Back From Malawi

My daughter Karen and I arrived in Malawi earlier in May for our annual visit to the 3 project areas where we get a chance to assess the progress and impact of the Malawi Water Project and meet our teams in person.

This is how our visit went.

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After visiting all three Project areas and reviewing the work being done, we are pleased to report that the teams are consistently producing and installing the target for the Project of 45 filters each month. The follow-up has really improved this year. All regions are following-up on the filters at least 4 times after installation. The last follow-up occurs 6 months after installation so by then the owners are into the routine of using their filter and are aware of how to take care of it.  One village we visited has a very proactive village Headman who has set up a health committee and is encouraging all of the villagers to follow the instructions from our community health promotion team.  Many of the households have bio-sand filters, new clean latrines (outdoor pit toilets), dish drying racks to eliminate germs from dishes by drying them in the sun, rubbish pits and hand washing stations beside the latrines.

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We held meetings with each of the teams and gave gifts to each of the team members including the volunteers.  They all seem to be working well together and are happy. They are so pleased that they have jobs. There are so few people in the villages who have paid employment.  With their salaries they help out their extended family members.

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This year has been particularly difficult for a great many people in the country. The south part of the country experienced extreme drought and the north had severe flooding, so food is scarce. Many people did not harvest enough to last until the next crop matures. The government is trying to buy maize from surrounding countries and may have to go as far as Mexico. There were children picking up dried grass seed to give to their mothers to cook.  This is the first year that we have had people quietly come up to us and say they don’t have food at home and have children to feed. We gave away our take-out food to an elderly woman who was asking for help. It has been terribly difficult and heart wrenching.

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Many people are ill and can’t afford medicine so we personally purchased medicines from a wholesale pharmacy to take to a clinic that our South team is working with. There were so many mothers and children waiting for food supplements of soy given out by the government. We took malaria medication to the clinic along with ciprofloxin, worm treatment and pain medication. The pharmacy also donated large bottles of pain medication for children as they wanted to help the remote areas we were travelling to.

Our superheros were busy constructing the filters so that families could have clean uncontaminated water.

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It is so easy to get pulled off course as the needs in this country are so great.  We have to keep focused on water and sanitation as this is helping to keep people healthy so they can work and go to school to get an education.  There have been outbreaks of cholera in the country this year and many people are desperately in need of filters. We have long waiting lists in all three areas.

Our three Field Coordinators were in Zambia at the Quality Assurance Workshop for the bio-sand filter.  The workshop was sponsored by CAWST (Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology). The intent of the workshop was to make sure the filters are being constructed and installed properly and are being followed-up.

During the week that the Field Coordinators were away we met with the administrators to go over any challenges they are experiencing. We reviewed and scanned this year’s receipts, reviewed our budgets and reviewed the Malawi Revenue Authority rules and regulations to make sure we are in compliance with them.

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We held a Field Coordinator meeting to discuss our progress to date and our future plans. One of the processes we introduced  is a new way for the teams to keep track of their visits to the homes and to complete their reports. We are using an application that was developed for NGO’s working in rural areas where internet access is not prevalent. The application is called Kobo Toolbox and we have purchased Samsung tablets for the teams to use. This has allowed us to develop a questionnaire that the team members use to keep track of their filters and their community home visits. It has GPS capability which hopefully we will be able to use to allow us to track all filters.The team members were so excited to learn this new technology. They are so anxious to learn. I couldn’t even get them to take a break!

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We learned of a primary school in the north that provides room and board to young children. The school doesn’t have running water or electricity. The children don’t have bedrooms, they all sleep on the floor in the classrooms. They don’t have mosquito nets and they have to go to the river to get water to drink.  There are 500 students at the school. The teachers do not have books so they teach by using a blackboard.  The children are given one meal per day consisting only of ground maize porridge. Unfortunately this is very common in Malawi.

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One of the things we did concentrate on this year was teaching the Field Coordinators how to test water using a small kit that is great for taking samples in the field. We are hoping to have a kit for each of the three regions to start sampling water and testing for e-coli.

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So that was our trip this year.  The teams are working hard helping their neighbours stay healthy. No doubt there is a need to get more filters into the communities and more training on proper sanitation and hygiene.

If you can help, it would be greatly appreciated. Any amount goes such a long way in Malawi.

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