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The WHAT, WHO, HOW, WHY and WHICH of it


Wells for Zoë is a small, personal, Irish, voluntary organization, working in Northern Malawi since 2005. Our main focus is enabling the rural poor to access clean, safe drinking water, and over 500,000 people have clean water as a result.


We manufacture a simple plastic hand pump in Mzuzu (main city in Northern Malawi) which can be simply maintained by locals and costs ca. €100 to make. Villagers dig wells, provide sand and bricks and all labour.  The completed well costs ca. €200 as WfZ also provide the cement and pipes.  This pump can then supply up to 500 people with clean water for life.


This is not the end as we stay with villages to support Preschool, Girl Child and Adult Education and Sustainable Farming.


When a well is installed in a village girls return to school and women have time to spare.  People are no longer too sick to work.  Gardens are watered and more food is grown.  Health is better and children grow up to achieve more.  The cycle of poverty is broken.  Lives change forever.


About 800 million people in the world don’t have safe water but this story is not all about numbers.  It’s about people – each one person – and their potential to flourish and develop to their true potential.  Lack of clean water is regularly their main obstacle and the solution is so simple that it’s hard to believe.  That it only costs €5 to give a whole family clean water for life is incredulous.

WfZ can achieve this because:

we have our own, unique pump;

the organisation is run by volunteers;

100% of donations get to the projects;

we work with Malawians on their personal plans;

sustainability is achieved in villages using inspiration, education and challenge so that people can empower themselves.


It is almost irrelevant now that it was founded by John and Mary Coyne from Lucan, Co Dublin; such is the support they get from so many people all over the world and in so many ways.


Our operation runs very much on a shoestring budget – as it should in our opinion – and with no Government, and very little corporate funding, it depends on the generosity of the public for progress.  We do however continue to pay all administrative expenses and naturally we pay for our own flights to and travel and accommodation while in Malawi, which now is about five months each year.  This enables all donations to be spent where they are needed; in Malawi.

The only people paid by Wells for Zoë are our Malawian employees.


WfZ is about pumps and wells, but clean water in a village changes everything, so in a way we enable people to fulfil dreams.  Village women pray for clean water and when this obstacle is removed they develop their dreams.  They have time to do other work, which enables them to pay for schooling, books, and uniforms. They can afford some medicines and the occasional luxury like a new cooking pot. They get involved in adult education and get a voice.  They reclaim a little dignity and start thinking of a better future.


Once clean water is in place we journey with women’s groups on their plans for preshools, adult education and conservation farming.  Where women are the drivers the whole community finds its way to move forward.  This development begins at the very bottom and with many tiny steps inspiration turns hope into reality.


Regularly it looks as if this is not about wells and pumps at all, but about people and giving them encouragement to be themselves, and achieve a sense of worth.  It’s about kindling the fire within and watching the take off.


Nothing about this bottom-up approach is easy but if an organisation is small, agile and hands-on, like WfZ, and always prepared to adapt and rethink, everything becomes a possibility.


young girl carrying waterMary and me went to Malawi for the first time at Easter 2005 and were disturbed by a few things in particular:


  • the sight of women and little girls carrying dirty water on their heads;
  • how shallow the wells needed to be;
  • the huge number of broken pumps or how few were maintained by their original installers.


On returning home, we got our family of five together and discussed spending their inheritance on what appeared to so many as a mad adventure in Malawi.  They were all behind us.


It wasn’t easy, but we eventually found Richard Cansdale and his unique pump, brought them to Mzuzu, and with some great support set up our base.


I suppose the rest is a history of a relationship with the rural villagers we journey with.


Looking at the world of development – the money spent, the strategic planning, the missions and visions that are written about – we had to consider how we might approach our work.  We knew our limitations and knew that we needed to keep to what we knew.


We adopted the development ideals of a Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (600 BC-531 BC, founder of Taoism):

Go to the people. Live with them.
Learn from them. Love them.
Start with what they know. Build with what they have.
But when the work is done, enable the people to say we have done this ourselves.

Having come from two small farms in the west of Ireland, we fully appreciate the value of hard work and education and, in reality, had no difficulty slotting into the poor rural environment that this mad adventure has placed us, with the poorest of the poor subsistence farmers; God’s own people like the people who made us what we are.


We now work in villages, mainly with women who have developed Self Help Clusters, looking at community needs.  We work with whole communities on their plans, where they have identified clean water, preschools, adult education and nutrition as their primary needs.  We work with people of all religions and none, enabling them to empower themselves to break the never-ending cycle of poverty.

You can be a part of this too!