A team from Bidvest Foodservice and ISS has recently returned from Malawi where they’ve been visiting the water projects they help to fund by selling One Water. You can read Heather and Pierre’s write-up of the experience on the Bidvest Foodservice Plate2Planet website here and Tom’s write up from Day one of the trip here or day two and three below.
“We get up at 5:30 and have breakfast at 6 then hit the road. Vic, the human dynamo, is away on another project today (probably single-handedly building a city) so his daughter Beth and her husband Joe take us out with the team. First on the agenda is to cycle down the hill – an amazing experience, especially as the back brake was a little slow to react (or work at all). Amazing views and you can really see the extent of the deforestation, miles and miles of only small pockets of trees. Wood is the only real source of fuel for the communities used for making bricks and cooking. The effect on the landscape is devastating for a rural population reliant on one harvest; soil erosion and flooding are the result. A replanting programme is desperately needed. Malawi is fertile, trees grow quickly. I know a man who has a plan for his area of Malawi, I think you know who too.
At the bottom of the hill we jump in the back of the pick up truck and head straight to the borehole. Another one that has been broken for TWO years! How long would you tolerate not having running water in your house? The equivalent at home is a stand pipe at the end of your street, servicing 150 large families for all their water. Could you queue come rain or shine? Would we argue? These families have had to walk much further to get the water they need for everything.
We set to work and fix up the pipe work, replacing sections. The whole community is out to watch and the men are getting stuck in, watching, helping and most importantly learning from Stevie and Harrison: amazing native Malawians and part of Vic’s water project. I saw a section (badly I might add) and add glue and hold the pipe to stop it dropping into the borehole along with some men from the village. Heather from Bidvest doing a great job of applying the glue to the joints.
After about 40 minutes the water is coming out and the village is delighted, Ufumo (meaning chief) thanks us and the singing is thankful too. The burden for getting water lies with women in Malawian culture so this will make a massive difference to the hours they have in the day to support and grow their communities and other ones in the area. An amazing feeling again, I don’t think you would tire from that if you did it 20 times a day. Unfortunately funds only go so far, so we need to sell more One Water to resolve that!
We repair one more borehole and then head home.
A journey back up the hill in the back of a pick up truck seems the only way to travel in Malawi. Hot air running over you, the senses overwhelmed. The company makes it, lots of laughter and positivity, the sense that we are helping, in a small way, to make a difference. We arrive back for lunch, bit of a catch up and reflection and then out to an orphanage.
We meet the directors Helen and Charlie and, as in most organisations, the person who really runs the show Mrs Phiri. An indomitable, Malawian lady who you wouldn’t question. She tells us about her 20 plus years there and the work they do. She is clearly passionate with her sole purpose being the welfare of her children and that they have a successful life, following often tragic beginnings. They look after children from birth to 2 years old in the main building and then they either go back to their communities, if there is someone to look after them or to a foster home if not. The network is amazing.
Meeting the children is an amazing experience and heart wrenching at the same time, but the place is clean, the “mothers” as they are called are amazing and you can’t help but think that these kids are in the best place they can be when they have no relatives to bring them up. After an hour of seeing what they do, lot’s of carrying, cuddling and playing, we say goodbye.
By the time we get home I feel emotionally stretched and need a bit of down time. Pulling this all together is going to be a challenge in my head, but in the first instance I have to focus on the fact that we are helping to make a difference by selling One Water – and that is a positive way to end my day.”
“Up at 5:30, it may seem early but I haven’t slept too solidly for a long time. The sounds of Malawi lulling me to sleep and gently easing me awake. Shower, breakfast and then a day with Massa and Rodric from the recently rechristened United Purpose, formerly Concern Universal, they are one of One Waters NGO’s.
Massa comes across as a laid back guy, he has a voice that would lull a thousand children to sleep, but as an adult the more you listen to his words you realise his passion for the projects he is involved in: water programmes, sanitation and schools programmes. He has come from a small village without power and running water, he knows what it is like to have no money and how determined you have to be to get out of the cycle. As the day goes on I warm to him more and more. Unfortunately Rodric was driving the other car so I had less time with him but he too was passionate, caring and proud of making a difference.
We set off and drive down to the south of Malawi, getting close to the Mozambique border. Through the tea plantations and to a village that recently had a borehole and pump installed. When we arrived all the women from the village came out to greet us; chairs were brought out and placed under the tree next to the borehole. Introductions were made to Ufumo, a lady who then asked if we could go and see where they used to get water from. We walked through the village down the steep slope and arrived at the waterhole. Behind us a line of the villagers was coming down and singing, more children had appeared and it felt amazing to hear them all singing what was clearly a joyful song (my understanding of Chichewa is still very limited!) however I was told by Massa they were thanking us for the gift of water.
It was an incredible feeling of sadness to see them retrieving water from here, a spring that you had to clear the scum and debris from the top of and a walk up a hill that I thought must have been impossible in the rainy season. 25kgs of something you need to survive but equally may kill you or your children. But the second emotion was of happiness, they don’t need to use this anymore! They have clean, fresh water as a result of a pump that the proceeds from One Water sales helps to build. The water is a revelation to them, we hear tales of the girls sometimes coming back up the hill empty handed due to the slippery slope, so thank goodness there’s no need for that anymore.
We then went to the next village, no borehole here and just a slow underground spring that is full at 3am but drained by 5. After that it takes an hour to fill up each bucket as it trickles through. One hour to get water. In our world of immediacy, where waiting longer than two minutes to get a coffee gives us the hump, would we cope? Plus at the end of the hour it’s another walk home with something essential but it may also kill you. What a choice i.e. no choice. Thankfully they have agreed with the other village that they can have access to the pump but that now means 750 families, approx 3750 people rely on one pump for their water.
As we get back and sit down for formal introductions, thanks and questions it becomes apparent that this sharing of the resource means there is occasional squabbling amongst the ladies when there are long queues, i.e. waiting for 4 hours to get your water. Frustrations must boil over even amongst the most passive and friendly people – which is exactly what the Malawians I’ve met are.
It was a special meeting, because not only were they appreciative of the bore hole, they had an effective water committee, had a healthy fund for spares, had people trained in the committee to fix the pump and had already purchased spares in case of a breakdown. It really emphasised the importance of training, education and probably that women are better at this stuff than men! Amazing.
In the afternoon we drive even further south, within 100 yards of the Mozambique border. We pass the tallest mountain in Southern Africa, a huge mountain that dominates this flat landscape. I think it’s an extinct volcano but Google may be a better source than me.
We arrive unannounced at a pump put in by UP and One, signed in the concrete with a date from two months ago. Another great achievement: the two members of the committee that we met will pull together and make a massive success for their community and another massively reduced journey for water. I haven’t mentioned the temperature so far. We had temperatures of 35 and this is not the hottest, especially in the south. So a long walk for water, heavy load plus incredibly hot temperatures means a tough day just to get water, let alone provide meals and clothes for your family.
We set off and after a 30 minute drive we arrive at a school. A large school on the border with Mozambique with 1,140 pupils. A great deal of whom come running out to greet us. It is, as Ric puts it at the end of the day “the closest you’ll ever feel to being Mick Jagger”. It is a genuine show of excitement from the children. In this instance it is as much the fact that white people are visiting, which is incredibly rare, as it is for the new sanitation block that has been built for the girls. The aim being to keep them in school, a lot of girls drop out as they mature.
Everyone takes a seat and a series of welcomes, thank you’s and speeches takes place from all parties. It never ceases to amaze how respectful everyone is.
Rory decides it’s time to mention we have footballs in the cars and then all hell breaks loose – we have a mad 2 hours of running around the field being chased, taking photos and showing the kids – which they never tire of, desperate to be in the photo and see themselves. It’s an exhausting, amazing period of time that I will never forget. By the time we get back in the car I am exhausted and emotionally drained, but so happy to have come to Malawi to see, touch and feel the amazing work The One Brand and their NGO’s Fishermans Rest and UP are doing with the money raised.
A trip I will never forget that makes me more determined than ever to continue our efforts.”