Mama Gondwe and her handbag!
It might be called philanthropy, but who cares. We got involved with Malawi just to make some little difference to peoples lives, by bringing them clean water. We thought it would be easy: it wasn’t. We thought Malawi would appreciate our work: they don’t. We thought people with a lot of money would help: they didn’t. We hoped we could make little difference: we have. Are we enjoying it: Wow!
On February 11th last (2010), I sat beside an old gogo (granny) outside the pump factory in Mzuzu. We communicated with a real Malawi handshake and a few smiles. When I threw in my few words of Tumbuka, she bent over laughing. She was in her Sunday best, weather beaten, looked to be 90, but what really stood out was a fantastic handbag.
She wanted a pump.
William (one of our pump men and much more) was called into action and said to me we have to do something, it’s not far.
All three of us hopped in the jeep only to find that after 17km mostly deciding where the road was, as she was directing us as how the crow flies and we had to find the roads or tracks to match, we found ourselves walking, no, running, the last mile, behind this fragile old lady holding her handbag way out in front of her.
She showed us the river where 16 villages were getting their water, with the heavy rains it had become a fast running stream of grey water, the river of death, I now call it.
By the time we got there we had attracted a bit of a following: chiefs with hats and sticks, old men, women and children and one scrawny dog.
After a short discussion we agreed a location for a new well, which would be the first one in the area.
I had the video camera with me and suggested to William that he do a little interview, with Mama, but as he went on, the number forty one kept coming up (when speaking Tumbuka they give their numbers in English). I stopped recording and asked William about 41 and with his usual laugh he said that’s why we’re here, forty one people from the villages are in Hospital with cholera, and some have died.
William worked all weekend, organised the bricks, sand and manpower (not always easy, but William is a convincing and vocal six foot three) and we put in the new pump on Monday, amid songs dances and prayers, always prayers.
Not totally convinced that her figures were correct, I visited the Chief Medical Officer, Winston Mwanza, at St John’s Hospital (formerly run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary): a meeting hastily arranged by Harisen (our man in Malawi).
He had a huge welcome, and even though his clinic was full, he brought us to his office, did a bit of tidying, sat down and said you are the pump people. He verified the figures and told us the Hospital was over run with cholera cases, BUT then said I have a great story to help you.
You know we run an outreach clinic in an area called Doroba; In 2007 we had 143 cases of Cholera and 6 people died; in 2008 we had 6 cases and no death. This year we had no case. His information from the clinic is that in late 2007 we installed 3 pumps and more in 2008 and 2009.
Standing in amazement I asked could the pumps have much to do with it and he said EVERYTHING. He continued; if people don’t have a protected source of water, when the heavy rains come, everything is washed into the drinking water sources, the water becomes polluted and Cholera, and Diarrhoea result. He continued;
Diarrhoea is a real killer and Malaria of course. Keep building the pumps, that’s a great solution…
As we rushed back, I told him it only costs 1 euro to give each person water. So sad he said as he returned to his overflowing waiting room, considering that talking to us for 10 minutes was worth while.
Are we happy to be making a difference?: we are amazed!
And so is Mama Gondwe and her handbag.
You might ask, where do we get the money? Well mostly from people with little money, friends and friends we don’t even know. But THEY all know that WE pay all the organisation’s expenses, so 100% of anything they give us ends up in a village in Malawi.
Are they happy with their investment?
They certainly are, mostly disbelieving that so little can do so much!
If you can pay even for one person to have clean water it would be magical: It would cost you a Euro and could you find a better investment. You wouldn’t get much of a handbag for it!
John and Mary Coyne
31st December 2010