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.
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.
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 great support from Br Aidan Clohessy, Director of St John of God Services, our friend and mentor, 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.
There are volunteers in Áras Kate working with the local teachers in the classroom and the local cook in the kitchen. Volunteers built the building and dug the well but volunteers are only part of the story. Wells for Zoë is here not to do things for the community, but to work with the community. They’re here to work in partnership, recognising that only through partnership will the work sustain itself. Only through partnership will the work make any difference.
The one question asked over and over to me by friends and family when I returned was ‘Is it sad?’. But my simple reply was ‘It is not sad unless you make it that way’. You can stand back and pity the poor or you can get so involved that you don’t even notice the difference in your lives.
I had a wonderful time and came home with some amazing memories as well as great friends. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Wells for Zoë again for letting me be a part of their amazing work and wish them all the best in their ongoing work. They truly are an inspiration to us all.
I continuously heard the Malawian people praise John and Mary for their kindness and generosity. From Will.I.Am exclaiming “John is a hero, he is a good man, no, a great man!”, to the tiny tots at Áras Kate shouting “Gogo Mary!” and waving frantically at their favourite teacher. I am beyond grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to volunteer with Wells For Zoë. I had the most amazing 8 weeks of my entire life.
I was inspired this summer to see John and Mary at work. They work with endless enthusiasm and love for Malawi and its people everyday. The locals welcome them with open arms and an open heart. Mary and John have an understanding and respect for the culture and way of life in Malawi, something which took me and many volunteers some time to adjust to. This understanding allows Wells for Zoë not only to become part of a community but to bring new life and hope into the communities.
These interactions are why I will always be a supporter of Wells for Zoë and the Coynes. Their commitment, passion and focus are inspirational. They are the constants, the campaigners, the supporters and the champions of the people of Northern Malawi. But what I liked the most was their mantra, which was evidently put to practice every day – “we give them a hand up, not a handout”.
WfZ is a small Irish charity that has a major impact in Malawi in Africa, providing clean and safe water. In the past year they have installed 1,000 pumps that will provide clean water to over a quarter of a million people for life! WfZ has a proven track record in delivering impressive results despite the fact that they are a small charity that receives no government funding and relies completely on small private donations. This $5,000 grant will provide up to 10,000 people with clean water for life or send 50 girls to secondary school – this makes a phenomenal difference in their lives, the lives of their children and in their communities.
Thanks to your help and the work of others on the ground, one third of the site is now planted with vegetables, fruit and other farm produce which will be of real benefit to our own project but also provide nutritional produce for the families of the children. These we also hope will be able to transfer the knowledge and the produce to start little plots in their own communities. We thank you for your inspiration and practical support in this initiative.
Having spent just over a week here so far I am in awe of what could be achieved if we stayed longer or came back again. John and Mary Coyne have achieved so much with Wells for Zoë and I am proud to be able to say that I have assisted them with even just a tiny percentage of that great work.
I have been thoroughly impressed by the work of John and Mary Coyne. Their commitment and devotion to the NGO has been vital in improving the lives of so many Malawian people. My time here has inspired me to continue working with this great group of people. I look forward to exploring future possibilities on how to make Wells for Zoë even more exceptional than it is today.
Going home, I know why I am here. I am not here to do the jobs that the Malawi people could do in half the time. I am not here to teach or to preach, to lead or to be followed. I am here to work with the people, to build friendships, a network of support and encouragement that can be continued long into the future. I know that while I may be back in Ireland soon, Wells for Zoë will continue to be here in Malawi, and will continue to be a community of people that will always be there, that will always offer help and support, that will always extend the hand of friendship and that will never give up.
John described the volunteer experience as ‘nourishment for the soul’. This, for me, really provides a true description of what the Malawian experience can provide for a volunteer...Mary and John are a true inspiration for the commitment and energy they put into Malawi. I wish you well in your next trip and I hope to remain involved in Wells for Zoë in future years to come.
For me, this is the real Africa – this is the heart of Africa, and I feel so lucky to have been able to catch a glimpse of it. Thank you for a wonderful, heart-warming experience, and I hope to return again soon.
When people ask me what the most significant thing we did in Malawi was, I don’t reel off the list of physical things we changed. I don’t tell them about the labour on the farm or about the work we did later in the preschool. I tell them we met people. I tell them we connected with people. And if anyone asks me if I think we influenced change, I tell them we can’t affect change. But we can affect people.
Why Malawi? The answer to that one is simple and more concrete – Wells for Zoë. This amazing charity, set up in 2005 by John and Mary Coyne, has made huge changes in the area of Mzuzu, Malawi. I truly admire the ethics and hard-work put into this organisation. Their sustainable and bottom-up approach has changed many lives and will leave a lasting impact on Malawian communities. I couldn’t be more humbled by having them take me under their wing.