An Answer

For the past eight years, we’ve been working to build a different kind of organisation. One without big money, buildings and bureaucracy, One run on the energy of the volunteering spirit and one with faith in the ability of the poorest to have a solution to their own problems. It’s wonderful, now, to be able say that IT WORKS.

When we first went to Malawi at Easter 2005, we got a glimpse of what the water crisis really meant. We looked with great sadness, amazement and dismay, at broken pumps, pumps not fit for purpose, expensive pumps, beautiful pumps and then women and girls carrying filthy water, long distances on their heads. I suppose we scratched our heads and wondered where all the millions of aid was going, when this most crucial of steps in the development process seemed to have no solution.

We figured that solving this problem must be so difficult, since no one appeared to have cracked it. We had two options, go home, forget about and pray that some expert would solve it, or do something about it. Being stubborn and obstinate the second option looked like the way to go!!

I emailed hundreds of organizations (and there are thousands) who said give us your money, we do pumps, but since I had seen their puny, short lived solutions, I figured that back to the drawing board may be the way to go.

We knew that access to clean water changes things, but we had no idea just how much. The rewards now, after our eight year of struggles, are immeasurable. All we have done is voluntary, were we, M+J, pay all the organizations running expenses and are full time Malawi! We decided, from the start, to follow a path less travelled, the scenic, volunteering route, where people regularly advised us to leave it to the experts with the support of small donors and even a few bigger ones. We are so grateful to those people who have invested their money in a system less tried and tested, living with the poorest, listening to their stories, dreams and plans and always there to support with advice and training. Their country, their lives, their future, our inspiration, has been most rewarding: a wonderful period of common discovery, among equals.


So what have we learned…?


We were very happy arriving in Malawi with a most amazing and unique pumps. We installed them with and for the people. They dug wells, made bricks and did all the work, while we brought the pumps. BUT we soon found that they wanted to work with us on other issues. The accepted clean water as the beginning of a whole new life, but now that they knew us, they knew that we could work together and do more. They had, in fact, got dreams and plans, mainly short-term. Their plans included preschools, farming adult education, business. In locations, where they had not become disenfranchised by Aid and bureaucrats they were prepared to think, plan and dream dreams. Very soon it looked like pumps were forgotten and life could begin in earnest, and now, since the women can maintain their pumps with ease, the lives of village women and girls will never be the same. If you want to measure the cost of changing a life, just imagine that it costs just €1 to give a person clean water, in Northern Malawi, where we work.


Of course it’s a team effort, but our team is very small yet. We need more advocates, ambassadors and vocal volunteers, not principally for money but to change the way people look at development. Our message is simple, at a human scale and inexpensive. We don’ worry too much about numbers and statistics, we consider each individual as the most valuable We work with, and believe in Malawian people, mainly women, moving them to empower themselves. We don’t look at poverty or depravation; we look at situations and solutions. We look at connectivity, which is now so easy nowadays. We need to be neighbours and good friends, and then the tiniest of help can work wonders, but it has to be a bottom-up approach. Micro solutions really work.


We realize that partnership is important. Away from Malawi we are in awe of all the people in schools, churches, offices and homes who show they care and work tirelessly for the cause. We’re humbled by it all.


We never planned for growth and expansion, but it has come through the efforts of others, particularly in Malawi, where we have installed, repaired and replaced over 2000 pumps, thus bringing clean, safe drinking water to over a quarter of a million of the poorest  

We hadn’t planned farming, training, research, seed and seedling production, but its all there to be seen and run by bright, intelligent and hard working Malawians, many of whom have little formal education but who are so eager to learn.

We never thought of preschools, yet we have 22, run by the most willing Malawian rural women, who care for the little ones under trees, in cowsheds, schools and deserted buildings. We work on training and they get on with it. Buildings will come later.

We never dreamed of Adult Education but our women have dreams. Dreams of beginning at Standard One and learning to read with their children, technicolour dreams of going to Secondary schools and even more do-able plans to be able to feed, educate and support their families. If I could write, there a hundreds of individual stories of bravery and courage persistence and prayers.

And we had no idea how fast anything would happen. In reality a few hundred people with clean water was what we wished for back in 2005. So if someone mentioned an education project impacting 16 schools and over 25,000 primary school students, I might have inquired about their state of mind, and a birthing centre in the bush, and a pump factory and Malawian employees who run the show on their own, and sending girls to Secondary school, and building and supporting primary schools and libraries. And I’m breathless

But this is where Wells for Zoë, You and us and them, the Universe has certainly colluded!



We have maybe 100 regular donors

Most donate less than €100

Our biggest supporter(s) is a Our Lady’s School, Terenure, Dublin 16, where everyone appears to be involved, and where the feeling of goodwill is electric.

Our investment in buildings in Malawi will soon pay all our wages

We work with 5 Government Ministries at local level, where all are committed to progress without hand-outs

Our water project is expanding in 3 countries, working with partner organizations who share a similar philosophy

We have no paid staff, except our Malawian employees.

Our future will hopefully see more Malawian staff employed and retained if they can fit-in:

More training and up-skilling for our current staff; more involvement in the project by all employees; more setting up and handing over of commercial co-operative women’s farms like the one in Doroba, enabling people to empower themselves.

But who knows?

We have learned a lot in 8 years. Our employees, volunteers, villagers and partners have made seismic and sustainable strides, with our approach of inspiration, education and challenge and they are not for turning back now.


On Sunday night two DIT students: Tommy Flavin and Claire Cunningham who volunteered with us at Easter 2012 and are finalizing a documentary, interviewed us for about two hours on video. Their final question was:

Why would anyone want to leave the comfort of Lucan and travel 8000 miles to poverty, hardship and hard work; we thought it over guys and our final answer is: We can’t imagine anything more exciting?


New Mothers

Thursday 26 April 2012: New Mothers

Mary and the crew set off today to visit three hospitals in Mzuzu having sorted about 100 kg of baby clothes from Ireland. She also had a considerable quantities of antibiotics and painkillers contributed by pharma companies with the help of Dr Paddy Feeney, who volunteered with us in 2009.
The first port of call was the Maternity Ward in Mzuzu Central Hospital where many of the newborns have very little clothes. The biggest thank you was from a young couple had just delivered twins and the double dose of clothes and blankets was so gladly received especially by the Granny. The Mzuzu health Clinic, with whom we have a close relationship through our birthing Centre was next and finally the St John of God house of hospitality from where the request for medical supplies came. All Malawi hospitals have run short of vital medical supplies following an era of very poor governance or so I’m told. praying for better times for Malawi from the new President Joyce Banda
All in all a great day’s work, but just another day in the life of Wells for Zoe.
Most organisations get a full page newspaper spread for this, but we have many calls on our time and after all we’re just small fry in the NGO world.
The pic shows two happy mothers with new blankets and clothes.

Village Meeting

Village Meeting
Originally uploaded by wellsforzoe

It may look like a visit to a village in the touristic sense. Go there, meet the village and leave, never to be seen again.
But we just don’t go about our business like this.
Here we see part of a Self Help Group before their weekly meeting started. They began their savings scheme in January 2011, saving small amounts. They began lending to each other in March 2011 charging an interest rate of 20%, which goes back in to the kitty. They are involved in small business and at the end of November had a loan book of 1246 Euro. Now these are some of the poorest women in the area, some are widows and few can read and write. Brian, with the purple shirt, an employee of our friends at St John of God Services, is their mentor, educator and advisor, but they do everything else themselves. All this has been achieved by these 18 women with no financial input from outside. They have achieved all by themselves, a lesson to the rest of the World!!. After working successfully in these small groups, the progress to Community needs, forming a cluster representing 10 small groups
At this stage they presented us with proposals for clean water, preschools and adult education. We are now working with the first cluster on the building of 10 preschools which will double for Adult Education. Training has began is some and we are ahead of schedule.
When I say we, I mean that we support the community, but they do all the work and. In the preschools we supply some cement, and the metal for the roof, they do all the work. We also supply training and for caregivers in the preschools and work with the Ministry of Education for training adult education trainers.
This group have 34 wells/pumps and when we came along only one worked.
Later we will bring training in conservation farming and horticulture.
These now successful business women are ready to drive this agenda, having been empowered by their own success. They are not for turning and they will go upwards and onwards.
An amazing success story against all the odds.

Walk a million steps for water

With funding tight and so much to be done we have copied a fundraising idea and called it walk a million steps, firstly to raise some funds but also to raise awareness of the millions of women and girls who trudge needlessly for miles every day to collect dirty water.
We are hoping people some people will come on board to knock off a few of these million steps and give us even a little money.
Every Euro will take one person off this walking list by giving them clean, safe drinking water. Yes Water for Life for just One Euro per person
In Northern Malawi villagers dig wells up to 20 metres deep, make and build the bricks, collect the sand and stones and supply all the labour. We make our simple plastic handpump in our factory, which we give along with the pipes and cement. The total cost is less that 150 Euro and the bump serves between 50 and 500 of the poorest villagers.
The bonus is that our pump fas few wearing parts and if anything goes wrong the women in the village can fix it using three nails. The spare parts mostly needed after years of use are two rubber discs made from the inner tube of a bicycle.
Can you walk a few steps, get someone to sponsor you,and donate.
100% of the donation we get goes directly to the water project, no deductions, no expenses, zero costs. The founders pay all that stuff.
Up and down the stairs for a week is probably 1000 steps.You could be the difference as

Jennifer Aniston feels cranky without water!!

I’m sure Happy would be delighted to share her water

Something frivolous for a change.

Jennifer Aniston feels “cranky” if she does not drink enough water, talking to Female First magazine

The 41-year-old actress believes the secret to good skin is staying hydrated and she feels an instant impact if she fails to consume enough liquid.

She said: “I don’t really have any beauty tips but drink a s**tload of water. I say, if anything, that’s the one thing I’ve noticed with my skin. If I stop drinking water, I dehydrate badly, and I get cranky. Water really works.”

Downing water isn’t her only obsession, the ‘Break-Up’ star is also fascinated with jeans and amidst she owns hundreds of pairs.

I know the world revolves around her, and similar people, I hope she knows that over a billion people in the worls don’t have access to clean water

SEED SAVERS (The frontline against World hunger)

Lusangazi Research Farm

Did you ever feel that you were standing alone, on the wrong side, delivering a discredited message, leading people astray and generally swimming against an enormous tide. Well this is how I feel about my farming efforts with the poorest peasant farmers in Northern Malawi.
In late 2007, Wells for Zoe bought about six acres of land as a response to being unable to find open pollinated seeds from any seed merchant in Malawi. We went about sourcing seeds world wide but have now learned to look more closely at native African plants when we can get them. BUT so brainwashed are the local farmers that they view their own heritage seeds as backward and have often consigned them to history. To be modern, they want hybrids, chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. This route is promoted by NGO’s, Foreign Governments and a host of blow in, do gooders, many of whom wouldn’t know a sweet potato from a yam (ah but that might be a hard one!).
In Northern Malawi this is a tough battle, where there is little generational memory of agriculture, and all the experts have been given the uniforms and the ammo, and one feels like having joined some small gorilla group, fighting the combined armed forces of the world with bows and arrows.

The research goes on, we keep collecting seeds, learning every inch of the way

Globally we are not alone in the fight and a recent issue of the New Internationalist offers new hope of support or should I say reinforcements

Issue 435

The bad news is that giant ‘life science’ corporations have been gobbling up the world market in seeds. The good news, says David Ransom, is that peasant farmers who save their own seeds can, and do, still feed the world.

Wakehurst Place is a stately house set in majestic grounds; the rural offshoot of Kew Botanic Gardens, London. On a working day in summer, pensioners drift through the shade of exotic trees, sniff scented blooms, sip tea, gaze out over bucolic bliss.

Michael Way collecting for the Millennium Seed Bank. RBG Kew

‘Minus 20 degrees,’ says Michael Way, Head of Collecting at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project at Wakehurst. He’s indicating heavy doors off an airlocked dry-room sunk deep into the ground beneath a gigantic modernist shed. Here are preserved seed samples of some 26,000 plant species from around the world, many of them endangered.

The Project says of itself: ‘The need for an insurance policy is immediate and growing in urgency… The global number of plant species is projected to be reduced by 10 to 15 per cent as the result of habitat loss alone over the period 1970-2050.’1

Michael Way has spent years collecting seeds from the Americas and is not unduly alarmed. When I suggest to him that the bank resembles an Ark, he’s reluctant to agree. ‘There’s so much going on out there,’ he says, ‘so many more people with the right expertise around the world.’ But he adds in passing: ‘There are 20,000 edible plant species – just a few are cash crops. It’s… mad.’

A mighty private research effort goes into the shrinking number of plant species exploited as commercial crops, ‘monocultures’ rapidly displacing everything else – and the results remain a closely guarded secret. A relatively tiny public research effort goes into saving the enormous number of other plant species – though the results are for the benefit of all.

This can be a source of frustration, Michael Way admits. But it is also a reminder that there’s much more to seeds than their usefulness to people alone. All half-million or so of the world’s remaining plant species are integral to a process of evolution which we ignore or destroy at our peril. All life on land relies on the continued regeneration of plants, the bountiful reproduction of seeds.

Kew has its own history of entanglement with narrow commercial interests, not least with the ambitions of the British Empire – the legendary smuggling of rubber plants from their native Amazon to Malaysia, part of a lucrative trade that also took coffee from Ethiopia to Latin America, cocoa from Mexico to West Africa. The very traits that made seeds so plentiful, able to survive for long periods, travel great distances, adapt to new environments and hitch a lift with whatever came their way, also prompted a history of human greed, piracy, bad faith and mistrust that persists to this day. Michael Way must now pursue his work through a thicket of legal restrictions. History teaches lessons and makes a difference, though it is not always a positive one.
Sharp corner

Well, would you ever knowingly have consigned your food supply to the people who gave us lethal dioxins and Agent Orange – the defoliant sprayed on the Vietnamese people by the US military in the 1970s, followed soon afterwards by a spate of terrible birth defects? Would you have entrusted your daily bread to a business that started with gunpowder and went on to build the world’s first plutonium factory? Or to the heirs of the people who supplied Zyklon B gas to the Nazis for their extermination camps?

In just the past decade or so, three giant chemical corporations (Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer respectively) have taken control of close to half of the world’s commercial crop-seed market.2 Following the conventions of corporate globalization, they aim to corner the world’s food supply, which relies entirely on seeds. So people who know most about poison and death and next to nothing about the culture of agriculture now pretend to know best how to feed the world (see page 18).

Before 1993 Monsanto, for example, had shown little interest in seeds. It was making Roundup, a chemical herbicide (weedkiller). But it was also investing heavily in genetic modification (GM). It reckoned that if the genes of cash crops, like soybean, could be modified to resist Roundup, which would kill everything else, then farmers would need little inducement to buy ‘Roundup Ready’ seeds.3

One by one, the chemical giants rebranded themselves as ‘life-science’ corporations and bathed themselves in heroic, humanitarian eco-techno-babble

By 1993, after a long and alarmingly haphazard series of experiments, Monsanto had its first Roundup Ready GM soybean. It acquired other assets too. Genes could now be patented under US law. In 1995 the World Trade Organization came bearing agreements to enforce similar laws worldwide. Better still, genes could be traced. So Monsanto could claim ownership over any seeds in which its patented genes appeared, anywhere in the world. With the force of law, farmers could be stopped from saving Roundup Ready seeds and required to buy from Monsanto year on year. Seeds began to look like very good business indeed, and it was well worth spending $30 million annually on security to put the fear of Monsanto into farmers.

But it was not a seed company, and that hurt. So, between 1996 and 1998, the corporation all but bankrupted itself, spending some $8 billion on buying up seed companies around the world – as the area covered by Roundup Ready GM soybeans in the US exploded, from half a million to ten million hectares. By 2005 Monsanto was the largest conventional seed merchant in the world; and almost all GM crops worldwide contained Monsanto genetic traits.

Not to be entirely out-flanked, in 1999 the rival chemical giant DuPont paid $7.7 billion for what was then still the world’s biggest seed company – Pioneer Hi-Bred. One by one, the chemical giants rebranded themselves as ‘life-science’ corporations and bathed themselves in heroic, humanitarian eco-techno-babble. They had increased the yields of crops and – after a manner – fed the growing human population. They, and ‘their’ technology, were in not just the best but the only position to feed the world from now on.
Another story

They had not, however, genetically modified themselves, nor yet been able to rewrite a rather different history. A billion small farmers still save their own seeds – and produce most of the world’s food. The largest study of its kind, involving nearly 9 million farmers, covering 200 projects on 28 million hectares in 52 countries, indicates that crop yields increase on average by 73 per cent under small-scale, sustainable methods, and that ‘sustainable practices can lead to substantial increases in per-hectare food production’.4 There are better options than corporate monoculture, but they have simply been dismissed, if not ignored altogether.

Tribute to the earth – women of the Arhuacos people pick seeds during the annual summer solstice ceremonies in Nabusimake, Colombia. Daniel Munoz / Reuters

‘Sustainable’ can, of course, mean anything. But in this context it means something quite specific: not following industrial agriculture, which consumes a third of the world’s depleted reserves of fossil fuels, down a road that leads to extinction. And it means not relying on monocultures of a few staple crops, which increase genetic vulnerability – when only genetic and cultural diversity stand any chance whatever of adapting to runaway climate change.

In 2009 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – often accused of undue closeness to corporate interests – published an authoritative report on genetic resources. It said: ‘Through the continuing shift to commercial agriculture, much of the diversity that still exists remains under threat… With the disappearance of lifestyles and languages across the globe, a large amount of knowledge about crops and varieties is probably being lost, and with it much of the value of the genetic resources themselves.’5 Cultural diversity matters too.

You would hardly imagine so, judging from the ruthless land-grabs currently afflicting Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Government of Ethiopia, for example, has surreptitiously signed away leases on a million hectares of land for foreign agro-enterprise investors – the kind of move being actively promoted by the World Bank. Some of it is in the province of Gambella, a fertile area that is home to the Anuak nation, who practise an intricate form of cultivation, pastoralism, hunting and gathering. They are simply being evicted. Thousands of Anuaks now live in exile in Sudan and elsewhere. In 2003, on the pretext of ‘anti-terrorism’, the Ethiopian army invaded Gambella and killed 400 Anuak men. More military contingents are being sent there now, and a curfew has been imposed.6

Nor has the promise of corporate monoculture, for small farmers in particular, been fulfilled. There may be a brief bonanza when ‘modern’ methods are introduced; but all too often it is followed by eroded soils, destroyed soil fertility, an insatiable demand for yet more chemicals, more fresh water from degraded supplies – only, in the end, to produce declining yields, if not bankruptcy. The true scale of the disaster of genetically modified cotton, for example, has been clear for far too long already.7 When, in 2007, food riots erupted around the world, those at the sharp end of agriculture can have been surprised only that they had not erupted before.

But perhaps most striking of all has been the rise of peasant resistance movements, such as the Landless Movement (MST) in Brazil, now brought together across continents, North and South, with remarkable agility by Vía Campesina (see page 12). As their name suggests, they demand respect for the peasant way of life.
Put things right

Those of us who know little about seeds must now think afresh. We must listen to stories about peasant cultures, like those from India (page 8) and Africa (page 14), with renewed respect and an appreciation of the subtle wisdom that grows only at the pace of nature itself. We must also do what we can to put things right – and soon.

First, land reform. Diversity cannot flourish (and seeds will never be saved from extinction) unless peasant farmers finally come to control the land they work. Landlessness, so wasteful of human skill and energy, so degrading of rural life, remains to be eradicated. The latifundistas (big landowners) of Latin America, for example, habitually devote far less effort to making their vast estates fully productive than to beating landless peasant farmers off them.

A billion small farmers still save their own seeds – and produce most of the world’s food

Second, vital knowledge about seeds, their cultivation and preservation, is held largely by women. This says less about the stereotypical nature of women than about the culture of agriculture, where women play a leading role almost everywhere. So Vía Campesina confounds the inheritance of rural patriarchy by working for the liberation of women too.

Third, if even half the resources (including government subsidies) currently lavished on corporate monoculture were used to promote sustainable food production instead, then human ingenuity might finally make rural life less laborious, more rewarding than it currently is. What, after all, could be more valuable? Why should those who produce food remain among the most oppressed on earth? Politics and policies must promote what Vía Campesina styles ‘food sovereignty’.

Finally, we can learn from the natural history of seeds themselves. Whatever it was that made them so generous and bountiful, so attentive and amenable to the needs of other life forms, it most certainly was not Monsanto. Wherever you may live, you can still study, collect, exchange, plant, nurture, harvest and celebrate them. You’ll be amply rewarded with nourishment, pleasure, wonder – and, along the way, you’ll be digging up the road to extinction as well.

Millennium Seed Bank Project, A Global Network for Plant Preservation, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2010.
ETC Group, Who Owns Nature? Corporate power and the final frontier in the commodification of life, November 2008.
Most of this account of Monsanto relies on Marie-Monique Robin, The World According to Monsanto, Spinifex Press, Melbourne, 2010.
Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine, ‘Empirical Findings of SAFE-World Project’, in Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture, Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, 2001.
UN Food and Agriculture Organization, State of the World’s Genetic Resources, Rome, 2009.
‘Land Grabs Threaten Anuak,’ an interview with Nyikaw Ochalla in Seedling magazine, April 2010.
See, for example, NI 399, April 2007.

Permalink | Published on September 1, 2010 by David Ransom | 2
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Comments on Seed savers
#1 oliver mccrossan 06 Sep 10


A very good article, here in Philipines MASIPAG , an organisation of farmers and scientists are actively involved in promoting bio diversity especially in relation to our native rice varieties.On our biodiversity farm in Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao Masipag are maintaining over 600 native and farmer bred lines of rice from all over the country.

Go to MASIPAG website for more information.

#2 ciderpunx 06 Sep 10


Just to give the URL for the organisation that Oliver mentions and quote from their “about us”:

MASIPAG is a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, non-government organizations and scientists working towards the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge.

Seed savers — New Internationalist
Seed savers
RT @MickNewint: Well I never knew what a seed saver was – << glad latest @newint has BEAN educational
Well I never knew what a seed saver was — New Internationalist
"Seed Savers": Peasant farmers combat the multinational push for control!
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f
RT @newint: Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations
Seed savers – The world’s seed markets are being gobbled up by ‘life-science’ corporations – but peasant f

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.