A day in the life; Women at the Well

No sadness on show

The Drop Off

Its little things that often strike you in Malawi, like one morning, I dropped Mary off in Áras Kate at 7.15, with the intention to be in Lusangazi farm for the start of the day at 7.30.The morning was chilly as the sun waited to burst on the scene. As we bumped along the last half mile, we heard the usual Gogo Mary and Gogo Johnnie, waves and smiles everywhere as the creathures got their last scrub before school, with many donning their only presentable outfit which somehow or another would be meticulously clean, maybe threadbare but always clean. Turning in we saw the usual queue of women scrubbing buckets and pots with sand and waiting their turn for water at the pump, which by the way is a totally illegal structure, banned by every bye law and statute that the City Fathers could dream up, but because the city can’t supply clean water and to avoid any outbreak of cholera, they act as if it doesn’t exist, and of course these women don’t care about bye laws, just clean water. As the women wait in turn to lift the 25 litre containers, first on to the knee and then onto the head, they chat and help each other and go away smiling, only posing for the photo op, with a smile. They are the salt of the earth and are single mothers, abandoned mothers from 14 to 40, ladies of the night, forced by extreme necessity to risk their lives in order to feed their children and themselves and grannies with squads of dependants, all battered and abused by an accident of birth, the world, men, society and tradition. They struggle every day, with AIDS, alcoholism, hunger and pain and still they smile for a photo. I ask them are they stealing my water and they giggle yes!

The pump is a wonderful yoke, put in by DIT students at Easter 2009, at the wrong time of the year (the water table too high), re dug by the community in September, is perfectly free of all pollutants, treasured by all, it serves at least 500 families in the area as well as the school. It was never lined with bricks or fully completed; you would never get time as there is a constant queue of users. We get regular tests done on the water and it’s always perfect. Maybe it’s St Bridget; a favourite saint of mine, mind you I never asked, but maybe She’s on it!
I wondered on my, supposed to be, quick turnaround, how they cope, talk and laugh as they wait, how they survive, widows rearing their own children and those of their dead siblings, grannies rearing housefuls, in the midst of squalor and horrific conditions no matter where the economists or the social care specialists, decide the poverty line should be.
But here they have clean water, their children have a preschool and one good meal a day, many come to adult education classes, learn to knit, speak and write English, learn a bit of maths, the kind they need, a bit of health education. They love the art and the netball. Mary is working on hairdressing!!
It’s a miraculous start, a work in progress, an oasis and a lighthouse all in one, in the midst of desolation.
It costs about €400 per month to run, for the 11 staff and food for 250 and anyone else who comes along in need.
My day was mad as usual, working on a pump and piping to a tank which will hold about 50 cubic metres of water for irrigation, directing, advising, ranting, getting drenched twice, to the amusement of all, planning a hen house for 40 newly acquired laying pullets and whatever else came my way.

The Pick Up

A happy woman

<a I got back about 3.30, just to see if Mary wanted to meet the Senior area Chief, but I suppose I could have guessed; she was sitting on a tiny, pink, plastic stool with a little gathering of maybe 5 or 6 five year olds, reading, exchanging views and ideas on the stories they had read, completely oblivious to the sheer mayhem around them, with complete concentration and in a world of their own, they grasped every possible opportunity to learn
There was netball, football, outdoor and indoor classes, swings, seesaw and skipping in what appeared to me to be all in the same location, totally and wonderfully insane. All I could wonder was what would a little bureaucrat from the Health and Safety Authority say, or do or write. It was a truly magical feeling, a spiritual or as we call it a Sacramental moment, one that gets to your very soul, whatever that may be, a moment that’s repeated most days in this most neglected of places.
I thought of Kevin Costner’s film, Field of dreams, where the idea was that you build it and they will come; we built it and they come in droves!!

Nearly ready

At one end of the netball court, a little crowd were holding up the pole for the net, literally, it had fallen, but no one wanted to wait for the tools to come, so some of the supporters were called into action. With a short time out, Charity and Casca went into overdrive and the game was on again, with little delay. Netball is a serious business here, where given half a chance every woman will play. Bouncing boobs, child on back or hitched up chinche is no deterrent to getting a game. The crowd is always vocal, partisan and bigger than Lucan Sarsfields get on a good day, for a league match!!. For those magical moments of play, everyone seems transfigured and lifted out of their daily slavery, a field of dreams indeed. To set the scene, this is a court where the soil was levelled, the markings scratched with a hoe, the poles are blue gum and the baskets are bicycle rims nailed on to the poles, an invention of some crafty DIT students!!. Minimum cost, like 50cents for the poles and maximum enjoyment. (Since then the Feeneys have got into action, painting the poles). The little girls were playing netball without a net, interspersed with little boys playing football, or following a ball at least!!

Ciara and her students

Ciara’s little gang were reading as well, with some of the older boys explaining the stories in Tumbuka and all were obviously settled in for the evening. The classrooms were full of knitters, sewers, readers, mathematicians, adult classes and homework doers; there were even Amhráns and Bodhráns. all throwing shapes and taking breaks, this is Heaven, this is hell, anyone for the last few ices, says Christy Moore?. The knitters were doing their loops and learning English at the same time and simultaneously, Niamh was doing the story of 10, what an operator, Marie was doing matching with her brood. Such was the industry of everyone, that no one noticed the breastfeeding, the small boys peeing by the fence, or that there were enough babies there to fill Holles Street on a slack day. This was all happening in this slum/swamp area, with many of the outcasts of even Malawian society. So don’t let anyone tell you that the ills of the developing world can be solved by money: no, everything is about people, like Miriam Whittle, Elaine, Julie, Michelle, Gillian, Caroline, Chris, Miriam, Sharon ,Áine, Claire, Paula, Kate, Caitriona and Jane caring enough to spend a month with the poorest, walking their journey, visiting their houses, holding their babies, feeling their pain, smiling, waving, cuddling, teaching their children, showing family photos, taking and displaying picks, blowing bubbles while all the time, discovering their own potential and realising all they have to offer; at all times educating, inspiring and challenging.
This area of Salisbury Line has been lifted and energised, by building a small building, training some inspiring Malawian teachers and carers, many with little formal education, throwing in some unbelievable teachers and students from Ireland and elsewhere and a few bits of clothing for the kids, and simple bits for the school, stir the pot, get the City Assembly and the Chiefs on board and my God, has the place taken off. Wells for Zoe acts like a catalyst, while the active ingredients blast on.
This place belies its 16 month existence. It is an enchanting and endearing place to be, where one is surrounded by smiling faces, positive and powerful women, who haven’t even begun to realise their potential, where everyone is always so anxious to learn. It’s only the beginning. It has only two classrooms at the moment, but when the City fathers finally agree, we will add two extra classrooms a kitchen and a store, funded by a most generous friend. Things can only get better. A new netball court and play amenities will follow on new lands designated by city. The future will see a new model Primary and the benefits this will bring. All this will be supported by Wells for Zoe as part of a Board of Trustees, with the City Assembly, The Chiefs and the Local Development Group, a true Community project.

It's a hard life for girls

But back to where I began, the well. In the midst of all the bedlam of the day the caravan of water carriers continued, the faces in the late afternoon had changed, girls now replaced many of the mothers and Gogos, but the train went on, unabated.

Happy as usual

I felt that maybe we were back in Biblical times, and the story of the Woman at the Well. The Lord would have his work cut out here to find one woman alone, such was the activity around our well. His Parable might have been altogether different here.
For anyone with an interest, this is a favourite story of mine
It’s from Samaria 2000 years ago and tells of this woman at the well: she had married five men. And the man that she lived with now was not her husband.
Like the women of Salisbury Line, this Samaritan woman was one who had suffered from ignorance of her worth. Perhaps, she just didn’t have any other way to survive, and had to depend on a man who wouldn’t even marry her, she had to make compromises.
I’d say many of my morning women are doing just that and I love them for it. They haven’t a sin among them.


Blackrock College and coming to Malawi again

After their enormous inpact on the lives of so many rural, poor, Malawian families, in August 2008, the post Leaving Cert (pre University) students of Blackrock College, Dublin have decided to return to Malawi in even greater numbers this year.
The programme, called the Rock Outreach programme, in unique and definitely special in that these boys opt to take their holiday, together, working in a developing country instead of travelling to the sunspots of the med, or wherever.
They pay all their own travelling and living expenses and whatever money is raised by way of fundraising goes, in this case to Wells for Zoe.
A wonderful extra dimension is achieved in the number of parents who travel as well. Their input last year was fascinating in its diversity. Their links with local women and communities had to be seen to be believed.
We are looking forward to the same youthful energy and enthusiasm again from the boys, together with their inquiring minds and wonderful insights.
All we ask of volunteers is to move towards the people, walk with them for a few days, give no handouts, but
The video shows the variety of their involvement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVHT9dLllLM
(Copy to your browser)

Sinead O’Connor and John Waters

Sinead O’Connor to collaborate with John Waters

Just saw this from Hotpress:
Sinéad O’Connor has collaborated with former Hot Press scribe John Waters on a charity song that will be released in March.

Waters’ – who wrote last year’s Irish entry in Eurovision – said he penned it especially with Sinéad in mind. The song is to appear on a compilation album and will be released on World Water Day in March.

Speaking to Hot Press, Waters said: “I’ve done this song with Sinéad. It is pretty amazing, I can tell you. Steve Cooney is producing. It sounds amazing. It’s called ‘Baby, Let Me Buy You A Drink’, and it’s an attempt to catch the idea of Ireland and the Irish being both hound and hare in history, specifically in relation to Africa, and that we owe both friendship and reparation.”

Wells for Zoë- Water for Life CD

Waters’ describes the singers voice as being “an absolute, total intuition for emotion”. He adds: “She can look at a song that has been sung a thousand times by other people and find what it’s really about. With the song I did, she just changed the phrasing – in ways that I hadn’t dreamt of – to make it live in a different way. What other people think in terms of technicality, she thinks in terms of emotions. So what you hear is not someone else singing, but your own heart being sung. She is not trained to be a great singer, she is trained to find the emotion of it – and that’s the key to it.”

Waters acknowledges that eyebrows might be raised by his collaboration with Sinéad, particularly considering their much publicised break-up following the birth of their daughter.

“This is life. Time changes everything. We get on wonderfully these days. We had a very full-on relationship, while it lasted. Nothing that happens is separate from who you are. We were very full-on people and, inevitably, when a feeling turns, it goes radically in the other direction for a while,” he said.

“I have a great time for Sinéad, quite separately from our relationship as parents. I think Sinéad is a genius – a musical genius. So we get on very well now and we have the most amazing child, who fills us with wonder every day. How could you be looking at that – the creation you’ve been involved in – and not be reconciled in some profound way, you know? I have a much better relationship with Sinéad than with pretty much any other ex of mine. I often wonder about people who say they have very good platonic relationships with their exes. I think that’s a terrible contradiction because it suggests that the relationship was not very passionate to begin with, if you can just stop short and say, Oh, let’s be friends. I always say, actually, I have lots of friends, but if one of them dies I’ll let you know!”

(c) 2008 hotpress.com

Wells for Zoë: Water for Life featured on The Late Late Show in Ireland

Wells for Zoë - Water for Life CD

Wells for Zoë - Water for Life CD

Sinéad O’Connor on Ireland’s ‘Late Late Show’ with band Steve Cooney (producer of track), Liam Ó Maonlaí, Conor Murray, Tommy Moran (songwriter), Alez Nkosi, Mutale, Odhrán Ó Casaide and Éamonn Coyne to perform “Baby, Let Me Buy You A Drink”. The program will also feature John Waters, the other songwriter of the track, talking about the track and Wells for Zoë.

Sinéad OConnor

Sinéad O'Connor

Wells for Zoë:
a registered Irish charity, a great cause,
a CD filled with amazing artists.
Wells for Zoë: Water for Life is available now in Ireland via Electic Music Distribution.


NASHVILLE, TN (December 5, 2008) – Wells for Zoë, an Ireland-based non-profit focused on assisting the local population of Northern Malawi with accessing fresh water, will be featured on The Late Late Show in Ireland tonight at 9:30pm. Sinéad O’Connor with band Steve Cooney (producer of track), Liam Ó Maonlaí, Conor Murray, Tommy Moran (songwriter), Alez Nkosi, Mutale, Odhrán and Éamonn Coyne will perform “Baby, Let Me Buy You A Drink”, track two off of the album Wells For Zoë: Water for Life. The Late Late Show is Ireland’s most popular and prestigious television show and is the longest running chat show in the world.

Putting their motto, “A hand up, not a hand-out” into practice, Wells for Zoë (W4Z) founders John and Mary Coyne (parents of tenor banjo player Éamonn Coyne) have assembled a top-notch collection of Celtic and Folk musicians for the purpose of aiding the local population of Northern Malawi in accessing fresh water and creating a sustainable living environment. New tracks from Irish pop icon Sinéad O’Connor and Scottish Borders-based singer Karine Polwart along with previously unreleased tracks from singer/songwriters Paul Brady and Dougie MacLean grace the album alongside a new version of an Alison Brown Quartet favorite and a genre-crossing version of the Eurythmics’ “Sisters are Doing it For Themselves” by Irish folk singer Maura O’Connell and Canadian folk band, The Duhks along with Tim O’Brien and John Doyle.

Profits from the sales of Wells for Zoë: Water for Life will go towards funding future W4Z projects.

Press Release link Buy or Listen to CD

Lyrics for THE song: Wells for Zoë Album

These are the very meaningful lyrics, by John Waters and Tommy Moran, for the new Sinead O’Connor song on the Wells for Zoe album.

Baby, Let Me Buy You a Drink

Sinéad OConnor

Sinéad O'Connor

I walked barefoot, I wore hand-me-downs.
I near died of drought, but now I fear to drown.
I, too, was a slave, I was told to die.
I was locked into history before I learned to fly.

First you showed me how to douse my fear,
Then you taught me how to feel, I think,
Then you saved me from myself, I sense.
Baby, let me buy you a drink,
Baby, let me buy you a drink.

I ran with the hare and stalked with the hound
I stared at my shoes while you were lying bound
I once was a thief, one who stole of your soul
Now I’ve come to rectify before I get too old.

First you showed me how to douse my fear,
Then you taught me how to feel, I think,
Then you saved me from myself, I sense.
Baby, let me buy you a drink,
Baby, let me buy you a drink.

Water is a fire; water isn’t wet.
Water is a higher power; water never forgets.
And there’s been too much sorrow, there’s been so much wrong
But water has the healing power; water, soft and strong.
Let me buy you a drink.
Baby, let me buy you a drink.
Let me buy you a drink.

Irish Music Magazine Album Review

Irish Music Magazine: January 2009 issue


Various Artists Compass Records 744932 12 tracks
http://www.wellsforzoe.org. http://www.compassrecords.com

A worthy charity CD, not just for Yuletide, but for the future. You can read about the background to the work in our feature in this issue. To put it in a nutshell, what we have here is a bunch of musicians who are lending their talents to a project to bring cheap sustainable drinking water to Northern Malawi – its practical, it’s a ‘hand up not a hand out’ and that alone should encourage you to shell out a little money
But you’ll ask is it worth listening to? Of course it is, with Paul Brady, Maura O’Connell, Sinead O’Connor, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Micheal McGoldrick and Alison Brown appearing, you get variety and quality. Many of the twelve tracks mention water in their titles such as: Baby, Let Me Buy You a Drink from Sinéad O’Connor, Wading Deep Waters from Crooked Still, Watermans by Michael McGoldrick, with a little bit of encouragement from Maura O’Connell on Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves. Back to more H2O on The Lakeside Barndances with Éamonn Coyne and Kris Drever, and a final mention of the wet stuff on Muddy Water with Heidi Talbot. You also get fun from the irreverent Salsa Celtica and if you need to know what it’s all about the opening song, Dig a Little Well for Zoë, has it all. What a song! Beautifully crafted, upbeat and folksy, it will stand alone outside of this album as a song that delivers its message without preaching and is full of Scotish optimism. What more could you ask for the future?

Seán Laffey