Sent by our Commerical Director, Paul, on his current trip to Malawi with the World Duty Free team.
I have never been to Africa, let alone a country such as Malawi. Wikipedia reliably told me the average per capita income is $330 p.a. The UK is something like 100 times that. Malawi is also called “the warm heart of Africa”. 2 days in, having met so many people with so little, I can see why. Forgive the cliché, but it makes you seriously question your priorities at home.
Leaving England with the temperature at a chilly -5C, was something of a relief. We met our colleagues from World Duty Free, who, since 2008, have raised £2m, for the One Foundation. What an amazing achievement. Nick, Carol, Dan, Lorraine, & Terri work at different WDF stores across the country and this is their first time in Malawi too. There was a palpable mix of excitement and trepidation.
After an easy flight from London to Johannesburg, & then onto Blantyre (the 2nd largest town in Malawi), we were met by our implementing partners on the ground. In addition we meet Olivia, a maths graduate from Newcastle University who converted her love of numbers & desire to “do good” into Hydrology (aka water engineering in the broadest sense) – and, as we would discover later, is more than a match for a damaged pump.
We drove straight from the airport, to the first of three site visits to help repair broken pumps. The first pump had been broken for 5 years, meaning a village of 300 people had been sharing a working pump two miles away with another 300 people.
This cycle of broken pumps crystallised the old short-term approach to aid, versus the forward looking sustainable one that The One Foundation implements. This pump had been installed no doubt with the best of intentions 20–30 years ago, but with little to no education (or support when the pump broke down) and despite best attempts to mend it, it remained broken until today.
Going forward we learnt that there would now be an ongoing educational programme, plus an immediate visit after 2 weeks, 12 weeks and then annuals checks. Beyond that, each pump is logged onto an app with all the details recorded, and there is a hotline to call if anything goes wrong. Customer service par excellence!
On Sunday we started with an hour in the classroom learning about the holistic and sustainable approach our implementing partner takes. Whilst water is at the forefront of everything – water literally is life – they also support communities across other areas. From the broader sanitation agenda, to reforestation, education, feeding programmes and even newly designed, efficient ovens.
Also inherent in what we learnt is the wider community support collaboration across Malawi. There are over 120,000 known water points across the country. Rate of exchange is roughly one pump/borehole per water point. And the number is growing annually. Increasingly technology (including the app that records each water point & the condition it’s in, or when it might require the next service) is transforming a too often broken system into something that’s really beginning to deliver against the promise of water for everyone, forever.
We then spent time stripping down a pump, identifying where the problems can occur & putting it back together again. When I say ‘we’, I really mean Norman, Jeffrey & Abdu, who were our teachers (and very unimpressed with our collective blindness to anything mechanical!).
Afterwards we travelled to a tiny community called Wailesi (which I have a feeling might be the first of many, truly amazing stories) . As part of the educational programme in this village, the Chief really drives the educational agenda; fully owning, managing and improving the village water pump and everything around it. When we arrived they were doing their 12-week pump check-up and we were shown a small piece of rubber tubing that was beginning to wear down. 30 minutes later – and at the grand cost of 30p – the entire system had been checked through, put back together again and would be providing water to over 400 people for the next 3 months! Had that regular check up led by the village Chief not been done, the worn rubber could well have ended in the breakdown of the pump for a long period of time at significant unnecessary expense.
Leadership, ownership and the buying and management of spare parts = sustainability. So simple to write and the essence of what The One Foundation & our implementing partners do. Funded by World Duty Free, together we are delivering amazing results.
Our last stop of the day was Natyamwana School and our wider community project there. Now there are bad roads, catastrophically bad roads… and some way off in the far distance, well over the horizon, lies “the road to Natyamwana”. In this sense, the word ‘road’ is merely a lose interpretation of what you, or I might call a road – and we attempted this in an old school van! I think the term “van abuse” is probably most appropriate!
Remarkably, we arrived intact and happily read the school raison d’etre as being “Our school vision is to shape and empower a learner for genuine success for the economic development of the country”. My personal vote goes to a boy named Kelvin who was top of the class in Maths (& hopefully will enter the road building profession as an engineer)! A fulfilling (if busy) career awaits.
The school has over 400 primary school children and is a model of education in the broadest sense. English and Maths are taught alongside sanitation, reforestation, plant cultivation and the wider impact on the environment. There is a library that has transformed literacy and they provide porridge for every child as school starts (sadly all too often the only meal of the day). The school emits a genuine sense of positive change, with talk of driving this change through the next generation (the children), which makes sense.
Whilst there, we also took a long walk to a a more remote community (if that’s possible!) about 1 hour into the hills. Whist originally not part of the programme, our implementing partner had agreed to supply everything at their own expense (largely time, muscle and sheer bloody mindedness), to build this community’s first pump.
Having seen the river water they had been drinking and having heard about the constant bouts of illness this caused, it is impossible to describe the joy on the faces of everyone as they showed us all just how well the pump (implemented earlier this month) worked. Even the coldest, stoniest and most cynical heart would have warmed through. Literally hundreds of lives had been changed the day that their pump had been put in.
Having spoken to the Chief too, the pump is NEVER going to break down. EVER.
What a great end, to our first full day in Malawi. Even the trip back along the fore mentioned road seemed much smoother!
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