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


Carrying water


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.



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


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.


Millions wasted on water in Africa

From the Guardian

Got this from our friends at http://www.thelongwellwalk.com/. where Liam Garcia is taking a three year walk for water. On the 30th of June 2013 Liam will leave Sheffield on his way to Cape Town. On foot. Walking 8,000 miles to raise awareness and funds for ten communities in Africa – The Long Well Walk will help to provide clean water. we are planning to work with and support him.

Even though I posted the article on our facebook page I hadn’t really read it until now. A pity because I find it weak and having little of the real shockers that exist in the water business. Maybe the writer should spend a day with our guys in the villages in Northern Malawi.

The next few lines is from our new website and shows why we have been in Malawi since 2005 working on clean water:

Mary and myself went to Malawi for the first time at Easter 2005 and were disturbed by a few things in particular:
        the sight of women and little girls carrying dirty water, long distances, on their heads;
         how shallow the wells only needed to be;
         the huge number of broken pumps and how few were maintained by their original installers.

NOW we know that a pump in Northern Malawi needs to work all day every day so the women in a village need to be able to fix it. 

SO Our pumps are made, in our factory in Mzuzu, from materials available in Malawi. Spare parts can be anywhere in Malawi in one day, by bus. Women can maintain using two six inch nails. They can deliver 20 litres per minute from 25 metres deep wells. Worst case scenario: The whole pump can be replaced in 5 minutes and is fully recyleable. The cost of the pump is less than €40. 

Two weeks ago I spent a day up and down goat tracks in our 22 year old ex-Irish army jeep, following old gogos across barren fields in dust storms and down steep ravines knowing that I would have to climb out again. I explained that God didn’t love me or He wouldn’t send me to such a remote, Godforsaken place; they just laughed. Oh! forgot to mention the failed, broken and useless pumps and the litany of dried up wells. Some lasted just a few weeks, some a few months and only the rare one, a year or two. They would all be considered VLM village level maintainable and sustainable and all the life giving words that donors like to hear and proposal writers try out on their potential victims, before settling on what might separate them from their money. Sometime, in the future, I will write the complete story giving GPS locations with the names of the water gurus that installed them or often got others to install. It seems that everyone wants to install a well, sing the songs, pray the prayers and give glory to some God or other. When another box is ticked these people move on, claim a few more souls or donors, keep their well paid jobs and leave God with a dilema. We regularly pick up the pieces and would do more if we get permission!! If we’re the best solution he gets, its not much of a solution, but our women in villages are the real deal.

One of my friends gave me what she thought was a brilliant idea, on pump maintenance, over the weekend. It was some electronic gadget, thingy to attach to a pump handle which would emit a signal if the pump was not in use. This signal would pop to satellite, then to a base, where maybe a fleet of helicopters would take to the air, descend on the location, and fix the pump.

Great I said but we have women in villages with mobile phones, and the just give us a call, we do the triage questioning bit and they fix the pump, or we may decide to unscrew it and screw in another, if that drastic a solution is necessary.

Oh, its that simple? Yes its that simple!!

Report criticises donors, governments and NGOs for installing boreholes and wells in rural Africa without ensuring their long-term sustainability

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on clean water projects in rural Africa, according to a new report.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says up to US$360m has been spent on building boreholes and wells that then become useless because they are not maintained or fixed when they break down. As a result, 50,000 water supply points are not functioning across rural Africa.

According to the report only one third of water points built by NGOs in Senegal’s Kaolack region are working and 58% of water points in northern Ghana are in disrepair.

The report’s author, Jamie Skinner, says that water points are often built by donors, governments and NGOs without fully consulting local people and finding out just how much it will cost to keep the boreholes clean and functioning over a sustained period of time.

He said drilling a borehole in a rural community was akin to asking people to run a cooperative private water supply.

“There is no point an external agency coming in, putting in a drill-hole and then passing it over to the local community if they can’t afford to maintain it over the next 10 or 20 years,” he says. “There needs to be a proper assessment of just how much local people are able to finance these water points. It’s not enough to just drill and walk away.”

This problem has arisen in Katine sub-county in north-east Uganda. In 2007, before the African Medical and Research Foundation and Farm-Africa began their development work in Katine, worms were found in the polluted water supply at the village of Abia, next to the Emuru swamp. A badly constructed and poorly maintained shallow well, dug by a charity, was full of soil and animal faeces and was making local people sick.

Amref’s strategy in Katine is to train local communities to operate and maintain the new safe water points that have been established in the sub-county since the project began.

Water and sanitation committees have been set up to monitor the new boreholes that have been dug and contact newly trained hand-pump mechanics if one breaks down. The committees meet regularly with village health teams to discuss needs and the idea is that everyone who uses the boreholes and wells will contribute financially to their long-term upkeep.

But last year water engineer Bob Reed argued on this website that rural water sources cannot be sustained without continuing external support and that boreholes were simply unsustainable.

Does this new report prove him right?

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)

An email from Ratheniska Primary School, Co.Laois, Ireland

Brendan Fingleton is an engineer, I first met him a number of years ago, on a night when I had just returned from hole from Malawi, 30 hours travel and all that when I gave a talk to the Young Engineers Society!!. To make the story very short, he has just finished a stint volunteering with us in Malawi and is currently working in Australia, like many other young bright stars, of our potential future here. Liam will do well anywhere he goes, as he certainly did in Mzuzu.

His email goes as follows 

John and Mary how are things?

 I am sitting in Cairns about to head to bed. I hope all is good at home in Dublin. I assume all your Wells for Zoe projects are going good or in the right direction. I am sorry I have never got back to you with a summary of the bits and bobs that I did and learnt in Malawi. I have been looking at all the pictures on the site and they are all great. Makes me realize the amount I got to see and do when I was out there. I would like to say thanks again. It looks like this is your all-action time of year and have plenty of projects keeping you busy. 

I hope the shop is going good.

Anyway, I emailing you to show you some of your work is getting around and down to some kids in Laois. My sister is a teacher in our old primary school. She sent me a questions from the kids in her class. I tried to answer them as best I could and I thought you might be interested. I assume you have seen stuff like this before.

Anyway that you might be interested. And there is some pictures I sent them in the next email.


I have tried to answer the questions as best I could below. Let me know if you have any more.

On Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Karen Fingleton wrote:

Hi Brendan,

This is the senior infants here. We are e-mailing you from Ratheniska school.

We are learning about where water comes from. We learned all about a boy called Daniel. He lives in Uganda. He and his family get water from a well.

Miss Fingleton told us that you used to make wells in Malawi. We would like to know how do you make wells?

We know that there is water under the ground everywhere in the world. We know that beside rivers it is only a couple of meters below ground! But up on mountains it can be 100m below ground!

Aoibheann wants to know where did the water come from?

The water is below the ground. The soil is very wet if you go deep enough. So when you dig a hole the water will flow from the soil into the hole.

Luke wants to know how did you make cement for the well?

We go to the cement and buy it in bags like in Ireland. The cement comes from grinding stones in a quarry into dust. We then add sand and water and that makes cement. And when you let it dry it becomes really strong.

Pádraig wants to know where did you get the bricks?

The bricks come from the ground. In Malawi the ground is really strong but also wet. So they put the wet clay into a mould, like pouring water into an ice cube holder. They then stack all the wet bricks in a pile and let them dry out! Then they put the dried bricks in a heap with big poles underneath, cover the bricks with soil and burn the timber. This is called firing. This makes them strong.

Joanne wants to know how did you travel to Malawi?

I got the bus from Portlaoise to Dublin airport. Then I got the plane to London, England. This took 1 hour. Then I got a plane from London England to Addis Abba in Ethiopia. This in Africa. This took 8 hours. I then got a plane from Addis Abba, Ethiopia to Lilongwe, Malawi. This is the biggest city in Malawi. I stayed there one night and then I got a bus to Mzuzu. This is the same distance as Dublin to Cork. The trip took 8 hours as the buses are very old and slow and they stop in every little town and let everyone they see onto the bus.

Orla wants to know if the well used buckets or a pump?

We use a pump. We put a lid on the well and slot a pump down the middle of the lid. This stops dirt getting in to the well. Every time you lift up the pump and push it back down you get about 1/2 a liter of water. This is easier than lifting a bucket up an down, which would be very heavy. But the Malawi women, boys and girls fill buckets. These can contain 25 liters of water. They then carry them on there heads. They might walk for 30 mins then.

Mateusz and Eimear want to know how long it took to build a well?

First you have to dig the well. This can be the hardest and longest part. Some times this can be done in a day. The well might only be 3 meters deep. But it can also take nearly 3 weeks, if the well is 20 meters deep. You then build the bricks. Then you have to make the pump which is very easy and cheap if you know exactly how to make it and have all the materials. Then you have to make the lid from cement. Then you put the lid in place. So sometimes it can take a couple of days but more times it can take weeks and weeks.

Finn and Katie want to know how did you make the pump at the top?

You make the lid from concrete (sand, stones and cement) with a small hole in the middle for the pump. Then you lift the pump up really high and then slot it down the hole until it is in the bottom of the well in the water. Then you screw the pump to the concrete to make sure it stays there for a long time.

Grace wants to know how did you get the water in the well?

When you dig the well you put bricks inside in circle for as far down as you dig. Then all the water in the soil flows in between some bricks at the bottom into the well.

Pádraig says ‘Safe journey home‘ ( but Miss Fingleton knows that you won’t be coming home for a while and that’s OK too, so safe journey whenever then is)


Love Senior Infants and Miss Fingleton.

Go raibh maith agat.

We thank Miss Fingleton and her Senior Infant class for all the excellent questions

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.

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 forgotten story: Jacob’s Well

A forgotten story: Jacob’s Well

I suppose sometimes when I write, it’s a bit of a rant, but today there’s a bit of an ulterior motive, a catch, which is serious, maybe a matter of life and death.
For the past week we have been visiting schools, like 750 girls in a secondary school over two days, a transition year group and finally a group of special needs students in the primary school in St Michaels House in Ballymun, which was an amazingly humbling experience where we met each one of them and their carers and teachers, showed them our pictures, got them involved, let them mess with the model pump, got unexplainable attention and feedback.
One great thing about these seriously challenged young people (from 5 to 18) is their ability to find out you name and then continue to address you, using it.
For those of you who didn’t manage to get Sunday Mass, the Gospel reading was on the Woman at the Well, about this outcast Samarian woman being asked by Jesus for a drink of water. It’s a wonderfully deep story and was well commented of by our priest in Mullinavat on Sunday. He declared that he had only a hint of an idea of what it means not to have clean water, that water IS life, that water-drenched people, in Ireland here can’t imagine thirst, or what its like to be given a drink of cool, clean water. That parable has great meaning for us in our Malawi mission.
Where we work in Northern Malawi, women and girls walk at least a million miles, each day, in search of water, any kind of water, just so long as it’s wet. Most times it comes from streams and swamps or holes in the ground where animals and humans compete for whatever is available, which often is pest ridden and smelly.
These women roll off their mat on the floor in the only clothes they have before dawn, bring their daughters, mothers, aunts, nieces and maybe a granny to set off for maybe a four or five mile trip, over all types of terrain to the nearest location. They skim off the top and fill their 25 litre containers, help each other to hoist them on their heads and head back home. They are mostly hungry, often sick because diarrhoea and water related diseases are ever present in their systems, without shoes, pregnant, or even carrying babies who may have to be fed on the way, as they go.
Of course they will sing, chat, laugh and pray on these daily, futile treks. They will thank God for all they have, as well, because they have never seen anything else. They will arrive home in bright sunshine, collect sticks, make a fire and cook, feed everyone, till, sow, harvest or prepare soil, go to bed in the dark until the process begins again the next morning, 24–7–365, without breaks, holidays or appreciation.
Now the simple plastic pump we make in Mzuzu changes all this. The water is clean and pure and close at hand, women get a life they never knew, girls get a chance to go to school like never before, women have time to grow stuff or start little businesses. They still have the same amount of backbreaking work, but without the sickness and maybe even a little earned income.
There are two significant facts in this:
• We can help communities access, pure clean drinking for less than 1 Euro each and
• Mostly avoid this million mile daily trip.
(I explain it like this: even in the district of Mzimba, one of the areas in which we work, there are 850,000 people and a minimum of 250,000 carry water every day. If their round trip is 4 miles, then those women and girls walk a million miles every day)

So we have an idea, to invite people to do this million mile challenge.
Walk a mile, anytime, anywhere, on one day or over a number of days and give us one Euro so that we can give another person clean water.
Walk in solidarity with those amazing women, they will bless you forever.
Clean water is often the difference between life and death, often death in Malawi.
I’m sure it’s puzzling to most readers as to why we are fiddling around with one euro donations, why don’t we put an advert on tele and collect thousands.
BUT we decided, at the beginning, to pay all expenses ourselves, keep costs to a bare minimum, spend nothing on advertising and keep everything in scale.
If one Euro can give a person clean water for life, then one euro is the scale and a reasonable donation to ask for, especially in these harsh economic times.
A point I make to students, by holding up their bottled water, (everyone has a bottle of water nowadays. Bring the bottle home, fill it from the tap just for one day and buy water for life for one of the poorest people in the World.
If you want to change someone’s life this year, 2011, then this may be your chance.
Clean water changes lives totally and completely and it costs 1 Euro.
Now back to the kids in St Michael’s House, primary school: I had shown the idea of the million mile challenge to a teacher who comes to Malawi to volunteer this Summer and after explaining the situation to children parents and staff, the word came back to say that they were all up for it, They could walk a mile, no bother, and give a pump to those poor people.
As Mary went on with her talk
One little girl with red hair and a big smile asked! When we buy the pump, Mary, for these poor people, will we have to carry it a very long way to Malawi, Mary, being good at the delegation, assured her that I would do all that for them! This one sentence was enough to send me back to Malawi on April 4 newly enthused and inspired, to suffer bureaucratic indifference, political corruption, chiefs without hope, fuel shortages and cratered roads, mixed in with two months without sky sports, showers or sausages.
Robert, my helper, who claimed allegiance to Gortahork, in Donegal, lives in Gardiner St and without a hint of a Donegal accent told me that he knew all about having no water after the frost. He knew he couldn’t have a drink, wash, flush the loo or have a shower and it wasn’t nice.
The woman at Jacob’s well knew all about clean water as well, collecting it was her daily chore, she asked Jesus where his bucket was, suggesting maybe that he was a typical man.
After our talk in one school it was heartening to get a letter from a father of a student we spoke to saying:
“My great picture and no sound, son, sat me down, tonight, after your talk, went on for an hour about water, pumps and Malawi and convinced me that we should all get together, as a family and buy a pump for a village. We enclose a cheque for €130 which may be my best investment we ever made. Now I have women in Malawi praying for me, a son who is my best mate and when we get the pictures lots to talk about; a common interest”. Not a bad day’s work.
Oh about the girls, they have more ideas than the contents of a small novel, and over 60 are signed up for the mini marathon.
This is part of the million mile challenge, walking for water. Did I say you can walk, run, skip, hop or even skate board. You could do it with your team, school, class, club, granny or even walking the dog, at home or on holiday.
Maybe you could promote the idea for the beginning of the new school year.
I did say there was a catch, but it’s just a Euro.