Christmas letter 2018
What’s another year?
This year we had a few big anniversaries: on 17th August we were married 50 years and on 18th August we were 55 years together. Just now we are beginning our 14th year in Malawi.
14 years on, we have brought Clean, Safe, Drinking Water to a population the size of Connaught, plus Cavan, Westmeath and Longford, totally changing the lives of the poorest in the process. Working in remote villages our system is to have no strategic plans but to be prepared to listen and assist where possible and support them on their plans. When we bring water to an area, there is always a request for preschools, adult education, girls’ education and our latest expansion this year is into forestry where, we have managed to inspire and assist people to plant about 1.5 million trees. We are still manufacturing and installing about 40 pumps a month, while maintaining those installed over the years.
After clean water our most exciting area is our Girl Child Student project, where we enable girls to get their four years of Secondary Schooling, without pregnancy or marriage. This means fees, clothes, food and our latest addition is self-made reusable washable sanitary products, the lack of which often causes girls to miss up to a week each month from school. We also collect the girls on Saturday mornings for classes with the best teachers we can find. We also run holiday-time classes and to cater for these we built a new hostel last year. We have food for all and a counseling service available for those who need it. We have a focus on child protection and follow up on all reports, working closely with the Police Victim Support Unit (who are really helpful), the Justice system and Social Welfare Ministry.
None of these Girl Child Students would even get to secondary school without our help and incredibly our donors now support 3 of these graduates in University and 2 in Nursing.
The dreams of most women we meet, even in the most remote areas, is to have Preschools. We get communities together and do training sessions. We are the official trainers now in our areas. Margaret and Ellen, work on the setting up and the training of carers. These are uneducated local women who become great teachers, using local materials like sticks to write on the ground, stones or seeds to count, where old people tell their traditional stories, sing and dance and have fun while learning. The success story is that almost all transfer to Primary school, breaking the cycle. We now support 79 such communities.
We have two small farms where we practice fully organic and sustainable farming using no GM seeds, no inorganic fertiliser and no noxious chemicals – Climate Smart Agriculture. We have a hostel for people who come to learn and greenhouses. This year we will produce 42,000 improved variety fruit trees by budding and grafting. We research maybe 100 species of open pollinated plants from all over the world checking on how they take and their popularity. Apples from Ireland are a big favourite. This is run by 14 men and women without a Leaving Cert between them, or any previous horticultural training. The seeds are Certified by ICRAF and last week the experts from the Government Research Station came in force to learn how they were achieving such great results. They were most impressed saying there was no such other place in Malawi – a great boost for our crew.
We have two hectares of garden at our Centre for Learning to teach our Saturday and holiday-time Girl Child Students about growing their own food. After Christmas we will add a course on Horticulture, Forestry, and Enterprise, run by our own newly graduated Horticulturalist, Boyd. He came to the farm with his single mother (deaf and dumb) when he was 10, and is now back to work with us. A great success story in itself, and thanks to two donors, Denise and Pádraig.
Last year we got our inexpensive Irrigation Pump out to villages. It can take water from 20 meters deep and pump into a tank 10 meters high, or through a pipe over a long distance. We can swap this very useful device for a bag of maize.
The better news is that just now (Dec 2018) a young German Volunteer, Kevin Dalferth, has modified this irrigation pump and at first trials it looks to be even more spectacular, and might cost less than €5. Maybe a case for patenting? He has also redesigned our main Zoë pump to resolve a few issues causing problems and part failures in some of our earlier pumps – a truly inspirational volunteering story.
As we join more dots, the number of full time Malawian Workers has increased to 52. Most have poor secondary school achievements, but pieces of paper must never to be confused with intelligence and determination. When we believe in them, they just go from strength to strength and they are all doing a great job, way beyond any expectations we might have ever had. Most now have good English. We have lathe and manufacturing experts. And our office people can manage difficult internet tasks to do with spreadsheets, databases and managing the documents in the Cloud.
The picture above shows one of these Malawian workers who lives and works at the Sustainable Farm in Lusangazi. Her name is Brenda and her new daughter is Hannah. She was on maternity leave but posed for the pic when we were taking them of all the farm workers not to miss out on being included and telling her story.
In a world of Climate Challenges, we decided in January 2018 that it was the time to make a little positive climatic impact on our local area and set a target of growing 1 Million trees (#1millionTrees). Recent numbers of seedlings indicate that we will exceed 1.5 million.
Of course, the real heroes of all this are our donors:
They enable us to see the laughing, singing faces when the first burst of clean water is grabbed by excited hands from a newly installed pump; when a girl learns something never explained in her secondary school class of 120 students; when we bring a class of girls a pair of knickers and their first bras; when they get fruit trees to bring home to their mother; when one of our staff gets a loan to start building their own house; or when a girl is fed on a Saturday morning when she hasn’t eaten for three days. Excitement is also seen when a girl learns to type or ride a bike or play netball for the first time or realise that they are good at drama or art or cooking.
As the daily management of the operation gets more complex, Éamonn (our eldest) has got more involved, moving from his website role to management of fundraising and recently while I had pretty serious neck surgery, he took our place and went out for two weeks, where he became a great hit. Daily WhatsApp contact is important and he covers a share of that role now. John looks after the accounting end, while Caitríona does great fundraising in Our Lady’s Templeogue, now as the new Chaplin.
Have a wonder-filled and restful Christmas and the 2019 you wish for,
John & Mary Coyne
Wells for Zoë