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Girl Child horticulture education

A way out of Slavery for Women and Girls

Women and girls carrying disease ridden water, long distances all day every day on their heads, is modern day slavery. The Zoë pump is causing a quiet revolution against this horrific waste of time and talent which is certainly contributing to the economic disaster, that is, Malawi.

Imagine if all these needlessly wasted hours could be put to some constructive use, like planting trees.

All this hits me while I fail to sleep, on the Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner, at 35,000 feet over southern Europe, heading for our first stop at Addis Abba, for my 40th trip to Malawi. As we get to grips with the water issue, another disaster has emerged.

Women and girls are now tied into more slavery, walking even longer distances to collect firewood. When we first drove to Mzuzu in 2005 there were miles after continuous miles of mature forest, both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. Now these are almost totally gone, to enrich the rich with little or no benefit to the poor. The tobacco industry has gobbled up much of the remainder, leaving these poor uneducated but amazing women to fend for their families through more endless hours of drudgery.

The reasonably sane might think: Why bother with Trees? Don’t we have enough on our plate, but my brain was agitated enough to get even more outraged.

I know that growing local trees is easy, no fancy words, no fancy strategies, no development jargon. Seeds from trees, almost insist on growing so we need to encourage them.

I’m thinking, “No local village woman I have met, in Malawi, is in any way stupid. They are some of the brightest in the world; they have to be, because their very existence depends on it, and they don’t mind hard work, their life is hard work!

So, why do these women, who carry firewood, on their heads for miles and miles, not collect and sow seeds. What or who is preventing them. And the answer appears to be so simple:

No one ever taught them how to collect, save and grow seeds.

Having met hundreds of women (and men) on this trip, the answer was the same. Unbelievable but not surprising, in the arena of development gurus.

The rage passed as it does, so I focused my time encouraging another quiet revolution, incentivising women to sow woodlots around their homes. Of course we could have gone the
tried and tested route for NGOs, of organising meetings, explaining global warming and climate change endlessly, but we always get straight to the point.

Sow trees and you will have firewood beside you at each pump we install from now on; we’ll come with 750 seeds: 25 houses (say) 30 seeds each and 750 potting tubes, and a little training. 750 trees per pump, 500 pumps per year, each of 3 years, is about a million trees. In fact we are planning to make getting a free pump conditional on planting these trees. So, no trees, no pump (that’s the stick, but not the reality of course).

It involves no fanfares, no flags, no sensitising meetings, no expenses for officials, no food, no drinks. It’s common sense, and involves little cost, because the guys are there, the jeep is there and training is not too time consuming. The stick looked at the issue of a free pump but the carrot is equally interesting. We promise the reward of fruit trees for each year of the 3 year establishment period, if people plant and look after these trees (and after 12 years in Malawi, they know, that we have never failed to keep a promise!).

We will produce over 42,000 improved variety fruit trees this year and are prepared to give them all away, free, to encourage this tree planting programme.

For the environment this will mean 1,000,000 trees over the next three years planted quietly and efficiently by amazing Malawian women who want to end slavery for their girls. Of course the consequence will be an infinitesimal but positive effect on Climate, but this is not the reason we are doing it.

Now for a little insurance policy: Because Malawians have no culture of growing trees, we use two types of coppicing trees, an Acacia and Matongatonga, which sprout and grow again when they are cut down, after 3 years, hopefully meaning a permanent solution when the cycle continues. This may be too much to hope for, but it’s our best shot for now, because these trees are like a nasty weed, almost impossible to get rid of.

NOW, I have an ask, more in hope than expectation. Many people reading this have recently been on a plane, on holidays, adding to our global warming dilemma. If you were lucky enough to be one of these, you could negate this nasty footprint by helping us plant this million trees. Every little will help. Don’t moan about climate change: Do something about it. Plant trees or ask us to do it, in Malawi. Tree seeds are designed to grow. All they need is a little assistance.

The local Department of Forestry, in Mzuzu, have been so co-operative with pine seeds. They showed us where to source the seeds and the best ones to take, which again are a coppicing variety.
Forestry is a different matter. Again we could have gone the tried and tested and failed route, (Talking endlessly about Global Warming) but we said: “Forestry is all about Business. There’s no timber left. There is money in timber”. Of course the older and wiser people tell us that this will also bring back the rains.

Keeping it simple has had an enthusiastic uptake that has overwhelmed us, and everywhere our guys go, now, the talk is of forestry, business and money (as well as pumps, irrigation pumps, preschools, adult education, organic fertilizer and pest control!!!)

The plan, which is well under way, is Bluegums (Eucalyptus) for poles (10,000/hectare, with a 4/5 year return and Pines for timber, (2,500/hectare) maturing in 15 years. Enormous returns for tiny initial investment, ideal for the poorest.

The Girl Child Project has expanded to running a Summer camp for the past four weeks. It involved normal classes (enabling some girls to catch up on anything they missed out on), Netball, Volleyball, Art, Typing, Computing, Drama, Singing, Practical Horticulture and Forestry, Classes on Building our new fuel efficient cook stoves, Reading, Playing games, Good food and above all, lots of fun, something sadly missing from the diets of most females in Malawi.

The girls sleep in the factory on mats on the floor. They have 3 matrons to mind them. Our water bill has exploded, as even a cold shower makes the accommodation like a 5 star hotel.
This Girl Child Project, which enables very poor girls to take their places in Secondary School, is part funded by the Music Event in St Mary’s Church last year, featuring the wonderful Eithne Donnelly and St Mary’s Chorale. Thanks to Fr. Philip and Fr. Tom for the welcome and everyone who helped our 189 girls last year. We are only losing 12 Form 4 girls so we expect the number to, maybe, reach 250 this year.

250 lives changed forever, changing families and whole villages into the future.

John and Mary Coyne

First Published in the Lucan Newsletter on Sunday 3rd September 2017

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