls are suffering”, she continues. “Those who drop out are girls. They are pregnant and we can’t keep them a place”.

Rhoda looks distantly out her office door to the children and collection of classrooms outside. The school is large but unassuming. The classrooms are bare and, if one were to pass the gathering of buildings on a weekend, one would assume the place was derelict.  In previous conversation Rhoda expressed a desire to turn Zolo Zolo in to a boarding school for girls, which she believes, will ascertain their attendance throughout all forms. But, with the school lacking in basic provisions such as desks and chairs, the promise of full boarding facilities is a long way off.

The United Nations released a report about Goal 2 in 2010 in which they stated enrolment in primary education in developing regions had reached 89 per cent in 2008. But, from conversation with Rhoda, it is clear that it is not enrolling student in education that is problematic, but rather, keeping them in education. She is adamant that a boarding school is the solution and when I ask her why, Rhoda looks at me, and bluntly states, “Because we still have these arranged marriages”.

In the Malawian legal system, there is ambiguity regarding marriage. Law states that a person over 18 can marry without parental consent and those between the ages of 15 – 18 may marry with the consent of a guardian.  The Law Commission has fought to increase the age of consent to 18 with parental consent, and 21 without. In regards to forced marriage, the constitution states no person over the age of 18 can be forced in to marriage. But, according to Rhoda, the reality in rural villages is that young girls are still being coerced into marriage to repay family debt. This practice is known as kupimbira and is a form of debt repayment where a young daughter may be transferred to the creditor for marriage for failure to pay the debt back.

Kupimbira is a taboo subject in the region and when I approach young people and ask about it, few are willing to talk. Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, such practice is internationally illegal and yet, according to the few who speak, is widely practiced in Malawi.

In spite of my pale Irish skin, I join the volunteers outside to play with the young children. Someone has thought them a game of “Pile on Cassie” and when my sunburnt skin can’t hack any more, I sit down with a group of young girls. One girl, Rebecca Murawae, speaks with impeccable English. Her skin is clear, he eyes are bright and in all respects she looks healthy and happy. She is 15 and in form one in Zolo Zolo. She tells me English is her favourite subject in school. I tell her that I study journalism and joke that she should consider it because the world always needs more journalists but she laughs and says she hopes one day to become a nurse. Rebecca is a beautiful looking young woman but what catches my attention is her evident intelligence. I ask her about her family and she tells me about her sister and brother. Rebecca seems to be well educated and I assume her family are one of the elite few who can afford the fees but she skims over the issue of fees saying “my parents did some business” and I decide not to question any further.

It is getting late in the evening and I wonder about the things Rhoda has told me. I have travelled to Malawi many times, met many people and read extensive reports by the UN and have only ever heard hushed whispers about Kupimbira. Like most, I believed with international laws and the advances in human rights and education, that such practices must have ceased and that it can’t really be that common. Yet, this is not the first time I have been surprised in Malawi, and it’s certainly not going to be the last either. In an effort to return to more upbeat and casual conversation I turn to Rebecca and ask “and do you like school?”

“Yes of course!” she says with hurriedly “I like it, I like school”, she pauses “I want to stay in school”. Rebecca seems to have defied the statistics. But then Rebecca speaks again and I am quickly reminded of the unfortunate truth of Malawi.

“We have problems too though. I want to stay in school so that I do not have to get married like my sister”.

Like all the girls here, Rebecca’s future is uncertain. What is palpable though, is her intelligence.

“I want to stay so that I can assist my mother and my sister. Like my sister, I don’t want to leave school because of our problems; I want to solve our problems because I stayed in school”.

Back in Rhoda’s office I mention Goal 2 and ask does she think such a goal is achievable.

She laughs.

“One hundred per cent of boys and girls in school by 2015? No that is not even tangible. I doubt this very much. Why? Because we will always have these problems with the girls. We will always have the girls dropping out. We need to solve the problems with the girls before we can solve the problems with education”.

Who said that Malawians need AID?

Getting the best return

Mary often asks me who I’m writing for, but I never really know, who reads or who cares, but being just off the plane after 32 hours travel, maybe it’s therapeutic!!.

Six weeks in Malawi was again exciting, enlightening and generally crazy. We had the sudden death of the President, his body sent to South Africa to allow time for an attempted coup, the grand tour in the golden trailer RIP 1, the millions of dollars, allegedly, found in bags in his bedroom and in his gold plated mausoleum, the vice president sworn-in, a palpable sense of relief and hope among our village friends, and the certain possibility of a better future. We’re told,  by our Malawian friends, that Ireland, almost alone, supported him to the bitter end, something they always question.

In Malawi, this was the hungry season when most villagers are down to one meal a day, still in the cold, rainy season. The maize has grown if you have fertilizer and the wet, red soil sticks to everything.

We had hardly drawn a breath of the rarefied air, before we were reminded of our commitment to a 200 strong women’s cluster in Doroba. Four of their representatives had trudged 30 km, in the downpour, to our pump factory, in the city to say thanks for the fifty pumps, but what about our preschools? In only one year of self help success, these shy, helpless and hopeless women had become eloquent, forceful and focused. Yippee!! They knew their community needs and our requirements and had a list of five areas where preschools had already begun operations, with carers, the use of a building, a school committee and the chiefs on board. Mary decided that we should meet each community separately and make sure that they all understood that they needed WORKING committees and school gardens for a feeding programme. By the end of six weeks we now have 11 new preschools (17 in all), where all the carers have had one day’s hands-on training, with Mary and her crew, just to get them started. I have’nt mentioned the cratered tracks, the desperate journeys, the nightmares for the bony-assed!, the magical scenery and the dire poverty. All that matters now is that these communities have a common mission, to get their little ones to school and keep them there. In these remote rural areas education is prized.

Meanwhile we opened our second adult education class in another deprived area of Mzuzu. Both will be models in a new push for adult literacy. While working closely with the District Education Manager we will continue to move the process forward in the villages with preschools.

Continuing with education, our volunteers from DIT, continued work on an English language project, for secondary school begun last year, while Mary gave the keynote address, and a workshop, at an In-service day on School Management. Plans are well under way, with the Education Ministry, for a two week training programme, by experienced, Irish teachers, to enable Malawian teachers to deliver training to their peers.

Despite the fuel, forex and sugar shortages, we managed to deliver 160 pumps to our partners in Zambia which will enable them to bring clean drinking to over 70,000 remote villagers. Considering the population of Roscommon is 63,896, I figure this is a bit of an achievement!

Oh, Our beehives are going great and we bought 2 piglets for breeding on the farm.

Land ownership in Malawi is very low especially for women, but in the last ten days we managed to buy 23 acres of land, in trust, for a group of 21 women and three men to enable them to set up a model, commercial, co-operative farm

It has the backing of all nine chiefs in the area, as well as support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro forestry, all of whom attended the hand-over meeting, at one day’s notice, under their own steam and without allowances. (maybe a first)

All this was achieved by a unique farmer, Dupu Mshanga, who will facilitate the project.

The Wells for Zoë  funding will be repaid by the end of four years and then passed on to a similar project elsewhere.

They have plans for cows and pigs, (with the help of the Ministry) paprika (for which we have a market) and pidgeon pea, Bananas and bees (we have a market for the honey), sunn hemp and velvet bean, no organic fertilizer or chemical pesticides.

These self help women will achieve all this because they are women, and because they are inspired. They will empower themselves, because they are the only ones who can do that. The final remark by Dupu was that they were never the recipients of Aid, they can do it by themselves and while they appreciate our help, he agreed that, in five years, W4Z would have convinced them that they had done it all by themselves.

John (and Mary Coyne): http://www.wellsforzoe.org

A year for solutions

Malawi

Malawi is a country with a myriad of problems.

“The human rights situation is degenerating rapidly. This year has seen the government, headed by President Bingu wa Mutharika, become an authoritarian regime openly resistant to criticism and human rights governance

In July, citizens of Malawi took to the streets to protest against fuel shortages, high cost of living, unemployment, repressive legislation and poor governance

The police opened fire on unarmed protestors, allegedly resulting in the death of 18 people. Journalists in particular were singled out, and were arrested, harassed and beaten. A media black-out was ordered and the press was banned from airing live broadcasts of the protests.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)

Acute shortage of forex and fuel is resulting in shortage of even the most basic of foodstuffs like salt.

The expulsion of the British High Commissioner (the first ever in the Commonwealth) has resulted in withdrawl of much needed funding for the health care system.

Other foreign donors, including Germany and the US have suspended aid to Malawi as well, citing poor governance . The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights recently passed a resolution that calls on the Government to end the campaign of intimidation against civil society.
(Sanyu Awori, December 16, 2011, Nyasa Times)

The fertilizer subsidy, on which the whole plan for food security was based has been drastically reduced, where even the extremely poor will not benefit this year. Even though this exercise was hailed and supported by all the gurus of the Aid World, there is no exit strategy or plan B in place. The plan supports maize production using hybrid maize seeds and chemical fertilizer which is subsidised by a grant worth 80% of the cost. In Northern Malawi where we work, years of use of such fertilizer has depleted the soil, made it acidic and robbed it of organic material. Anyway, who knows where intergovernmental funding ever goes in Malawi or in many other countries where accountability is difficult to achieve. Boxes are ticked and more money comes. Now ordinary, thinking Malawians wonder where all the donor money has gone and what has it all achieved.

OUR SHORT HISTORY

We went to Malawi in 2005 and got a brief glimpse of a sub Saharan country for the first time. My abiding memory is looking at hungry women and girls, needlessly hauling dirty water long distances, for family needs, while an array of broken pumps lay unfixed and certainly unfixable by local communities. I also noted that the depth of the water table was in the 3 to 6 metre range. (Six months later, I visited a pump where I celebrated its installation, with hundreds of villagers to find that the water level had dropped and the pump was useless because it had a limit of 6 meter depth, a normal story).

Abandoned Pump

Pump broke and was removed. Villagers returned to the stream.

I woke up at 4am one morning before we left and vowed (after I ranted) to do something about it. It wasn’t easy. I sent hundreds of emails to individuals and organisations. The organisations who did reply suggested I give them the money, they were the experts and what would I know about it anyway. Of course this attitude prevails. Finally I contacted Professor Richard Carter, then in Cranfield University,UK and now Technical head of Water Aid and Chairman of RWSN, and then we were on our journey. We located Richard Cansdale, in Hartburn outside Newcastle in the north of Englsnd. He had spent years developing a pump originally designed by Alan Jones in New Zealand and our quest was over. This was and is the pump which really does what it says on the tin!

SOLUTIONS

Malawi is a pretty simple place technologically. Its not really a place for big, all singing, all dancing solutions, out of scale with what they already have have. Forty years of major funding has left the country poorer. Yes, the country was better off before all this democracy and Aid arrived. Throwing money at the problems of Sub Saharan Africa has not worked (but money, on its own, rarely works anywhere).Malawi instead is about simple solutions, like earthen dams, open pollinated seeds, green manure, locally brewed pesticides, simple pumps that can be fixed by local women. All the broken pumps we fix were hailed as village level maintenance, but no one ever said what village and what range of equipment it should have. Many pumps are installed by experts who then disappear, without a trace or worse still a maintenance plan or the where-with-all to implement it, if it existed

Our attitude is to solve problems where we find them, simply, sensibly and sustainably

  1. This year, we decided to source all pump making materials in Malawi so we redesigned our pump to suit the materials available. We now make it with less manufactured parts, with readily available materials and after field trials, its a winner.
  2. Seed retailers in Malawi have only hybrid seeds, so we bought land, imported O.P. seeds and multiply them. This year we produced about 500kg of seeds.
  3. Apples from Irish Seed Savers

    Malawi grows no apples, so we brought out rootstock and scions (with European Passports) from Irish Seed Savers in Scarriff, Co. Clare and we had our first crop after two years. This year we have nearly 600 seedlings with the scions generously donated and delivered by the staff at Irish Seed Savers.

  4. Vitamin C in a diet helps the ARV drugs to give improved quality of life to HIV/AIDS sufferers. We began a project to produce improved variety citrus seedlings by budding on to local lemon rootstock. We produced over 10,000 improved variety citrus seedlings over the last two years for distribution.
  5. After water, firewood is a huge chore for women, so we encourage villagers to grow thousands of acacia trees. We give them the seeds, which are inexpensive, often in return for lemon seeds!
  6. We have researched in excess of a hundred plants on the farm. One is red amaranth. I recently found that in Northern Zambia they label it the plant for pregnant women!. High in iron, it helps greatly with anaemia and as post natal hemhorrage, is a huge maternal killer in Malawi, we are spreading the message and the seeds (1 amaranth plant can produce 60,000 seeds). We now grow it at the birthing centre and ask Lilian to promote it at her pre natal classes and among women generally. In fact we come across it regularly in villages but they think it’s a weed and seriously undervalue it. Such good news spreads fast
  7. A recent survey with our SHG cluster showed lack of labour as a real issue at maize planting time. We went to our friends in Zambia to look at their conservation agriculture programme using minimum till. With the use of lime and local maize seeds give much increased yields. We have sent our guys to work and learn in Zambia and will mainstream the system on their return. Big problem, simple solution. Of course changing culture and tradition is never easy.
  8. Maize won’t grow without fertilizer and that’s too expensive is the mantra of subsistence farmers. In researching a solution we found a range of plants which add nitrogen like sunn hemp, velvet bean and tephrosia, which we have now used for 4 years with seriously improved yields and no bought-in fertilizer. This year we have added a new contender, Faidherbia Albida which has the best potential of all for the small scale, subsistence farmer. Its a big tree, which loses its leaves in the rainy season, contributes enough complete fertilizer to grow 4 tonnes of maize per hectare year after year. What a plant
Canzee Pump in action

Canzee Pump in action providing clean, safe, drinking water

The Canzee pump, conceived in New Zealand and worked on for years, by Richard Cansdale, in the UK, is an amazing piece of simple ingenuity. Mainly plastic in construction, it consists of two pipes one inside the other, with two simple non return valves using the inner tube of a bicycle, has one moving part with no friction, it seems to last forever, costs 30 Euro to make in our factory in Mzuzu and most importantly, if it does go wrong (rare occurrence), the women who use it can fix it with three nails.

The parts for this pump came initially from the UK and with the duty charged by Malawi Revenue, were now expensive. The solution was to design a new version of the pump with all materials available in Malawi. In the redesign process we have fewer manufactured parts. These new Zoe pumps are in use since June and working without a hitch.

2011

We visited Malawi three times this year, April/May, July/August and Oct/Nov. Many of our friends and neighbours now ask are you coming or going? Malawi is now our second home and we continue to experience the wonderful hospitality of Br Aidan and the St John of God Community in Mzuzu and all our friends in an ever expanding area, impacting thousands of people, all very poor, all amazing to be as good as they are. We know our people and they know us, Its a wonderful place to be, frustrating and maddening at times, reasons to laugh and cry every day, but never mundane. With everyone’s help we have had amazing successes since this time in 2005. The following is a glimpse of what we have been up to

  • Clean water to 125000 villagers, for the first time
  • The success story continues, with 10 pumps recently brought to the copper belt region of Zambia, by Chris and Daniel from Lifeline in Zambia(a Danish NGO), who have a plan to install 1000 of our pumps in the next three years. The first pumps will be made in our factory in Mzuzu, followed by a new pump factory in Zambia, with expertise and training from Malawians, their nearest neighbour
  • 31 acre farm

This is now a University of practical learning for many farmers in Northern Malawi, where the hostel on the farm provides accommodation for students. The co-operative management, planning and day to day hard work is done by four men and five women. Next year we will mainstream a new programme on Conservation Farming when our people have had training in Zambia.

Growing and multiplying green manure seeds, Sunn hemp, tephrosia and velvet bean, for distribution is important, as is research on the use of Tephrosia, Dahlia and others to produce an effective local pesticide.

High on the agenda is the production of improved variety citrus, Mango, Guava, avocado and apples. At the moment we have about 9,000 various seedlings ready for distribution, as well as trees for reforestation. At the moment we have 108 varieties of plant, (this includes 5 types of spinach and 4 varieties of sweet potato.)

The farm is based in Lusangazi, (11 km from Mzuzu City) where we support many other community efforts, like:

  • The Birthing Centre continues to meet many needs, including ante and post natal clinics, early childhood care, and home based care for HIV/AIDS.
    Weighing in

    Birthing Centre in action during a visit from the Central Hospital

    A new health centre with a house for a resident nurse and attendant is now planned following a decision by the Ministry to appoint and pay the medics. W4Z will assist by providing cement and roofing, while the community take care of site, bricks, sand and all labour

  • Padre Pio is the local secondary school. We supported the building of the school and the construction of a hostel for girl boarders.
  • Gogo Club brings us into contact with grannies who have to rear orphan grandchildren. We provide vegetables and fruit trees from the farm, regular gift parcels (soap, oil, sugar, salt and matches)

ACTIVITIES IN OTHER AREAS

  • Over the time we have built 1 Volunteer house,1 Hostel on the farm for accommodating student farmers,1 Boys quarters, 4000 sq ft factory unit, 6 Staff houses. We have also managed to build a birthing centre, and support the building of 18 primary school classrooms, 1 classroom for a girls secondary in Chitipa Catholic parish and one Secondary school and hostel for girls for the Capuchin order.

    Preschool in Mgomphola

    Latest Preschool Building in Mgomphola (unfinished as yet!)

  • Support 6 preschools with 500 two to six year olds.
  • Casca is our preschool trainer and caregiver. He visits the six preschools we support on his bicycle, and has empowered the village caregivers and porridge ladies by supervising and encouraging them. He gives weekly reports on all their activities.
  • Have developed and deliver an in-service programme for primary teachers in co-operation with the District Education Managers and School Inspectorate, in the Northern region, which is becoming the basis of professional development in schools.

The second course was carried out in July and August by Niamh O’Brien, Fiona Gearty, Maureen McFeeley, Noreen O’Riordan  Máire McHugh and Mary Coyne, in conjunction with Anna Sichinga, District Education manager, Mzuzu. 200 teachers attended in 4 centres. As English is the language of education our objective was to facilitate the teaching of English in the early years through games, activities, songs, poems and dance. We used the Malawian curriculum and demonstrated practically wit 50 to 100 children.

As a follow up, Mary visited 5 schools and 20 classrooms in Oct/Nov. The teachers were delighted to demonstrate their newly acquired skills Phase 2 is planned for Summer 2012, so we are actively seeking volunteer teachers. Can you, or anyone you know help?

Partnership projects

  • The Irish Trinity of SJOG, W4Z and Ungweru, 3 NGOs are now working more closely together in many projects areas.
  • Patnership with SJOG, led by Br Aidan Clohessey was furthered when we got involved with their Self Help project. They work with 40 groups of women who have a savings system and provide loans to each other. To date we have provided new pumps and prepared others. Cluster Representatives from the groups regularly visit the farm to learn and take home seeds and seedlings.
  • Ungweru under the leadership of Fr John Ryan, professor of mathematics in Mzuzu University, (30 years in Malawi), engages with communities, identifying needs, facilitating community participation and providing training to communities on HIV/AIDS, Nutrition, Rights. W4Z install and maintain pumps and provide seeds, citrus seedlings, expertise and training in all aspects of conservation agriculture and food security.
  • We also work with Mzuzu University, Mzuzu Technical College and The Natural Resources College in Lilingwe,(the biggest such College in Malawi) who send us interns and students to the farm, to learn practical aspects of all elements of their Degree courses.
  • We partner Every Home for Christ, a Malawian CBO, Global Concern, an Australian NGO, Lifeline in Zambia, A Zambian/Danish NGO, Ripple Africa, a UK NGO, on pumps and the provision of clean, safe drinking water water
  • We partner CADECOM the Catholic Church relief agency on Citrus Seedling production and Numerous farmers co-ops on seed production and green manure seeds in particular.
  • We also partner Mzuzu City Assembly, Mzimba District Assembly and The Ministry of Agriculture with whom we have Memoranda of Understanding.
  • We are a member of CONGOMA, the association of NGO’s
  • We have developed a wide range of friends/advisors on the net, from all around the globe, like Professor James Brewbaker in Hawaii, William Hatcher from ECHO in the US, Professor Richard Carter, RWSN, UK, and others in India, Israel, Uganda, Germany, Norway, and Brazil, who keep up to date with what we’re doing and regularly send information and advice

SCHOOL SUPPORT

Our Lady's School, Terenure

Our Lady’s School, Terenure, Mini-Marathon in Dublin

We have an amazing array of schools and teachers helping us out, from Our Lady’s in Terenure (our longest association) to St Michael’s House Special Primary School in Ballymun, where the President of the INTO visited last week to thank them for their huge efforts. I’m sure the in between schools won’t mind being unmentioned, but we have thanked them personally. Having been in Education ourselves, we know the value of visiting schools and explaining what we do and how we do it, helping out in Religion, Science, Geography and SPHE classes, and delivering a message of huge inequity in our World, but also immense hope for a better way and a better future. A special mention here to Wooton Bassett School,UKfor their enormous efforts for an organisation they know only from the internet and for a people they will never see (Thanks Hester)

We thank everyone most sincerely for their trust in us to deliver 100% of their donations to the people who need it, without Black holes, Bureaucrats or Bean Counters.

DIT

Support from DIT is ongoing and extensive. W4Z is now a DIT Society enabling us to benefit from their many fundraising and information activities. For the past four years, we have been supported by Easter volunteer students from Business and Management, Engineering, Journalism, Early Childhood Ed and Manufacturing Engineering. 4 students from Computer Science did their placement with us in 2011. 5 students from Social Care, 2 from Chemistry and 3 from Broadcasting and Film Making will join us for placements on 2012

DIT Students

DIT Students Easter Volunteering in Malawi

We became fellows of the College last year. W4Z is one of the many very active societies. Mary is also on the advisory board of DIT Community Links project, Students Learning with Communities, with whom we work closely, providing opportunities for students and promoting the needs of the developing world

FUNDING

We have developed a three year Strategic plan (not a word I like, but to be in the NGO business, you must have the lingo). We now package all elements of what we did up to date and attach them to already established Women’s Self Help Savings groups (like 20 member credit unions of women already achieving what I consider to be the impossible with no input from us except advice)

Self Help Gathering

Women’s Self Help Group meeting in a village before they get down to business

Even after less than a year of success (with the guidance of SJOG services and support from Germany), these women have, regained their lives, grown in confidence, grabbed their voice, can verbalise what they need: things like clean drinking water, preschools and adult education and are hugely motivated, knowing that all their success is attributable to themselves: We will also work with them on community gardens, to demonstrate the possibilities of Conservation farming and alternative foods. The final piece of the jigsaw is, a new cash crop, for them, Paprika, to replace the failing tobacco business. Our partners ECO have the market and we are now growing our first crop for seeds as the seed in Malawi is of poor quality after years of re-use.

We call it our POP: a Permanently out of Poverty project and it certainly has all the ingredients needed to achieve this amazing turnaround in the lives of some of the world’s poorest, but amazingly spirited women.

It will operate it, in the Mzimba District, an area with 850,000 remote rural people, barely scratching out a subsistence existence. There we will work with the traditional authorities and hope to engage with up to 150,000 villagers. We plan 50 preschool buildings used also for Adult Education

The plan includes:

150,000 more people with access to clean, safe drinking water, Hygiene Education and sanitation

50 buildings with equipment and training for preschools, supporting communities to break the cycle of absenteeism and dire poverty, encouraging attendance by supplying one meal every day and facilitating transfer to primary school, 50 community gardens providing a hub for teaching and demonstration. These buildings, with full community support will double for Adult Education and often be used as clinics and even Churches.

Also on the plan is 500 Bee Colonies, 100,000 acacia trees, 20,000 improved variety, citrus seedlings (some from Florida,California and Israel) which we propagate on the farm and a variety of Mango, Avocado, Passion fruit and apples all from our farm.

We also enable girls to attend secondary school, by asking all of you to pay their fees which gives real hope for the future. Of course some will be married off, become pregnant or drop out, but, in the long term, the future of Malawi will be determined by the education of its girls. We are really passionate about this, where one term can cost as little as €20, (plus books, copies, pens, and sometimes a bike) in a Government Secondary school where they have qualified to attend

By centering our programme in motivated and successful women’s groups, putting all this in place IS possible and gives a village an opportunity to become self sufficient and maybe even realize a fraction of their potential.

Sorry to go on about the Women’s Self Help groups. The first level is with village (or groups of villages). The second level are clusters of groups, (where we work) and the top level is a planned Federation (a Political Voice, which will be heard, because these women are not for stopping)

Will it be easy? Of course not.

Will it take time? Yes

Will it be worth it? CERTAINLY

Can we do it?

We have the money in the bank to fund the first two years at the moment, we might live for three more years and our guys in Malawi are becoming more capable by the day, however:

Charity Shop

A teddy bear’s picnic at the new charity shop in Smithfield, Dublin

If you feel that there is inadequate attention to financial, socio cultural and institutional sustainability can you advise and see how you might help. Besides this ambitious plan, we plan 1000 pumps for Zambia as well, bringing clean water to more than a quarter of a million villagers. In this we will have the support of Lifeline in Zambia, who are already on the job.

FUNDING IN THE NEAR TERM WILL BE DIFFICULT

We applied to Irish Aid for funding for this initiative, but they tell us they have better and more rewarding things to fund. So we are really taking up begging in a big way.

We will soon(!) open a Charity Shop in Smithfield, Dublin.

As usual any help would be great.

Considering that the cost of giving a villager clean, safe drinking water is just one Euro, small money makes a big difference.

CLEAN WATER CHANGES EVERYTHING!

A video by our friends at Charity: Water is worth a look

More Stories on: https://wellsforzoe.wordpress.com/

Pictures: http://blipfoto.com/wellsforzoe

More pics www.wellsforzoe.org/news-flickr.html

Face book: http://www.facebook.com/wellsforzoe

Volunteers Page: http://w4zvolunteers.wordpress.com/

People think we’re mad, but we know its true.

Being mad allows you to do lots of crazy things!!

If you know any, even slightly mad teachers, maybe they might join us for a few weeks in summer 2012.

They could do amazing things, like change lives forever, maybe even their own

Thank you to all our family, friends, wellies and volunteers who continue to encourage and keep us going

May you have a Happy Christmas and the New Year you have dreamed of.

Mary and John Coyne

Primary Education as we experience it.

Even though I see clean water as the first step on the development ladder in Malawi and food for a healthy diet as a close second, education is essential to these two even if I rank it third on my wish list. I suppose I look back to my own youth in the West of Ireland, where thankfully we had an excellent well within half a kilometre and always enough food and education was central to my parents’ expectations for the family.
I went to school at four when my mother sent me in with a neighbour’s lunch and they kept me! I think they needed the numbers rather than having discovered a child prodigy. Anyway I can remember little besides the lunch for Pat Morris, may he rest peacefully!

The school with the rather exotic name of Fort Augustus, was a present from the British, built in 1895, to a standard plan for the colonies. I even discovered the same school structure in the gold mining town of Ballarat in Australia. Even though the Brits were in Malawi, there is no such legacy, or more disastrously absent is the teacher’s house. In Fortaugustus, the teacher’s residence was impressive, second only maybe to the old landlord’s house up the road. It made a statement on the importance of the principal teacher and his place in society. It gave him stature, like the priest and the sergeant, even though he didn’t have the uniform like the other two. I suppose the respect or dependence of the people came from the fact that these teachers could read and write and very importantly could sign documents. For decades this respect for teacher and education has stuck with us and in poorer areas today the teacher is valued highly in Irish Society, particularly the primary teacher. Of course nowadays we have social workers and other pseudo medical state employees who figure they know it all, everything about everything, but an observant primary teacher, with their students for more time than their parents even, can be a wealth of knowledge and value to society. For me a good primary teacher can leave the mark of their teeth on four generations. Unfortunately I missed out on this one.

What am I ranting about? Well I recently met an Irish priest, Paddy Leahy from Tipperary, 50 years in Malawi and I was excited when telling him how a group of students, from DIT had helped a community to complete a three classroom school in two weeks, but he quickly burst my bubble by asking what about teachers houses. Good teachers can teach under a tree, but you can’t attract good teachers to Luvuwu, in the middle of nowhere without giving them a good house.
There are about forty six thousand primary teachers in Malawi and over forty thousand have to live sometimes long distances from their school. To get to school they walk or cycle and most can’t afford a good bicycle on the wages they get. In the fine weather there is some hope if you can avoid rocks craters thorns and whatever as they take all shortcuts available. In the rainy season it’s a whole other matter on dirt roads, floods, wooden bridges made of sticks, arriving late, soaking wet, with sickness and disaster ever present. No wonder most days half the staff is missing, in the hospital, burst tyres, tubes where the patches outnumber the original tube. I know how tough it to cycle to school, but I only did 7km each way, on a good bike, on a good road. Oh, I travelled 10 km each way for one year, as our school was being refurbished, on a sand road. It was tough enough, but nothing like the goat paths here, and I wasn’t a qualified teacher, just in sixth class!

I then thought of Ison, the school principal, in Luvuwu, living in a poorly constructed thatched house, with his wife, children and extra orphans, and knew immediately why he couldn’t command any respect for himself or the message he was offering. He was no better off than the people he was trying to lift and inspire. What good is education if this is what a principal teacher can afford? To date I have found no teacher with a landmark house, one that makes a statement, one that would inspire any young person to become a teacher. I believe, in the end only a good primary school system with well trained, paid and respected teachers will ever lift this country from its status as a begging dependency

All I have seen is the North, where we are supposed to have the most educated Malawians and it’s awful. Now if I am seeing the best education in the country, God help the rest. Statistics, God help us, tell us that Primary Education in Malawi is free since 1964, I think, but what does that mean. 100 children sitting on the floor of a poorly constructed classroom, with no books, copies or pencils, learning by rote writing English they don’t understand on a white blackboard. The primary school system is absent, if you use any meaningful yardstick, the secondary school system is expensive or private and very often supported by donor money and Church bodies. Teachers are poorly trained and paid, have no status and the brighter ones find themselves delivering aid for NGO’s who should realise that their work would be much more effective if they left them in their schools. Of course who can blame the teachers for accepting the white jeep, the big money, the expenses, and the status?

The next big issue is that you have teachers, with poor English, preparing students for exams in English. We have recently done some inservice teacher training with six volunteering Irish primary school teachers, working with staff in a remote primary school, and the improvements were amazing with even a little intervention. Regular follow up contact between teachers, here and there, is having great response.
Another issue is that of books. The school above has no books for Standard 8, the year where they do the exam for admission to Secondary school. You can’t buy them, they are not available. They printed millions a few years ago and when they’re gone they are gone!

As the world commemorated the International Day of Literacy last month the teacher in Malawi continues to play second fiddle in almost every sphere of life. The nurse’s wages have been propped up by the world of NGOs because of the AIDS pandemic, the Aid business gobbles up the brightest and training is not great. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS) well acknowledges that education is crucial for Malawi to achieve the much desired sustainable socio-economic development, but as usual Malawians talk a lot but application is regularly missing. Loads of Strategy but where do they start? As is regularly found the central people in this, the teachers are of such low status, they are omitted from the script. Loads of bureaucratic bullshit, big words, hotels, meetings, meals, expenses and out of pocket expenses and millions of donor money spent, results in little or no spend on the issue. Donor driven reports in Malawi are ten a penny, a must have for every bureaucrats shelf or more regularly drawer, rarely produce results. They do however employ and overcompensate the consultants of the Aid business, and pretend that all this money is spent on Malawi and Malawians. The National Education Sector Plan (NESP) recognized that inadequate and inferior physical infrastructure, including teachers’ houses, is one of the challenges facing primary education. Malawians love shortening names but in reality this plan like a million others lacks any kind of teeth, and if it does ever happen it will cost 500% of what it should with much of the money going to foreign, highly paid consultants and little will go on teachers houses!!

Mary Coyne, Edited Jan 3 2011

If they make it to Secondary school, we have a fund to pay for them